Can Marko Grujic crack Liverpool lineup next season after Hertha heroics?
Background photo: Ruaraidh Gillies, CC BY-SA 2.0
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Too often, the term is thrown around blindly in the football world, albeit predominantly by those who sit in the stands rather than the dugout. World-beating managers such as Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola frequently drop star players like Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero from their starting XI, much to the fantasy football participant's dismay. The punters howl, yet the knowledgeable gaffer usually achieves the desired result.
So how well does this bode for players lurking around the first-team fringes? Or those cast out on loan to gain experience with no real guarantee they'll receive a proper chance to use it? Is there an effective route to cementing one's name firmly in the team sheet by temporarily plying your trade elsewhere? For Hertha BSC’s on-loan Serbian international, Marko Grujic, only Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp can provide the answers.
After registering five goals and six assists in 12 matches from mid-September to mid-December for hometown club Red Star Belgrade in 2015, the midfielder earned plaudits around Europe. Courted by an assortment of elite clubs, the 23-year-old agreed to move to Liverpool for a rumoured £6.3 million fee in January 2016 after meeting with Jurgen Klopp himself. Grujic remained in Belgrade, helping undefeated Red Star win the Serbian Superliga title.
During his first pre-season with Liverpool, the newcomer scored a memorable long-range header against Barcelona in an International Champions Cup friendly at Wembley as the Reds rampaged to a 4-0 win. After a few sporadic appearances in a red shirt, Grujic spent the second half of 2017/18 on a successful loan spell, playing a part in Cardiff City's return to the Premier League.
In 2018, he joined Hertha until the following summer in a deal worth £900,000 [Transfermarkt]. In 23 outings, Grujic managed five goals and an assist in all competitions, quickly becoming a fan favourite at the Olympiastadion. Back on Merseyside, however, the regular trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, and Jordan Henderson, with support from James Milner, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri, thoroughly established themselves as the main men in the Liverpool engine room.
The Reds narrowly missed out on a long-awaited Premier League trophy but claimed a sixth European Cup as a consolation prize. The road to Madrid required heroics from that group. Wijnaldum’s brace in the 4-0 comeback against Barcelona thrilled the Kop. With all the excitement and celebration swirling around, fans easily forgot the hugely talented young players desperate to get in on the party.
This season, Hertha expressed interest in keeping Grujic in the German capital for another year. If the distinct lack of notable incoming transfers this past summer offers a clue, Jurgen Klopp is reluctant to disrupt a winning formula. It's not broke; so he ain't fixin' it. Thus, the European champions happily obliged the Bundesliga club, this time receiving £1.8 million for their trouble.
On the one hand, the Reds maintained their squad balance. On the other, die Blau-Wessen's eagerness to pay double the loan fee indicates how crucial to his plans manager Ante Covic considers Grujic.To date, the Serbian starlet has played every minute of competitive football for Hertha this term, delivering a return of two goals and an assist in nine matches. In mid-August, No.15’s late first-half strike against Bayern Munich gave Hertha the lead and earned the Bundesliga Goal of the Month award.
Should Grujic maintain form, he may hand Jürgen Klopp a midfield selection crisis next year, contributed further to the dilemma posed by Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's returns to fitness. The pair slotted important goals this past week against Manchester United and Genk respectively.
Upon his scheduled return to Melwood, will Grujic warrant consideration for the first team or will he again be ushered out for an extended stay elsewhere? There is no doubt the man from Belgrade holds all the tools to carve himself a hugely successful career on the banks of the Mersey, but how soon that process can begin may just be out of his hands. The current Liverpool squad have a taste for glory of the highest calibre. Their desire to add to their haul raises the bar significantly for any player hoping to break into their ranks.