It’s the time of year that every player who isn’t the subject of a transfer rumour or two must end up feeling left out.
With website hits and retweets to be generated, linking a footballer from one club with a move to another is a pretty big business all by itself – and that’s before we even get to the vast sums of money which are usually involved.
The bigger the club the bigger the hits, and that’s why Liverpool are often a magnet for such stories regardless of recent on-pitch performances which leave them outside the elite looking in again when the 2015/16 season kicks off.
The reasons for that underperformance have now been picked over to leave nothing but a carcass (or a car crash?) but you can’t talk about Liverpool’s 2014/15 season before arriving at the usual topic of conversation: the new signings.
There they are, the Southampton trio of Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana – none of whom would command a regular spot in plenty of Reds’ supporters best XIs – all shuffling uncomfortably and hoping that Mario Balotelli continues to take the focus off them.
If those four have been pinpointed as the problem then the other four involved the season’s squad – Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo and Lazar Markovic – have been treated with kid gloves, their youth used as a reason not to kick them when they are down.
None of them excelled, although Can and Moreno did at times, but to trust in their promise rather than their current ability seemed to be the message that Liverpool were trying to promote. If you can’t buy superstars then make them, in other words.
Markovic seemed to embody this.
From his long hair to his No. 50 shirt, there always seems to have been an air of mystery about the Serbian ever since he arrived at Anfield from Benfica, having been reportedly rejected by Chelsea when a transfer seemed all but done.
Some clever flicks, tricks and lightning speed were all available to watch on social media and were devoured by Liverpool supporters desperate to see that their club had life beyond the now departed Luis Suarez. With hopes built up Markovic arrived to great fanfare, then he got injured in pre-season and barely did a thing of note for four months. When he finally did, it was a farcical red card as Liverpool grimly exited the Champions League at home to Basel.
As much a victim of circumstance as anything, there is every reason to believe that Markovic would have shone as a squad player in Liverpool’s expressive, expansive, title-chasing 2013/14 team – where he could have been a better alternative to Victor Moses, Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto as a backup attacker.
Yet here he was thrown into a team that was desperately underperforming, and he simply found it incredibly tough to get going.
But then came the watershed 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in mid-December; a hopeless loss which preceded a period of introspection, tinkering from Brendan Rodgers and a run of 13 unbeaten in the league.
His pace and ability to run with the ball from deep meant that Markovic often played as a right wing-back during this run.
He scored in a League Cup win at Bournemouth and the only goal in a league success at Sunderland. An injury to Raheem Sterling meant that he played as one of the two ‘No. 10s’ in a home game against Tottenham and he responded by scoring the opening goal in a 3-2 win.
It wasn’t spectacular progress but it was good, and pretty much expected from a 20 to 21-year-old in his first season in a new country and culture.
He might not have found a recognised position within the team, but Markovic showed that he could certainly be more than useful to his manager, with only the giant dark cloud that hung over Liverpool’s season seemingly dragging him down.
So with a new campaign, new faces to play with and a season under his belt, the Serbian should be preparing for a 2015/16 in which his true talent will show – and not reading about the supposed return to Benfica which was in the news as he trended on Twitter this morning.
Selling Markovic already would be a complete slap in the face for Liverpool’s already fairly happy-slapped transfer policy, and the belief that they are a club interested in nurturing their young players rather than just giving up on them at the first sign of trouble.
It might just be that this was Markovic’s time, and we’ll be on to another name supposedly going somewhere else tomorrow.
That has to be the hope anyway, as the alternative just doesn’t really make any sense.
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