Name: Lazar Markovic
Club: Partizan Belgrade
Position: Attacking Midfield
His appearance at Chelsea's training ground in recent weeks sent social media websites into a state of frenzy. Indeed, so interested were many by his presence in London, that he was reportedly spotted at Old Trafford sitting next to Jose Mourinho as Manchester United took on Liverpool in the following days - that, though, turned out to by the Portuguese manager's teenage son. The fact remains, though, that major European sides, as well as their ever-demanding supporters, are well aware of the rising talents of FK Partizan's Lazar Markovic.
An attacking midfielder, often deployed cutting infield onto his preferred right foot from the left flank, Markovic made his senior debut as a 17-year-old in the final round of the 2010-11 Superliga - before playing in the European Under-17 Championship later the same summer. But so remarkable was his ascendancy to domestic prominence that just eight months later he would be included in the senior national side for the first-time, having scored seven league goals in the opening months of the 2011-12 season.
For most outside Serbia, though, it has been in the past six months that Markovic has sprung to prominence. Of course, as the wider media grows aware of his burgeoning reputation, reports as to his next destination become an increasingly regular occurrence. However, it was his on-pitch performance that truly thrust his name to the forefront - principally with one stunning showing at the San Siro against Inter Milan.
Partizan didn't win a single game in Group H of the Europa League this campaign, but in a narrow defeat in Italy they won great respect. A 1-0 loss was the end result, but Markovic enthralled the home fans with a display that incorporated fine dribbling and neat interplay, while he also struck the post with a fine effort while cutting in from the left. So impressive was the teenager's performance that Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni was said to be won over and, within days, the Italian media was full of reports of Inter interest in the youngster.
Markovic is a crowd-pleaser. His searing acceleration is combined with no shortage of trickery and youthful exuberance to terrify opposing defenders. With experience, he will doubtless learn to become a better decision maker, but the raw potential is in place to see him rise to the top of the game. Excellent close control, precise finishing and a noteworthy work rate make him one to watch and while, at times, his final ball could improve and his left foot needs developing, there are enough positives to see scouts flock from far and wide to take a closer look at his wares. Encouragingly, the early signs are good, with Markovic shunning the party lifestyle that endangers many an emerging talent and has earned great praise for his positive attitude off-the-pitch.
So, what next for the young starlet? Barring a final day miracle, Markovic will see out the 2012-13 season at Partizan. This has been the plan for some time and it seems, for now, Partizan have resisted taking the easy money on offer. Both Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk are said to have already seen bids knocked back for the youngster, but will likely return in the summer with increased determination. The player, a childhood Chelsea and Gianfranco Zola fan, has indicated on several occasions that the Premier League is his preferred destination. His recent trip to Chelsea's Cobham base will do little to quell speculation that the Blues are in pole position for his signature.
On Wednesday, Markovic played down his trip to the Blues' training ground, telling reporters in Serbia: "I was just visiting. The stadium is great, it's a fantastic city, but it does not mean I have moved to Chelsea. I'm used to all kinds of things being written about me and I am sure it will continue until I leave Partizan." However, there are several factors that seem to play into Chelsea's hands regarding his future. Besides Markovic's own stated admiration for the London club, it is also widely reported that Roman Abramovich's long-term advisor Pini Zahavi is playing a role in the player's future - although not his official agent. That and the personal recommendation of former Partizan manager Avram Grant may well tip the scales in Chelsea's favour.
For now, though, Serbia's brightest prospect in some time will continue to ply his trade in Belgrade, with Partizan once more favourites to secure a Superliga title come May. It seems highly improbable, though, that they will retain their young starlet much longer than that. Those who have seen Markovic come through the youth ranks are truly excited about what his future may hold and that buzz is beginning to spread Europe-wide. He will have a big reputation to live up to and an important decision to make over which potential move is best for his long-term development. Talent, though, will never be an issue.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter -@chris_elastico
Name: Lazar Markovic