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€100M Sergej Milinkovic-Savic? Why that looks a snip for Man Utd and Chelsea

€100m? For Sergej Milinkovic-Savic? You can't blame Claudio Lotito for chancing his arm.

After all, it was only last summer he turned down €70m for his super Serb. And that was before he'd earned his first cap.

"It's not true that Lazio just sells our toys," declared the Lazio president. "If I wanted to get big money, I would have made it out of Milinkovic-Savic's transfer, but I refused 70 million.

"I did not think about another outcome for a moment, he remains part of our team."

Thanks to holding his nerve, Lotito knows he's sitting on a jackpot. As mentioned, that €70m offer was turned down before the Spanish born Milinkovic-Savic had finally won his first cap. It also came before the transfer market was sent into a spin by PSG, Neymar and Barcelona. For a midfielder, at 22, who has been dubbed Serbia's "future" and has Italy's greats lavishing him with praise, Lotito - as out of character as it may seem - is selling his prize asset short.

"Some of his passing is pure genius," claimed Juventus icon Alessandro del Piero earlier this season. "He has great anticipation of what lays ahead of him.

"He's a fantastic player and I'd say that to anyone who asked."

So where did that €70m offer come from? The good money is on Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, though at the time Chelsea, Barcelona and Juve were also mentioned. And since Lotito's revelation, Milinkovic-Savic's agent, Mateja Kezman, has talked up the interest of United, along with several other suitors.

Just in September, Kezman declared: "There's strong pressure from various locations like Madrid, Milan, Manchester ... But now it's hard to think about the future outside of Lazio when the season is so beautiful.

"But I cannot exclude the possibility of going at the end of the season."

That was then. Today, the "pressure" former Chelsea striker Kezman mentioned is intensifying. United's interest is now front page news in Rome's dailys. And Barca chiefs Robert Fernandez and Urbano Ortega were happy to be seen at the Stadio Olimpico taking in a Milinkovic-Savic performance earlier this month. The local press even noting the pair resided for the week in a converted lodge for the Rome Olympics.

Last week, a Milinkovic-Savic brace from midfield in the 3-3 draw with Atalanta was seen by scouts from United, Barca, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and PSG. All requesting tickets from Atalanta for the game.

"I scored two important goals, I play for Lazio and it does not matter to me who came to watch me," declared Milinkovic-Savic. "I am happy at Lazio."

But that's not to say he and Kezman aren't looking ahead. By his own admission, a move to England is in the career plan. As is playing for one particular manager.

“(Zlatan) Ibrahimovic is my favourite footballer," he said in January. “His coach, Mourinho, is the best manager in the world – he's intelligent and simply great."

Clearly, given United's presence at Lazio games this season, the feeling's mutual. Indeed, despite also the interest of Barca, Tribalfootball.com has been informed their attraction is tepid at best.

Ariedo Braida, the famed Italian talent spotter, is the one driving Barca's pursuit of Milinkovic-Savic. But many inside La Masia aren't so keen, believing the 6ft 4in midfielder is more suited to the Premier League than LaLiga - and particularly Barca's traditional style of play.

In Italy, as in Serbia, there's no such concerns. Serie A pundits, like Del Piero, are climbing over eachother to single out Lazio's powerhouse as one to watch.

World Cup winner Fulvio Collovati, once of AC Milan and Inter, believes they're witnessing something special develop in front of them.

"I have to point out Milinkovic-Savic," he says. "He is a player who delights me. I am convinced that he will be the main star of the transfer window next summer.

"(Massimiliano) Allegri's Juventus and other big clubs are already accustomed to the importance of his name."

Inside Lazio, they credit coach Simone Inzaghi for Milinkovic-Savic's rapid rise.

"Sergej is without a doubt the player who has improved most in Serie A in the past 18 months," confirmed a Lazio source. "On his arrival, (Stefano) Pioli used him as a wing-back, but Inzaghi moved him a little inside and found him the perfect place in the team."

The insider added: "He can fall short technically, but makes that up with his incredible power. He is a footballer who will do well with Juventus or some other big club, and there is still room for improvement."

Which is what the likes of United and Chelsea will be banking on. And as much as Milinkovic-Savic now being a senior international helps Lotito and his asking price, it also smooths any doubts over a UK work permit. Older brother Vanja had two years on United's books, but never managed to get his formal move to England due to immigration red tape. The goalkeeper is now proving himself with Sinisa Mihajlovic's Torino.

For Sergej, the same experience won't befall him. And Roma defender Aleksandar Kolarov, formerly of Manchester City, has no doubts about his international teammate's potential.

"Milinkovic-Savic is a phenomenon," says Kolarov. "We always knew it. And this season he's proving himself. He is the future of Serbia - and of Lazio."

But for how long? At today's market rates - and this season's testimonials - Lotito's €100m demands now look a snip.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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