A COMMON theme could be found among several of Marco Silva’s loan signings during his January re-modelling of Hull City.
Namely, how the new arrivals’ switch to the East Riding was made to little regret from their respective parent clubs.
Ronald Koeman had written off Oumar Niasse just a few days after taking charge at Everton reign last summer, while Andrea Ranocchia had become a figure of fun in Italy following one too many errors at the heart of the Inter Milan defence. And then there was Lazar Markovic.
On the back of a scintillating year at Benfica, the then 20-year-old had his pick of the Premier League elite when deciding where to move next in the summer of 2014.
Eventually, Liverpool won the race but Chelsea and Jose Mourinho had been so keen that it was twice announced erroneously that the Serbian had signed for the Stamford Bridge club.
Brendan Rodgers, flushed by the proceeds from the £65m sale of Luis Suarez, saw Markovic’s capture as a key building block in his attempts to re-model the Reds following the departure of the talismanic Uruguayan.
Just a year later, however, and the winger was gone. A loan move to Fenerbahce was designed to restore the confidence of a player who had failed miserably to live up to the £20m price tag at Anfield but it did nothing of the sort. If anything, Markovic returned to Merseyside with his reputation as a flop reinforced.
Jurgen Klopp, who had succeeded Rodgers during Markovic’s time in Turkey, saw little in the winger and sent him out again on loan last summer. Lisbon, where he had starred so magnificently for Benfica, was the destination but life at Sporting was no more enjoyable than it had been in Istanbul.
After being substituted in a Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Markovic was jeered from the field as supporters made their feelings known. A recall to England in January came as a blessing but even the 22-year-old could not have imagined just how much of an upturn in his fortunes lay around the corner.
A little over three months on and Markovic’s reputation has been restored. After a slow start, the 23-year-old has become a key figure in Hull’s survival bid and he could not be happier.
“This is my best form so far,” said Markovic when asked about life at Hull. “I came to England to play football and I think I have proved myself – and proved to those who thought otherwise.
“Liverpool spent money on me and I believe they should have believed more in my ability, both Liverpool and the manager. But I got the chance to play more elsewhere. I have no problems with that.
“The manager here is very positive and has a lot of respect from the players. He gets 100 per cent from all of us. He influences positively my game. I enjoy playing for this manager and there are only positives about him.”
Markovic’s praise for City’s head coach is understandable. The Portuguese has helped revive a career that was going nowhere to such an extent that West Ham United are already understood to be ready to make a substantial bid in the summer.
He is a very good professional, a boy who likes to work. But he needs confidence.Marco Silva on Hull City’s Lazar Markovic
Others, including Hull, are keeping close tabs on Markovic’s situation, while even Liverpool fans have been questioning his departure in recent weeks as their own club’s bid to finish in the top four falters.
Silva has not been surprised by how well his January signing has done at the KCOM, having seen at close quarters just what a big talent he had been for Benfica in the 2012-13 season that ended with the Primera Liga title residing at the Estadio da Luz. Silva’s Estoril were twice beaten by the champions that year and the Tigers chief said: “I know Lazar very well. He is a big talent. He is a player that needs to work hard every day to stay on his feet and have confidence to play at his level.
“He is a very good professional, a boy who likes to work. But he needs confidence. When you look at the last year-and-a-half before he came here, he didn’t play. At Fenerbahce, he didn’t play too much. Then, for six months at Sporting, he didn’t play as well.
“When we talked the first time to try and convince Lazar to come here, I was clear with him. I said he needs to play and he needs a coach to believe in him.
“His first games were not the best performances for him but we believed in his game. We showed what we wanted from him. He just needed 90 minutes in his legs and to gain confidence. At this moment, he is in a better condition and he is playing better.”
Markovic’s display in last weekend’s 10-man win over Watford certainly backs up that statement. With Hull up against it following the red card shown to Oumar Niasse, the Serb’s pace and direct running helped City take the game to the visitors. He also netted Hull’s first goal in that vital 2-0 win to underline why Silva worked so hard in January to bring in the pace that so suits the style of play the Portuguese wanted to implement.
Silva was delighted by the loanee’s display against the Hornets but believes there is more to come. “I know people might feel happy with his performances but I want more,” added the Portuguese. “I know it is possible that he can give more to us. He has improved his performances in the last games now he knows our ideas.
“But I know – and he knows as well – it is possible he can improve his performances. He can give more.”
As for what happens in the summer, the 23-year-old admits to being in the dark. “It depends on Liverpool,” he said. “I still have two years on my contract but I enjoy playing in the Premier League and would like to stay in the Premier League.”