Manchester United Send Scouts To Watch Serie A Star - But Is He Worth It?
On Wednesday morning, rumours linking Manchester United with a move for Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic took a step forward. The usually reliable transfer expert Fabrizio Romano stated in the Guardian that the Premier League side would send scouts to watch the Viola’s match away to Bologna on Sunday, with the club expected to bid for the Serbia international in January.
Jose Mourinho may be in desperate need for a centre-back, but to pay £40 million for a 21-year-old who only made his debut in one of Europe’s top-five leagues at the tail end of 2017 seems a little excessive. Nikola Milenkovic only made the step up to Fiorentina in Serie A during summer 2017, his services secured from Partizan Belgrade by Pantaleo Corvino, a man who has built a reputation on signing lesser-known players before selling them on for a profit.
His fee was a little over €5 million, and for supporters of the Tuscan club he was little more than a prospect for the future, with no real need to get excited about the signing as it was. Indeed, it was December before Milenkovic would make his debut in an away match with Cagliari, Coach Stefano Pioli with no intention of making him a first-team regular until the following campaign.
"We understood his potential from the first few days of training,” Pioli admitted in a press conference before Fiorentina’s match with Udinese in early March. “He just had to learn and grow from a tactical point of view and in the management of the ball. He has physicality, he is tall but fast at the same time. This is why I do not think he will have a problem playing as a full-back. Even in passing he knows how to find a free partner and he has a personality. He is an intelligent boy, who has already learned the language.”
That may have been the plan, but just a few days later, everything changed. The shock death of Davide Astori on March 4th forced Pioli to play Milenkovic in the right-back position as Vitor Hugo was drafted in the heart of the defence in his place. The Serbian youngster needed to be substituted as the Viola played Benevento just one week after the tragedy, tears streaming down his face as he exited the pitch.
Such an event could have been a setback in terms of affecting his confidence but – just like his team-mates – his pain seemed to accelerate the growing up process, Milenkovic soon displaying mature and confident performances that would earn him a call-up to the Serbia World Cup squad by boss Mladen Krstajic. His place in the first team last summer was partly due to an injury to Matija Nastasic, but the youngster made the centre-back role his own, drawing attention from pundits and domestic sides alike.
Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City reportedly joined front-runners Manchester United in the race to capture his signature following the tournament, but Fiorentina immediately slapped the £40 million price tag on the player. “It’s pleasing, but I am not thinking about it,” assured the Serbia international to Tuttosport in response to the attention. “I’ve got my feet on the ground, believe in professionalism and am focused only on improving every day, I’m pleased to wear the Viola shirt.
“Fiorentina are the ideal club for a young player to grow up and I am very satisfied with my choice to play here. If they were to offer me a new contract, we could talk about it.”
At 6’4” tall, aerial prowess is somewhat of a given, but Milenkovic also plays with pace, accuracy in the tackle and positional awareness. In 12 domestic appearances at right-back so far this term, the defender has weighed in with two goals as well as averaging an impressive 1.9 tackles, 1.3 interceptions and 3.5 clearances, and demonstrates versatility in that he plays in central defence for the Serbian national side.
Already displaying maturity and technical skills beyond his 21 years, Nikola Milenkovic would make a smart signing for Manchester United, his adaptability an asset that would serve him very well in transferring to the Premier League.