Stefan Bajcetic, the wiry teenager giving Liverpool a welcome boost amid a turbulent campaign, is gearing up for two games that will go some way to defining his career, even at this early stage.
European champion Real Madrid presents a daunting but perfect opportunity for the Reds to make a statement in the Champions League. And the bright spark is an unexpected protagonist when you consider his confident performances, route to the first team, and everything else going into this feverish last-16 match-up.
The central defender turned all-action midfielder speaks and plays like a passionate Liverpudlian and has a varied soccer background, with hints of Serbia, northwestern Spain, and Premier League soccer jammed into a quick ascent to the top level, making him one to watch over the two legs.
Assuming in-form Bajcetic plays, his runouts at Anfield and the Santiago Bernabéu could prove his most important, even over the coming seasons, and see his worth skyrocket in the short term.
Obscurity to imminent riches
As Bajcetic referenced in a recent post-match interview, youth soccer was his focus until recently. Indeed, climbing through the ranks was the Galicia-born star’s first aim when Liverpool acquired him as a 16-year-old from La Liga side Celta Vigo’s academy at the close of 2020.
He cost Liverpool approximately €250,000 ($267,000), a reasonable bet for a Premier League giant to place on a player on the periphery of a talent-filled transfer market. A sharp rise, and some legginess in Liverpool’s midfield, means he’s now a mainstay in the senior lineup. Charting his progress is an upgraded contract, with him earning him around €10.5 million ($11 million) throughout what looks set to be a four-year deal, Football Insider reports.
Going by form, his value has since multiplied and will continue to do so. Robust yet slight physically, he’s not dominating matches but is a sturdy presence who reads play well. Were he in the shop window, he’d surely command money in the millions rather than thousands due to his high ceiling and swiftness in adjusting to the elite game.
If you compare him to Endrick, the 16-year-old Brazilian whom opponent Real has secured for an astounding reported €72 million ($77 million), there is—well—no comparison. Bajcetic represents shrewd business for Liverpool, and further strides in Europe will only raise his stock, starting against the Spanish opposition.
Spain’s forgotten man—until now
The frenzied Spanish media has covered Liverpool fairly comprehensively in recent seasons, assessing what Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keïta, and Thiago Alcântara bring to the party against Los Blancos. One name it hasn’t needed to consider is Bajcetic.
Ironically, he’s among those it should know about most, given his grounding at Celta. However, Bajcetic has never featured in La Liga and is a lesser-known threat for Real to counter in the central areas. He’s a handy card in Liverpool’s pack.
He’s firmly part of the furniture in England after an inconspicuous soccer upbringing in Spain. Speaking about his formative years and the parallels with teammate Thiago’s father, a former professional, he told Liverpool media, “To be fair, it’s a crazy story because I also played in a very, very little academy back in Vigo, the city where I was born.
“We played in the same little academy,” he said, adding, “I think my dad hasn’t talked with his dad, but it’s crazy to think about how small that town was and look at where we are now.”
Spain is finally cottoning on to his ability, albeit down the line. And it’s a perfect moment for Bajcetic to impress the international setup, with La Roja undergoing a rebuild with head coach Luis de la Fuente. Spain hopes he chooses his birth country (Spanish), with Bajcetic also eligible for Serbia through his father and former player Srdjan.
These are two crucial European fixtures for Liverpool. There is a season to rescue and a mental hurdle to overcome also. Real is undefeated in its last six encounters with the Merseysiders, winning five, including two Champions League finals. Replicating his predecessor Zinedine Zidane, boss Carlo Ancelotti seems to have Liverpool’s number, nullifying its threat in the most recent finale in Paris. Liverpool must approach this latest test with renewed vigor, and Bajcetic can be an energetic asset.
Liverpool’s midfield has occasionally appeared off the pace. But with him in the lineup, the balance tips towards something more lively, capable of hassling Real’s playmakers on a good day. Liverpool’s fate this season depends on options in the middle, and the 18-year-old is beginning to remedy its issues. Experience is no object.
Bajcetic is the latest Celta graduate to make his mark at Anfield—and in a comparatively good way. Another well-known to Reds supporters was Iago Aspas, Celta’s record goalscorer. With few cameos, his stint was unsuccessful. By all accounts, Bajcetic—next in line—is flying, and his real business starts soon; the approaching stops in what has been a breakthrough campaign.