A GLORIOUS sunny day at Wembley. Almost 90,000 Liverpool fans in attendance.
With minutes to go, the men in red hit Barcelona on the counter attack. A dinked cross from Lazar Markovic is headed into the far corner of the net by young Marko Grujic.
The fans go wild as the scoreboard reads Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0.
No, this isn’t fan fiction. This actually happened in August 2016.
Of course it was only a friendly, and Jürgen Klopp’s boys were much further ahead in their preparations for the new campaign than the Catalans, but it was still a sight to see Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi being so soundly turned over, and the cherry on the cake was the looping header from Grujic, who continued his impressive first pre-season at Liverpool.
The Belgrade-born midfielder was signed the previous January from his hometown club Red Star (or FK Crvena Zvezda), but only arrived at Anfield that summer. He was technically Klopp’s first permanent signing at the club, but he was billed as being one for the future.
Despite the excitement his performances in uncompetitive games had brought, Grujic was handled with kid gloves in his first year in L4, making only eight appearances and not starting a single Premier League game.
Six more appearances followed in the first half of the following season, but he was given an opportunity to get more regular games in January 2018 and to learn more about English football in, err, Wales as Neil Warnock took him to Cardiff City on loan.
It wasn’t an immediately obvious marriage made in heaven. Warnock’s football could hardly be described as similar to Klopp’s in any way, shape or form, but it introduced Grujic to perhaps the most competitive football in England, the Championship.
After a few wobbly performances, he soon got into his stride and before long had established himself as a key part of a Bluebirds team that was inexplicably fighting for promotion (and eventually sealed it). So impressed was Warnock that he tried to get him back for this season’s Premier League campaign in south Wales, but a deal ultimately could not be struck.
Eventually, Grujic left for the Bundesliga for a season on loan at Hertha Berlin. If the impact he had in the Welsh capital was big, the effect he has had in the German capital has been even bigger. He hasn’t broken records, scored mad goals or shaved his number into the side of his head, but he has very much impressed. In fact, he’s impressed so much that his manager, Pál Dárdai, declared he was the best he had ever seen at the club.
Following a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in December in which Grujic scored the only goal of the game, Dárdai told the press: “I’ve been at Hertha for 22 years. This isn’t meant as an insult to anyone else, but Marko is by far the best midfielder I’ve seen in my time at the club.
“He’s got so much potential, and you can see that out on the pitch. He’s so robust in the middle of the park, but he can still play. He’s good in the air, he wins tackles and has got such a strong desire to win. I can only say: ‘respect’. And he’s not even fully fit. Just imagine what he’ll be like when he is!”
Grujic has actually been limited to just 17 appearances in Germany this season thanks to a couple of untimely injuries, but despite that, his manager and the Hertha fans have seen enough from him that they seem desperate to extend his stay beyond the end of 2018-19.
Grujic was even nominated for Bundesliga’s “Rookie of the Month” award for February, given to the best player under 23 in their first season in the German top flight.
Such is Hertha’s love for the 22-year-old that they even tweeted this recently:
Straight facts 💯🔥 pic.twitter.com/MI8A9owdND
— Hertha Berlin (@HerthaBSC_EN) 5 March 2019
What about his future at Liverpool though? It’s all well and good doing it at a mid-table club in the Bundesliga, but does this equate to him necessarily being good enough for a place in this elite Reds squad?
The cynics out there will say that “it’s only the Bundesliga” and that the failures of Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and of course Bayern Munich in the Champions League point to a league that cannot be compared in quality to what Grujic will face in the Premier League.
Those same cynics would probably also jump at the chance to sign Jadon Sancho, Timo Werner, Luka Jovic or, of course, Marco Reus.
In his performances this season, Grujic has shown a maturity that was undoubtedly missing in his cameo appearances during his first season in England. The rash racing about and clattering into people, coupled with a desperation to ping long passes that weren’t really on meant that to many he merely appeared to be a Serbian Jonjo Shelvey.
However, he appears now to be more considered, better at nicking the ball rather than kicking legs, and isn’t afraid to get into the penalty area and use all of his 6ft3in frame when needed. You do wonder what he could do playing next to a Fabinho or Jordan Henderson, giving him licence to get up the pitch and join in attacks.
There’s always a danger of getting too carried away because he’s a Liverpool player, though if he wasn’t then there’s every chance the footy hipsters out there would be saying “get on this lad at Hertha”. As with Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent and other loanees who have been impressing away from Liverpool this season, Klopp will get them back in the summer before having a good look at them during pre-season training.
Grujic is clearly a young man determined to succeed in the game. If he can squeeze everything possible out of his remaining time in Germany, and sweat buckets to impress his boss back at Melwood in the summer, then who knows?
We could be seeing him scoring at Wembley in the red of Liverpool in a more meaningful game in the future.
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“Sadio Mane is our main man right now.
“He’s scored 11 in 11… Tottenham are going to be terrified of him.” 🔥
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 25, 2019