In January 2009 Manchester United announced the signing of Adem Ljajic along with Zoran Tosic from Partizan Belgrade. The 17 year old Ljajic had been looked at by a host of European clubs with Partizan turning down offers from Inter Milan and Spartak Moscow before accepting United’s bid.
Although Tosic was transferred immediately Ljajic remained in Serbia due to age restrictions as well as to aid his development but who was this 17 year old that was so highly regarded by Europe’s elite?
Ljajic, now 18, joined Partizan Belgrade after impressing in a youth tournament in 2003. He starred in the youth ranks especially during international tournaments. At a competition in Spain he performed so well that Real Madrid began to watch him and Spanish newspaper ‘Marca’ sought him out and interviewed him.
He began training with the first team in the summer of 2008 impressing his older team mates with not only his ability but his attitude as he worked hard and was always willing to learn. He made his first team debut in a Champions League qualifier against Inter Baku in July as a second half sub. He would then score his first goal in Partizan’s derby game with OFK Beograd. Ljajic was significantly handed the number 22 shirt a huge honour considering the last player to wear it was Partizan legend Sasa Ilic who vacated the shirt in 2004 when he join Celta Vigo on loan then Galatasary permanently.
In the 2008-2009 season he made 24 league appearances and scored five times as Partizan picked up the Serbian league title. This season his starts at the club have been limited but Partizan manager, Slavisa Jokanovic has been dedicated to helping him develop, bringing him on late in games in order for him to gain vital experience and he in his 11 games he has found the net 3 times.
As well as carving out a club career Ljajic has been impressing on the international stage playing for both Serbia’s U17 & U19 teams. On September 7th 2008 he made his debut for the U21 team and now has 7 appearances at that level and 1 goal, a header against Sweden.
His performances have lead to him being labelled ‘Little Kaka’ due to similarities in skill and ability as his Brazilian counterpart. Like his adopted namesake Ljajic can play in almost any attacking position but excels at right wing where his pace and penchant for beating players comes in hand. He has excellent dribbling, able to dance through defences at will, as well as excellent vision to spot team mates with precise passing. At just 18 Ljajic is already a cultured player and has the invaluable talent of being able create time and space whilst on the ball as well as superb close control.
By his own admission at 6ft Ljajic’s heading could be better and he needs to work on the defensive side of his game but at just 18 he has plenty of time.
As Ljajic rounds up the first chapter of his career he will look at it as a success, winning the league in his first season as an established Partizan player and now as he prepares to join Manchester United in January he will make the step up to the next level, but judging by his ability this should not pose a problem.
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