Nikola Milenkovic has emerged as one of the top young defensive talents to watch this season, with the Fiorentina centre-back reportedly a target for several big clubs, including Manchester United, Tottenham and Juventus.
Here’s a look at six things you need to know about the Serbian star…
6. He’s a Giant
Standing at 6ft 5in tall, Milenkovic is a giant and an intimidating prospect at the back.
With such height comes obvious heading ability that is just as useful at attacking set pieces as it is defending his own penalty area.
He has scored twice in nine Serie A appearances so far this season, although it must be stated that only one was a header, the other was a strike from distance that flew into the top corner.
5. He’s Versatile
What is slightly bizarre is that while Milenkovic is being talked about the next target to potentially solve Manchester United’s problems at centre-back, it is not a position that he has been playing that much at club level of late.
No doubt if he is genuinely as talented as his reputation suggests he will eventually be a rock solid centre-back. But, right now, Milenkovic is operating at right-back for Fiorentina.
He has started and played every minute of all nine of La Viola’s Serie A games this season, taking up a role as the right-sided full-back each time. Last season, he played a mixture of centre-back and right-back, although he was involved much less often.
4. He’s Been Personally Watched by Mourinho
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho openly acknowledged that he took a trip to watch Serbia play Montenegro during the recent international break and he was pictured sitting with known contact Predrag Mijatovic, the former Real Madrid striker turned adviser and agent.
Some believe there to be ongoing United interest in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but Milenkovic also played as the visiting Serbian team kept a clean sheet and won 2-0.
3. He Played at the World Cup
Born in Belgrade and beginning his career with Partizan before making the move to Italy in 2017, Milenkovic has earned a surprising amount of senior international caps despite only making his debut this year.
He had previously represented his country at several junior levels and still remains eligible for the Under-21 squad. But he’s been a regular senior starter ever since his bow against Chile in April, always operating in his preferred centre-back position.
Milenkovic has played 90 minutes in eight of Serbia’s nine games since then, including all three group games at the World Cup against Costa Rica, Switzerland and Brazil.
2. He’s Still Inexperienced
Notwithstanding a rapid but solid start to his international career, Milenkovic has still played precious few club games for someone who is being talked about as a €40m centre-back.
His overall tally of 61 top flight games in Italy and Serbia is impressive for a 21-year-old defender, yet this campaign is still only his first as a regular at senior level and there have already has recently been a report suggesting Manchester United have doubts over whether he is currently ready to join them.
Tottenham have shown that they can be a good home for a young centre-back after the continued development of Davinson Sanchez, while Juan Foyth is also on the books.
A move to Juventus would see Milenkovic given the opportunity to learn from the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and World Cup winner Andrea Barzagli without the immediate pressure of being a regular starter under immense scrutiny.
Manchester United, meanwhile, hasn’t been a place for young defenders to thrive, with the jury still out on both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Stepping into a squad in transition as the expected long awaited solution probably isn’t what Milenkovic needs as his next step.
1. He’s Under Contract for Four More Years
With Milenkovic tied to a long-term contract that runs until the summer of 2022, Fiorentina hold all the cards when it comes to a possible transfer.
La Viola, who paid a reported €5.1m just 15 short months ago, are under no pressure or obligation to sell and could command a handsome fee for their young asset should they wish to cash in at some point in the next few months and pocket a massive profit.
Multiple clubs apparently being interested could also spark a bidding war to drive the price up.