It can be easy to forget sometimes, but Marko Grujic arrived at Anfield as Jürgen Klopp’s first signing, a player hand-picked by since-departed assistant manager Željko Buvač. And, once remembered, it can be a surprise to learn he’s still just 22 years old.
Things haven’t worked out for him as hoped at Liverpool, at least not yet, but he remains a young and very promising midfield prospect on loan at Hertha Berlin this year—and to hear his current manager tell it, he might yet become the player many hoped.
“This is the first time I didn’t have to settle with the middle shelf in the supermarket,” said Pál Dárdai of Grujic, who he counts as Hertha’s best midfielder. “Instead I was able reach the top. This is the first time I’ve had a player like him, even if it’s only on loan.”
Dárdai was particularly enthusiastic as Grujic had just made his return from injury, putting in nearly 60 minutes against Nurnberg, playing a key role in a 3-1 victory that meant Hertha ended the round within three points of a Europa League berth in the Bundesliga.
The manager has previously spoken highly of Grujic, but with just eight appearances and one goal for Hertha it could look as though there’s a gap between Dárdai’s praise and what Grujic has actually managed to bring to the side. The issue? Injuries.
His most recent return wasn’t his first of the season. The player has missed two spells, and both of have been long. In the autumn he missed eight games in six weeks with a ruptured ankle ligament. This time, it was six weeks more—and again an ankle problem.
During his time at Liverpool, too, there was a hamstring injury in December of 2016 that meant three months on the sidelines and set him back significantly. It’s concerning for a player his age in need of regular playing time to continue his development.
The good news, at least, is that he’s now fit again. And there’s little doubt that if he can stay that way for the remainder of the season he will be given the chance to play every minute he’s able to, such is the Hertha manager’s belief in him as a difference-maker.
“When he was fit we had a 2.4 point average,” Dárdai added. “He put the team on his back. With that average we could contend for a Champions League place, and if he doesn’t score, he still makes all the others calm with his presence—he provides stability.
“Without him, we have a 0.7 point average. We would be relegated playing like this, and when he did not play, it affected everyone. We missed him in the middle of the park. We can have a good spring if he stays healthy.”