Liverpool signed Lazar Markovic in 2014 for around £20 million from Benfica. Having sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona that summer, the idea was obviously to invest plenty of money into relatively low-profile attacking options. Some of them were young, talented players, like Markovic. Some were older, brought in to enlarge the squad and offer something different up front for little money, like Rickie Lambert. Adam Lallana had proven himself at a lower level of the Premier League, while Mario Balotelli was a hopeful move. The hope was that Brendan Rodgers would get the best out of the Italian, whose natural talent nobody could dispute. Wishful thinking, as it turned out.
Lazar Markovic’s Liverpool Failure
Markovic’s time at Liverpool started in a rather complicated way and still remains as far from straight-forward as possible. Playing in his natural position – on the right wing, the Serb put in several good individual performances in games that saw Liverpool play some underwhelming football as a whole. However, it wasn’t enough to earn him a guaranteed starting spot.
Daniel Sturridge’s injury woes had just begun. In his absence, Balotelli, Lambert and Fabio Borini couldn’t deliver any quality upfront. By November, they found themselves in the lower half of the table and warning bells started ringing for the manager.
The Wing-Back Experiment
Well aware that he needed to act quickly, Rodgers opted to experiment. His plan was a different formation, with several players playing in new roles.
The new formation was 3-4-2-1. Raheem Sterling was now the impact needle upfront, while Emre Can moved to the back-three along with Martin Škrtel and Mamadou Sakho. Markovic initially played the left wing-back role, but Alberto Moreno soon recovered from an injury and Markovic moved to the right.
Playing in attack for his entire career up to that point, the level of defensive responsibility Markovic was displaying in the new role was staggering. Most notably, he pocketed the likes of Eden Hazard in the League Cup semi-final, while making a significant contribution in attack. Week-in-week-out, he was an important part of the team that gradually resurrected Liverpool’s season. By the middle of the spring of 2015, they were well in contention for a top-four spot.
The Fire Burns Out
The resurrection of Liverpool that season was quite symbolically framed between two defeats to their arch-rivals Manchester United. It began after the 3-0 destruction at Old Trafford and ended with a 2-1 heartbreak at Anfield, which saw captain Steven Gerrard get sent off less than a minute after coming on at half-time.
A week before, Garry Monk’s Swansea gave Liverpool a very tough game at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds eventually won 1-0, but it was a sign that Rodgers’ system was being found out at last. The season ended with Liverpool missing out on top four, and barely qualifying for the Europa League.
Rodgers again tried to experiment towards the end of the campaign. In the last few games, Markovic played as a classic full-back, along with Can. But this time the manager’s experiments went badly wrong. The woes of the infamous 6-1 defeat at Stoke were a perfect reflection of the shambles the team was in.
The Summer of 2015
Contrary to most expectations, Rodgers wouldn’t get his marching orders just yet. Reports from all reliable journalists revealed that a two-hour meeting between him and the FSG representatives was held, where the decision to give him one last chance had been reached.
An era ended that summer, with the departure of iconic captain Steven Gerrard.
Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke, Danny Ings and Adam Bogdan were acquired. Brad Jones left as his contract expired. But the transfer that should have had the most impact on Markovic’s position in the team was the sale of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City.
Being a player of similar qualities (mostly pace and foot-trickery) but perhaps with a better eye for a pass and better shooting skill, Markovic seemed like a perfect candidate to perform any role the manager may have previously envisaged for Sterling.
Towards the end of the pre-season, Rodgers was trying to recreate the system that almost brought the Premier League title back to Anfield in 2013/14, two strikers ahead of a midfield diamond. The strikers would often try to stretch the defence, opening space through the middle for a pacey number ten. As was the case with Sterling in 2013/14, Markovic showed promise in this role, even though the strikers he played behind were of much less quality than Suarez and Sturridge in his prime. All looked set for the Serb to finally fulfil his potential.
But then, a surprising piece of news broke out: Lazar Markovic was going out on loan. In England, many journalists and pundits believed it showed he still had no place in the starting XI. In Serbia however, a different story came out. Reports came out of a spat between Markovic and Rodgers. Apparently, the player wanted guarantees from the manager that he wouldn’t be shunted to wing-back and full-back positions anymore. This would have enraged Rodgers to the point of throwing Markovic out of his plans. A loan move would have been seen as a temporary solution.
On August 30th, 2015, Markovic joined Fenerbahce on a season-long loan. However, injuries plagued him throughout the campaign, and he only made 20 appearances for the Turkish side, scoring two goals.
In the meantime, Rodgers was replaced by Jürgen Klopp as the Liverpool manager, but there was no change of fortunes for Markovic. He failed to impress the German over the 2016 pre-season, and the arrival of Sadio Mane from Southampton didn’t help. He went on another loan for the season.
This time he went back to Lisbon, but not to Benfica – to Sporting. His form wasn’t great when he arrived and being an ex-Benfica man, the club’s fans found plenty of reason to boo him. The move slowly turned into a disaster, even though he still accumulated 14 appearances and two goals.
He was recalled in January and sent to Hull City for the remainder of the season. Even though he repeated exactly the same numbers of appearances and goals as at Sporting, his performances for the Tigers were much better.
It prompted them to try and make the move permanent in the summer of 2017, but the clubs couldn’t reach an agreement. Watford, who had in the meantime signed Hull manager Marco Silva, also expressed an interest. Fiorentina was also a possibility. Fenerbahce reportedly sought another loan deal. In the end, nothing came of any of the options, and Markovic stayed put. It was the worst possible scenario for the player, as he obviously has no place in any of Klopp’s plans.
Markovic’s contract expires on June 30th this year, and it’s highly unlikely Liverpool will offer him a new one. He on loan at RSC Anderlecht now, and his best hope of getting his career back on track is to impress enough to be offered to stay there permanently. For all his current deficiencies, the prospect of signing him on a free transfer should still look appealing to many clubs around Europe. After all, he is still only 23 years old.
There is still hope for him, though probably not at Liverpool.