Not every extremely talented youngster makes it at Tottenham Hotspur. Making it into the first-team at Spurs is no mean feat and in the end, many have to head elsewhere.
The likes of Ryan Mason, Alex Pritchard, Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll are such examples, but the list goes on.
Another name who would appear on that list is Milos Veljkovic. In the winter of 2016, after nearly five years at Spurs, he left to join German side Werder Bremen.
The defender, who can also operate in midfield, was making a brave move joining a club halfway through a season. But Veljkovic backed his ability and made the switch.
Now the Serbian international has spoken exclusively to The Boot Room about his time in Germany, his national team hopes and what helped trigger his desire for a Spurs exit.
At first, some might have felt Veljkovic had made a mistake with the move. First-team football was not immediate at Bremen.
His first start, in March of 2016, saw Bayern Munich put five past The River Islanders.
But Veljkovic worked hard and, as of January last year, has become an ever-present in the Werder Bremen side:
“When I came from England I had a tough start with injury and I didn’t play so much as I wanted,” he explains.
“But I think I have turned it around. Now I am playing and have a lot of games and play every game so I am satisfied.”
His recent form has certainly not gone unnoticed.
Veljkovic has played 31 times this season and become a vital cog in the Bremen defensive unit. Such form saw the club’s sporting director Frank Baumann tell Deich Stube last month of his desire to tie down Veljkovic to a new deal.
Whilst being wary of the dangers of commitment in the modern game, the Serbian certainly sounds happy to be at the Weser Stadion:
“In football, you never know because this is a business and everything,” Veljkovic forewarns.
“But I like the club, I like the coach and my team-mates. (I like) the city and you know it is a nice environment and at the moment I am really happy.
“But you know, you never know what can happen. But I think you know at the moment I am confident and happy to be here.”
The move from England to Germany and vice-versa has been a common theme in recent years. With good reason as well.
Both leagues have massive similarities. A fast-paced and high octane style in both leagues, Veljkovic sees few differences between the Premier League and the Bundesliga:
“I didn’t play too much in Tottenham the first-team but I watched them also. I was also in the Championship (on loan at Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic). I played some games there.
“I think (the Premier League) is quite similar. It is also very fast, depends again who you play, you know normally it is like this and it is physical also. Also, technically you need to be really sharp. With your technique and your movement and everything, you need to be concentrated. Or else you are going to get punished so I think it is really similar.”
As well as finding his feet in Germany, the 22-year-old is making waves with his national team. Although born and raised in Switzerland, even representing the nation at under-16 level, Veljkovic is unquestionably a proud Serbian.
In 2013 he helped his country win the European Under-19 Championships. Two years later, and Serbia conquered the world. Veljkovic played every game as Serbia won the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, a feat England achieved last summer.
Clearly, it was a moment of huge pride to the young man:
“The experience was amazing,” said Veljkovic. “To win the u-20 World Cup with Serbia was something amazing. It was not like Brazil or Germany it was Serbia, so it was even more special because we were not favourites or nowhere near.
“But we believed in ourselves and it was an amazing experience. When we came back the people in Serbia were really, really happy because they didn’t have much exciting football before.
“Everyone was watching. Even at seven in the morning. To see those happy faces and people smiling there, it really made me proud. After five or six days we realised what he had done because it was like a dream, you know?”
But it was also one of the catalysts that pushed him out of Tottenham Hotspur. Veljkovic, who had played just three times for Spurs, felt his time to play regular first-team football had come:
“It was a really big experience for me but then to come back to Tottenham and not get a chance that also got me a bit upset.”
With his pathway blocked by the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Kevin Wimmer and Eric Dier the time was right to move on:
“After this, I wanted to be able to get a chance. Obviously, I can’t play every game then but I needed a chance or I needed to go somewhere else. So that was what I decided.
“Unfortunately I could not go straight away to Werder Bremen but after six months the club agreed to let me go. It was also a relief because after winning the under-20 World Cup all of my team-mates went to big clubs or were playing with their respective clubs. I didn’t get the chance. This was a bit disappointing from my point of view.”
Such a feeling should certainly come as a warning for English teams, with such an abundance of talent in the Premier League likely feeling the same way Veljkovic did after his summer triumph.
This summer Serbia will be competing at the World Cup for the first time since 2010. A golden generation has passed, but a new one is on the horizon. Serbia dominated a qualifying group containing both the Republic of Ireland and Wales, who ended up not making it to Russia.
Veljkovic has two caps for the national team, after making his debut in November 2017. Undoubtedly, he is in consideration for the summer and was in the national squad for the most recent fixtures against Morocco and Nigeria.
But the young defender is clearly just focused on a strong finish to the season with his club side:
“At the moment I am just concentrating on the last five games in Germany with the Bundesliga. Obviously, everyone wants to go there.
“I think if I am fit and if I keep playing, then I will be there. Hopefully.”
Werder Bremen had a tough start to the Bundesliga this season but with Veljkovic’s help, the ship has been steadied. Now, with just one defeat in six, they sit 12th in the table and look comfortable ahead of next season:
“I have always had this feeling with Bremen,” claimed an optimistic Veljkovic. “With this coach and with these team-mates. If we keep the coach and these players and keep playing like this, like we have, we will be looking up rather than down.
