After suggestions that Marko Grujic could take up the No. 8 shirt on his arrival at Liverpool, the midfielder was keen to distance himself from the “burden”.
Grujic joined Liverpool in a deal worth around £5 million at the beginning of January, but was immediately loaned back to Serbian side Red Star Belgrade.
The midfielder is on course to secure the Serbian SuperLiga title this season, capping a remarkable rise through the ranks under Miodrag Bozovic and giving him vital experience ahead of his switch to the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp spoke of his admiration for the 19-year-old on sanctioning the move, evoking the memory of a Reds legend.
“To describe him, I would say he’s a tall boy, but quick and good at technical things. He can play passes and can dribble,” he said.
“But he is young, so he has to develop. He will do this, so everything is okay.”
Even before Steven Gerrard’s move to LA Galaxy at the end of the 2014/15 season, Anfield has been preoccupied by a desire to find the ‘next Steven Gerrard’.
Both Cameron Brannagan and Jordan Rossiter have been lumbered with the tag in the embryonic stages of their development, while it can be argued that too much is expected of Jordan Henderson after inheriting the captain’s armband from Gerrard.
Grujic came into danger of falling into that group when Red Star’s sporting director, Zvezdan Terzic, claimed the Serbia U21 international would adopt the No. 8 shirt at Liverpool.
But conscious of its status, Grujic has since quashed this speculation.
“It would be very difficult,” he told Serbian publication Blic.
“I thought it was possible, but no player in the world, to come from Real Madrid or Barcelona, would want this burden.
“It is better to start slowly and then build.
“I’ll have maybe 35, like at the beginning with Star, or 88—definitely something that has to do with an eight.”
While the notion of the number on the back of a player’s shirt adding pressure is hugely trivial, it is also unavoidable in the primal atmosphere of Anfield.
Grujic’s decision is reminiscent of that of Danny Ings on his move to Merseyside last summer, with the striker choosing to wear the No. 28, explaining that “I wouldn’t want to go to Liverpool and chuck a shirt on my back like that—it is pressure you don’t need.”
Like Ings, Grujic is clearly looking to earn his status as a top-level player at Liverpool before assuming Gerrard’s mantle.
Klopp may believe he is capable, but the modest Serbian is wise to avoid the “burden” at this stage.