Fans of the long running Football Manager series will be more than familiar with the term regen. For those who actually have a social life, and are therefore unaware of the features of the game; a regen is a regenerated (some say fake) footballer, who is added to the database of the game, (essentially to fill the database whilst compensating for the retirement of real life players) as time passes.
While many of these new players are randomly generated, and often nothing to shout about, some regens take on the characteristics and abilities of their retired counterparts. For instance, when Steven Gerrard eventually hung up the boots and become Liverpool’s Assistant Manager on my game save, a young player named Brett Holness appeared in the Liverpool Youth Squad during the following pre-season. The attack minded midfielder encompassed many of Gerrard’s best attributes and characteristics, and was tipped for great things from a young age. Unlike his real life counterpart, Holness moved to Real Madrid for £37million and became one of the best players in the world. A story for another day maybe, but nonetheless explains the principle.
The reason for the narrative is that it can be likened to the wishes of Manchester United fans – something that has come as a result of the faltering Defence for well over a year now. Since the loss of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the Reds have not settled on a long term Centre Back pairing. Fans have been teased by the prospect of signing names such as Mats Hummels, Diego Godin, Mehdi Benatia and Ezequiel Garay in recent times. None however have come to fruition.
With the players they have; Tyler Blackett, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Paddy McNair, Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and even Luke Shaw have been trialled at Centre Half – all with varying degrees of success. If only finding a suitable replacement was as simple as stumbling upon a Nemanja Vidic regen in the youth setup.
With this turmoil building at Old Trafford, a certain 23 year old, 6ft 4in, Serbian Centre Back watches on. Torino’s Nikola Maksimovic may sound like a good Nemanja Vidic tribute act on paper, but his playing style as well as his Red Star Belgrade roots seems to back up some of the plaudits he has been getting in his native Serbia.
After being signed by Serbian side Sloboda Uzice in 2006 aged 15, Maksimovic patiently worked his way through the youth ranks, and went on to make his first senior appearance for the side in a Serbian SuperLiga game aged 18. Maksimovic adapted well to such a physical league, and stood out from an early age due to his slender build but towering height. In January 2012 he was signed by Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade for around £225,000, and went on to make 35 appearances in all competitions in an 18 month stay with the club.
It became apparent that Maksimovic had somewhat outgrown the Serbian League, and in July 2013 joined Serie A European hopefuls Torino on an initial loan with the option thereafter of an outright purchase. It wasn’t until October before Maksimovic made his Torino debut, but soon became a regular in an incredibly efficient side that included Italy stars Alessio Cerci, Ciro Immobile, Matteo Darmian. Despite a finish above sides like AC Milan, Lazio, Sampdoria and Udinese, an eventual 7th place finish was the somewhat disappointing culmination of a season that at one point promised so much. A welcome silver lining at the end of the campaign came in the form of a European ban for Parma (who finished 6th), meaning that the last Serie A Europa League spot was instead handed to Torino.
Move on to this season, and with the added workload that the Europa League brings, as well as losing two key attacking players in Immobile and Cerci, Torino’s sharpness in Serie A suffered. Head coach Giampiero Ventura however, saw more than enough talent in Maksimovic during his loan spell, and decided to sign him permanently for a fee of around £2million, on a contract until 2018. Maksimovic, likely buoyed by the confidence and spurred on by the responsibility, has flourished.
In 18 Serie A games, the Serbian averages almost three interceptions and four clearances per game. Couple that with a pass success of 87% from an average of 58 passes per game, and it is hard to believe that Maksimovic has not attracted as many big name sides as is the case.
Whilst capable of last ditch defending, Maksimovic really feels at home when carrying the ball out from the defensive third. He has agility defying his physical makeup, and shows elegance breaking out from the back, which is rare to see.
Versatility is a valuable commodity in the modern game, and Maksimovic similarly suits up for it perfectly. The Serbian has played in every position across the back four in his short career, and has also looked equally assured at Defensive Midfield despite only filling in momentarily.
With Financial Fair Play always lurking in the shadows, I believe he would be an astute addition to many sides across Europe, namely Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, whether it be in the final days of this winter window, or indeed in the summer.
Some argue there must be good reason as to why Maksimovic has not yet been courted by a Champions League side, but I could just as easily point in the direction player like Nemanja Vidic, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Dante and Jeremy Mathieu. All are players who broke through the ‘mediocre barrier’ relatively late in their careers – or certainly much older than Maksimovic is right now. The £7million transfer fee that Maksimovic would likely command (ironically the same as Nemanja Vidic cost Manchester United in 2006) doesn’t represent a financial gamble for a top side at all. I say to clubs: sign him now while you can.