Benfica have been linked with a summer move for Dinamo Zagreb’s talented young winger Marko Pjaca, but his agent has dismissed the possibility of such a move, causing consternation amongst the Benfica supporters. Jordan Russell explains why the Estádio da Luz would be the perfect place for the Croat to develop as a footballer.
JR: Marko Pjaca’s agent has created quite a stir with his recent comments on his client’s future. Discussing Benfica’s reported interest, Marko Naletilic told Sportke Novosti: “With all due respect to Benfica, Marko needs to play for a club in (one of) the top 5 European leagues. He deserves to play for a team that is better than Benfica.”
Not only will these words be viewed as highly disrespectful towards one of European football’s most prestigious clubs, it says little for the agent’s knowledge of the modern game.
This season, Benfica reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, showing that they remain equipped to compete at the very highest level. And this despite spending only a fraction of the transfer revenue that they have generated in recent seasons.
Moreover, Portugal recently overtook France as the continent’s fifth strongest league according to the UEFA rankings, so Naletilic’s criticism of the Liga NOS is clearly unfounded. Indeed, while PSG’s dominance of Ligue 1 makes it akin to a ‘one-party state', Portugal is home to a much more competitive top flight. Whereas the Portuguese championship will be decided on the final day of the season, PSG are a staggering 28 points clear of second-placed Lyon in France.
Also, given how successful Benfica have been at enabling quality youngsters to fulfil their potential in recent seasons, why would Pjaca’s agent be so strongly against a move to Lisbon? One assumes that Naletilic is aware of Benfica’s stellar track record of developing Balkan talents, which has earned the club the nickname of Serbica in some quarters. Surely Pjaca’s agent knows about the success stories of Ljubomir Fejsa, Nemanja Matić, Jan Oblak and Lazar Marković, to name but a few?
Pjaca, who has been strongly linked with both Inter and AC Milan in the past, has 19 goals to his name in 59 league appearances for Dinamo. It has been reported that Benfica could be willing to offer as much as €17 million for the Croatian international, showing just how much they appreciate his talent. This would represent a significant upturn in expenditure for the club, as they have rarely spent more than €10 million on any one individual. Benfica’s record signing remains Pizzi, at €14 million.
If Benfica’s pursuit of Pjaca were to end successfully, it might be the clearest indication yet that Nico Gaitán is on his way out of the Estádio da Luz. With André Carrillo and Franco Cervi set to join a squad which already includes Pizzi, Eduardo Salvio, Mehdi Carcela and Gonçalo Guedes, it is difficult to fathom how all of these wide-men could remain part of Rui Vitória’s plans.
Although he is usually deployed on the left wing, Pjaca is more than capable of plying his trade in central areas, and he could certainly play in tandem with a physical frontman such as Kostas Mitroglou, should Vitória persist with his favoured 4-4-2 formation. The 21-year old’s ability to drift between the lines, to dribble and to cut in from wide positions gives his game genuine flexibility.
In any case, another big summer lies ahead for Benfica as they look to strike the right balance between balancing the books and reinforcing their playing squad. Sporting look set to strengthen under the stewardship of Jorge Jesus, while a revolution of sorts surely lies ahead at Porto after yet another disappointing season for the Dragons.
Contrary to the beliefs of Pjaca’s agent, a move to Benfica would be beneficial for all parties, of that there is no doubt.