Problems in midfield are sometimes a reason for Liverpool FC’s difficult season. One possible solution is Stefan Bajcetic.
Stefan Bajcetic grinned sheepishly. In a joint interview with Sky Sports Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah had just said: “Since he’s been with us he’s maybe our best player. Hopefully he keeps that confidence and just keeps going.”
Of course, the 18-year-old couldn’t hide his pride at these words in his subsequent classification. “Wow. He’s probably one of the best players in Liverpool history. It’s beautiful when a legend says something like that about you.”
Bajcetic had just given an outstanding performance in Liverpool’s derby against Everton in a crucial 2-0 win. Called up in Jürgen Klopp’s three-man midfield alongside the veterans Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, he made his best game to date for the Reds.
Not only Salah was enthusiastic about it. Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher called Bajcetic’s performance “outstanding”. And Steven Gerrard, another club icon, commented on Instagram a post recognizing the top talent as player of the game with a simple “brilliant”.
In the weeks before, Bajcetic had gradually played his way into the team, at least since the appearance in the derby against Everton, he has been on everyone’s lips. SPOX introduces the youngster in more detail.
Stefan Bajcetic: The big breakthrough
It was probably clear to everyone at Celta that Bajcetic would sooner or later attract the big clubs in Europe.
At the turn of the year from 2020 to 2021 it was mainly the English heavyweights who wanted to get serious. Brexit should make it more complicated to sign young top talent from other countries from now on, so Bajcetic should come to the island before then.
In addition to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea also expressed interest, as did Spanish clubs such as Valencia, Sevilla and Atlético Madrid. The Reds were awarded the contract, and in February 2021 the then 16-year-old Bajcetic came to Anfield – for a fee of just 250,000 euros.
It is now becoming apparent that Liverpool could have made one of the biggest bargains in the club’s history. “The family believed Liverpool was a good place to work with young players,” said Alex Otero The Athletic. “We had hoped he could become one of Celta’s flagships, but we also knew that Celta couldn’t compete with the offers from such big clubs.”
It was “difficult for Bajcetic to leave my friends, my family and the place where I had lived my whole life up until then,” he said last summer liverpoolfc.com. “But I love the football here and it’s my dream.”
In Liverpool, Bajcetic first played for the U16s, after a few weeks he was promoted to the U18s. As with Celta, he was mostly used in central defense – and by the 2021/22 season at the latest, he convinced everyone that they had caught a very special player.
“We’ve signed a jewel,” said a Liverpool academy source in the summer of 2021 NXGN. In the months that followed, he impressed in the UEFA Youth League, among other things, and was allowed to train with the pros for the first time in November 2021, just a few weeks after his 17th birthday.
In particular, the calm of the Spanish junior international impressed Jürgen Klopp and his coaching team immediately. “Jürgen said straight away that he could become our six,” writes assistant coach Pep Lijnders in his book intensity. “I was happy because we had been looking for a talented number six for some time.”
Stefan Bajcetic: That’s how it’s going right now
Although he almost completely missed the second half of the 2021/22 season due to a back injury, Klopp was keen to have Bajcetic with him in preparation for the current season.
He then made his Premier League debut in a 9-0 win over Bournemouth at the end of August last year. And shortly afterwards, in September, aged 17 years and just under 11 months, he became Liverpool’s youngest-ever Champions League player when he came on as a late substitute in the 2-1 win against Ajax. Incidentally, for Thiago of all people, with whose father Mazinho Papa Bajcetic had once played at Celta.
In the months that followed, he was often in the squad for the pros, but he was mainly allowed to play in the reserves. That all changed since Christmas when Bajcetic scored his first Premier League goal in a 3-1 win at Aston Villa.
Since then, the 18-year-old has appeared six times in the Premier League, and Klopp has brought his jewel from the start in four of the last five league games – with the temporary crowning of the outstanding performance against Everton.
In a difficult situation where most of the other midfielders in Klopp’s squad are struggling with form or injuries, Bajcetic has become hugely important to the Reds in a short space of time.
“We’re very happy with him,” said Klopp after the derby against Everton. And Lijnders emphasized that it is a pleasure to watch Bajcetic play football. “Sometimes the academy gives you presents,” he rejoiced back in November. “He is such.”
Back in January, Bajcetic signed a new contract that runs until 2027 as a reward for his development.
Stefan Bajcetic: His strengths
In addition to the athletics, which are outstanding for his age, Bajcetic also impresses with his toughness in duels, game intelligence and a very good ability to anticipate.
In addition, the teenager is a very fine footballer, acts cleverly and precisely on the ball even under pressure. “He has a great presence on the field,” summarizes his former youth coach Otero. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Liverpool U18 coach, said: “Stefan is a very talented footballer. He’s a good passing player and has strong ball-winning skills.”
Bajcetic can also impress with his strength in the air. Not only does his height of 1.85 meters benefit him, but also first-class timing when heading the ball.
Stefan Bajcetic: What he needs to work on
Although he is very far in this area for his 18 years, as I said, Bajcetic can certainly improve physically. Since he is required to be at the highest physical level in training every day and automatically becomes more robust with every assignment in the Premier League, that shouldn’t be a big problem.
Just as completely normal for a player of this young age: he still has to learn to keep the intensity in duels and also in his passing game at the highest level for 90 minutes. Here, too, he will make progress as if by himself as he gains experience.
Stefan Bajcetic: The new… Fabinho?
Becoming the long-term successor to Fabinho, who won everything with Liverpool, is an ambitious plan. But you can certainly trust Bajcetic to do that.
In any case, the Spanish U19 national player resembles the Brazilian in terms of his facilities and admires Fabinho’s football: “The way he plays is the best and I always try to learn something from him,” says Bajcetic. “Of course it’s difficult to play like him, but you can learn a lot from his positional play, his pressing and all that.”
Another well-known player with whom parallels can be seen at Bajcetic is West Ham’s England international Declan Rice. Both can change the rhythm of their game at the push of a button and develop incredible dynamics going forward. And both are very good at finding the right balance between defense and offense.
Stefan Bajcetic: What’s next?
With his signature a few weeks ago, Bajcetic has committed himself to Liverpool for the next four and a half years – and the Reds are hoping he will become one of the cornerstones of a new, great Klopp-era team.
The midfield needs a change, Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham is the top transfer target. With Bajcetic already there, Liverpool don’t have to spend the many millions it might have taken to bring other young and highly talented players to Bellingham’s side.
Meanwhile, one thing is also clear: Bajcetic has a little more than a dozen professional games under his belt, so it takes a lot of patience and a bit of luck here and there to be able to meet the high expectations. As in every player’s career, there will be difficult times that need to be overcome.
Of course, his enormous talent and his already highly professional attitude speak for Bajcetic. And if you can count people like Klopp, Salah or Gerrard in your fan club, you can be optimistic about the future.