“I think we will be really successful next season.”
Veljkovic has an exciting few months ahead. A possible World Cup experience lies in waiting and he is also clearly hopeful of achieving great things with his club side next season.
Bremen and Serbia fans are certainly lucky to have a personality like Veljkovic’s on their side going into 2018, 2019 and beyond.
Is Erik Lamela about to have his best season yet as a Tottenham player?
The Argentine made a real impact against Fulham.
Erik Lamela impressed as Tottenham recorded a 2-1 victory over London rivals Fulham on Saturday.
The Argentine international hasn’t quite lived up to the reputation that accompanied his £25.7 million price when he moved from Roma in August 2013.
While he has threatened to show his true potential at times, he has never been able to achieve the level of consistency that warrants a regular starting spot for Spurs.
Nonetheless, fans were treated to the Argentine at his very best when he broke from his own half, dribbling past the entire Fulham midfield, before laying off the ball to Harry Kane for his goal at the weekend.
He complemented this moment with a confident cameo display from the bench, in which he threatened the opponents’ goal on two occasions, while fulfilling his role defensively, breaking up several Fulham counter-attacks.
Despite not getting as many minutes as he would have liked, Lamela was hugely influential in turning the course of the tie for the Lilywhites, and this could see him rewarded with his first start of the campaign in the not too distant future.
Having a fit and firing Erik Lamela gives Pochettino another excellent option for rotation in attack. After his cameo at Wembley, there is a feeling that the 26-year-old is well prepared for his best season as a Tottenham player.
Tottenham’s Anthony Martial decision looked justified against Brighton
The Frenchman was poor against Brighton after summer in which Tottenham tried to sign him.
There were plenty of poor performances from the Manchester United players. The likes of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and even David De Gea did not cover themselves in glory. But Anthony Martial might have been the pick of the bunch.
With Alexis Sanchez missing the Frenchman got a surprise start but failed to take his opportunity. He looked disinterested at times and was anonymous throughout, before being hauled off by Mourinho.
“After thinking about all the factors and possibilities, Anthony wants to leave Manchester United. There are lots of factors, and right now it’s too early to talk about them…”
It comes at the end of a summer in which it seemed he would leave. The player wanted to go, as confirmed by his agent.
Tottenham Hotspur were heavily linked with his signature. However, as reported by the Evening Standard, Spurs were never going to pay the asking price for the French international – set at a cool £80 million by the Old Trafford hierarchy.
At one point toward the end of the transfer window, it appeared that things have softened and a deal might go through. But Tottenham did not get their man.
Based on the evidence on display this afternoon, Tottenham fans might be pleased. But his display today shows exactly why he should have been allowed to join Tottenham this summer.
Clearly, he is not happy. Because on his day the 21-year-old is a devastating forward with the ability to leave even the best defences in tatters.
A move to Tottenham could have reinvigorated his spirit and career. As it is, he is stuck at United where he looks set to cut a destitute figure until January at least. If he carries on this form, then Tottenham are unlikely to come knocking on the door again.
Three selection headaches Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino faces ahead of Manchester United trip
The Argentinian made two changes against Fulham having beaten Newcastle and despite the impressive win at Wembley, could make more before heading to the north-west with several doubts over key men in the team.
Here are some of the biggest decisions he will have to make over the week ahead…
Ben Davies or Danny Rose?
Ben Davies has had a poor pre-season and a disappointing start to the Premier League season, potentially opening the door for a return for Danny Rose. Linked with an exit in the summer, Rose was on the bench against Fulham and could be applying the pressure on the Welshman who took his place last season.
It seems unlikely that Pochettino would make such a change for such an important fixture, but equally he may not want to gamble on Davies costing his team with an error.
Lucas Moura in attack?
One of the best performers throughout pre-season and, in particular, against Fulham, has been Lucas Moura. The Brazilian has played as a second striker and been impressive, creating and finishing chances and posing an alternative threat to Harry Kane.
Yet, selecting Moura means that Pochettino must sacrifice a midfielder such as Moussa Dembele, which he may be reluctant to do going to Old Trafford. This decision will be a clear reflection of how confident Pochettino feels about his team’s chances of a win.
Is it right to play Toby Alderweireld?
Goal were among many sources to claim that the Belgian was close to joining Jose Mourinho’s side this summer as speculation continued throughout the transfer window. Alderweireld returned to the line-up for only his sixth appearance for the club in 2018 against Fulham, but Pochettino may have doubts.
The coach could question whether Alderweireld’s mentality would be correct to face a club he reportedly wanted to sign for in only his second appearance of the season, and with the likes of Eric Dier ready to step in, he may opt to be cautious.
Exclusive: George Williams on his Fulham spell, Euro 2016 and two year ambition
We caught up with the former MK Dons and Fulham prospect, now plying his trade for Forest Green.
Exclusive: Christian Doidge discusses new season, career highlights and transfer speculation
The Forest Green Rovers striker spoke to The Boot Room ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
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