Opinion

Premier League clubs should think twice about Nikola Milenkovic after Portugal horror show

Max Cooper
Milenkovic is not the man for the Premier League giants
Milenkovic is not the man for the Premier League giants / Chris Ricco/Getty Images
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The dust has just about settled from an absolutely bonkers evening of football in Belgrade, which saw four goals - five if you count Cristiano Ronaldo's disallowed winner - and one of the Portugal captain's biggest strops to date.

CR7 dominated the headlines for charging down the tunnel and throwing his captain's armband to the ground in disgust, detracting from one almighty spectacle in this World Cup qualifying battle between the Selecao and Serbia.

One man who should be extremely grateful and relieved for Ronaldo's attention-drawing antics is Serbia and Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic, who endured a nightmare evening to forget on the big stage.

The 23-year-old showed all the spatial awareness and intelligence of a certain sea captain lodged in the Suez Canal on Saturday evening, offering a similar turning circle to the wedged container ship, too.

He first misread the flight of a cross and allowed the tiny Diogo Jota to steal in unmarked and unchallenged at the back post, before completely losing the diminutive forward for the second goal, while performing an embarrassing starfish-esque dive to (unsuccessfully) block the header.

Milenkovic capped off his evening with a 92nd minute red card, after lunging into a clumsy challenge which lacked any sort of control - although he may feel a touch hard done by on that instance.

Nikola Milenkovic, Danny Makkelie
A night to forget / Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

Luckily for the Serbian defender, this comical sketch that even Laurel and Hardy would have struggled to pull off will probably be forgotten about sooner rather and later, and he'll go back to being referred to as the next wonderkid to come out of Florence.

But how is this still possible? Even the usually reliable scouts at Football Manager have been hoodwinked into believing Milenkovic is already an elite level defender, destined for the very top of our sport, making him a must-buy on the latest FM21 update.

And the transfer rumour mill still churns out links between the Fiorentina defender and the Premier League, despite the Viola's five clean sheets in the 26 matches in which their superstar has featured in 2020/21.

The truth is Milenkovic has been dining out on his superb first impressions in Florence, when he burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old in an exciting Fiorentina side which finished eighth in Serie A.

The €5m recruit from Partizan Belgrade was not at the centre of those achievements, however, making only 16 appearances and playing every minute of their final six games of the season, in which they lost four and conceded 13 goals.

He was entrusted to lead the backline in his second season at the club, but it was a disaster from start to finish. Fiorentina looked nailed on for relegation, eventually finishing 16th, escaping the drop on the final day.

They kept eight clean sheets across Milenkovic's 34 appearances, as he lurched from right-back to centre-back in an unbalanced and low-quality side, making a string of individual errors and showing a lack of cohesion with his teammates.

Nikola of two trades, master of none.

Last season was not much better, and Fiorentina have already conceded 45 goals in their 28 matches this year. And yet, Milenkovic is still referred to as an up and coming, sprightly youngster just waiting for it all to click into place and explode on the big stage.

Well, he's 23 now, and has leaked goals for fun for more than three years now. Overall, he is not showing the signs needed to merit these links of a £60m move to the likes of Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur.

Nikola Milenkovic, Marco Di Bello
Not his first offence / Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

I mean, would you really pay £50m or £60m for a defender like Lewis Dunk, for example? Actually, don't answer that.

There definitely is talent there, and when considering the general career span of a footballer, he is still young with plenty of room to develop and improve. And, if given the opportunity to make the step up and play in a side with much more quality around him, he may just thrive.

But if you're a Premier League side pinning your hopes of ending any defensive frailties on signing Milenkovic, you need only watch the highlights of his management of Diogo Jota on Saturday to understand he's not the Nemanja Vidic regen people seem to think he is.

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