For many months Chelsea have been linked with Serbian wonderkid Lazar Markovic so it came as a bit of a surprise when Benfica last night announced on their club website that they had in fact signed him, for five years to boot. The sense of confusion was then added to when the chairman of Markovic’s old club Partizan Belgrade was quoted as saying ‘It is true, Chelsea will send Markovic out on a loan for two years.’ So what’s going on? How can two clubs both claim to own the same player? The truth could be a little of both.
Chelsea have a recently established history of loaning players to countries with more favourable work permit restrictions to continue their development. The loaned Alex to PSV in order for him to accrue Dutch national qualifying time and loaned Slobodan Rajkovic, another Serb, to various Dutch teams for the same reason. If they were to return to the Chelsea first team squad they would do so having attained Dutch residency, thus making eligible for registration as an EU national and therefore exempt from work permit laws.
In the scenario where Chelsea own him themselves; as a 19 year old with only seven first team international caps, Markovic would not qualify for a work permit for Chelsea. Sending him to Portugal would be a way of ensuring that he does. He can gain Portuguese residency far more easily than in England, and would also be playing in a good league for a team that is perennially in the Champions League.
The links between Benfica and Chelsea have tightened over recent years and this could be a way of utilising them. The two clubs are still on good terms after the deals for Chelsea to buy Ramires and David Luiz that saw Benfica net yet another Serbian, Nemanja Matic, in to the bargain. The two clubs were of course in Amsterdam together for the Europa League final and it’s not hard to conceive of them discussing a way in which Markovic could end up at Benfica for a little while before heading to Chelsea.
The other option is that Benfica actually do own him but that he is parked there with Chelsea owning a first option on him should they choose to take it up. If the clubs wanted to avoid accusations that they had worked together on the deal it possibly is why there is so much confusion.
The reason for thinking this could be the case is a possible issue of mistranslation of the Partizan chairman. There is some discussion as to whether he has been misquoted, possibly saying that Chelsea and Benfica were still in discussion over an arrangement; Chelsea wants to loan Marković to Benfica for two years, and honestly speaking, I hope to God that they don’t come to an agreement so that Lazar can stay six more months at Partizan
So is Markovic worth all this confusion? The evidence suggests that he is. Last season he scored seven and assisted seven in just 19 games from his left forward position. He is quick, direct and skilful, the qualities which both Chelsea and Benfica look for in their forwards and attacking midfielders. To have gained seven senior caps at just 19, whilst being injury hit last season too, is very impressive. In fact, he was only 19 in March, so a lot of his achievements came when even younger.
The only way for this to all be cleared up would be for Chelsea to come out and clarify their position but it looks like one of two things. Either Chelsea bought him and loaned him to Benfica or the two clubs have a gentleman’s agreement forged on recent good relations that sees Markovic go to Lisbon and probably to Chelsea in future.