If there’s one thing Lazio fans are used to by now, it’s hearing that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is on the verge of moving to a wealthier rival.
From the moment the Serbian first started making waves in Serie A, newspapers have told of approaches from Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, PSG, AC Milan, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea to name a few.
The capital club resisted any interest, but this summer things changed. And one thing’s for sure: the sound of the Premier League transfer window sliding gently shut on Thursday was music to the ears of the Aquile faithful.
For weeks, Manchester United were considered the team imminently set to sign the 24-year-old. Italian media outlets claimed that a deal was all-but done, with personal terms agreed and only the final details left to iron out.
In England it was always a different story, with no such certainty appearing in the sports pages.
But now that the Premier League’s early transfer deadline has passed, a summer move to Old Trafford is impossible and the chances of Sergej staying put for at least another six months have increased.
There has been plenty of reason to believe that this would be the summer the towering midfielder would leave Rome.
Claudio Lotito’s efforts to keep him last summer were commendable – the man himself even claimed that he turned down a €160 million bid – but the president’s stance softened at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.
Suddenly he was saying things like “I have fewer weapons to keep him” and that “it’d be wrong to deprive him of the chance to play at a big club”, clear indications that he was willing to do business.
Having said that, Lotito has a reputation for being a hard negotiator and has shown in the past that he won’t bend to the will of big-name suitors when it comes to his valuation of a player.
Over the last three summers he has raised roughly €126 million from the sales of Felipe Anderson, Keita Balde, Lucas Biglia, Wesley Hoedt and Antonio Candreva to West Ham, Monaco, Milan, Southampton and Inter respectively.
Lotito is unlikely to budge with his €90 million valuation, which is already a significant step down from the €120 million he was demanding last summer – evidence of a less impressive campaign from the Serbian in 2018/19.
Will any clubs outside of England be willing to fork out such a vast sum between now and the end of the window? At this point it looks unlikely.
Interest from PSG and Real Madrid has ebbed and flowed over the years, but as things stand it’s hard to imagine a sustained push for Milinkovic-Savic materialising.
The Spanish side have already splashed out upwards of €250 million on Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy and Eder Militao and although Paul Pogba now appears to be an unattainable target, their attention appears fixed on Ajax’s Donny van de Beek as a Plan B, not Rome.
PSG, meanwhile, have already added Ander Herrera, Idrissa Gueye and Pablo Sarabia to their midfield arsenal this summer and most of their attention appears fixed on the future of Neymar. Any sale of the Brazilian would presumably bring in the funds capable of launching an assault for Sergej, but that is easier said than done.
There is of course the possibility of a contender closer to home entering the fray, and reports in Italy about interest from the likes of Inter and Juventus are persistent. However, both sides would need to raise cash from sales to make a suitable bid and Lotito has already shown that he would favour a sale abroad above a domestic rival.
The midfielder picked up an injury during a 5-1 friendly victory over Al-Shabab on Wednesday, sparking concerns over his fitness for the start of the season – a start that includes an unprecedented Rome Derby in Week Two.
But perhaps that tendon issue could be a small blessing in disguise for Simone Inzaghi’s side. A minor injury shouldn’t be enough to ward off serious interest, but it could add to existing deterrents (his price tag and Lotito’s stubborn bargaining position) as another reason for clubs to be wary of making a late rush.
If one person has come out well from the Manchester United saga this summer, it’s Sergej himself.
The 24-year-old is a hugely popular figure within the club as well as with the fans and that has been helped by his attitude amid swirling speculation about his future.
“He’s always available and he doesn’t miss any training sessions,” Inzaghi responded at the end of July when grilled about the Serbian’s potential move to Manchester.
“Happy to have worn this shirt for four years with the eagle on my chest,” Milinkovic wrote posted on Instagram on Wednesday as he marked the anniversary of his signing.
It’s a far cry from the all-too-familiar tale of players agitating for moves away or clubs falling out with their own playing staff, with the likes of Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Laurent Koscielny providing memorable examples already this summer.
Milinkovic-Savic has been a credit to Lazio and everyone associated with the club was getting ready to wish him the best when he moved on.
But with Premier League clubs out of the equation and time running out, there’s now a glimmer of hope that they won’t have to do that for another six months at the very least.
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