Marko Grujic has big plans this summer – for club and country.
The 6ft 3ins Serbian powerhouse has set his heart on helping Cardiff City earn promotion to the Premier League and hopes that will keep him in the thoughts of Serbian coach Mladen Krstajić.
Grujic, the son of a Belgrade football journalist, has been selected for international friendlies against Morocco and Nigeria during the international break, which starts after Cardiff’s Championship match at Derby County on Sunday.
Serbia have qualified for the Fifa World Cup finals in Russia during June after finishing top of a qualifying group which included Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
They have been drawn to play Costa Rica, Switzerland and Brazil during the finals this summer.
He has already earned four senior international caps and will fly out next week to join his national squad.
“Hopefully I will get the chance to be in Serbia’s World Cup squad,” The 21-year-old told Cardiff City’s media department. “Every 90 minutes I play for Cardiff will help me achieve that.
“I want play a really big part here to help this club and put me in the right place for the future.
“My aim is to push as hard as I can in training and give 100 per cent in training to achieve that.”
Grujic was in Serbia’s Under-20 World Cup-winning squad in New Zealand last summer, when they defeated Brazil 2-1 in the final and won a Serbian Superliga winners medal with Red Star Belgrade in 2015-16.
He was manager Jurgen Klopp’s first Liverpool signing, although he was immediately loaned back to his home city club.
Liverpool paid more than £5m for Grujic, who has made eight substitute appearances for the Merseyside club and has now added steel and quality to Cardiff’s midfield.
He has been compared by pundits and journalists, perhaps unfairly, to Serbian team-mate Nemanja Matic, former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure in style and has certainly made a major impact with the Bluebirds.
Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds are unbeaten in nine league matches when Grujic has played – seven wins and two draws. They have scored 17, conceded four and kept four clean sheets.
He can operate in a defensive midfield role breaking up play, loves to go forward, is strong in the air and all the energy needed for a box-to-box role.
Grujic has a natural ability to to take up good positions, while his movement and awareness are excellent.
He can be reckless in challenge, but is maturing and improving under Warnock’s guidance.
Grujic slotted in alongside Joe Ralls and Callum Paterson when he first played for City, while is now working alongside Paterson and Loic Damour.
“I’ve had a particular role to play in a few games,” he says. “You may see the attacking side of my game a bit more. The gaffer knows what I can do and that I don’t have a problem playing different roles.
“The gaffer is an experienced guy. He’s won promotion even times, keeps teaching us the right things and knows exactly what we need to do to be in this position and keep it going until the end of this season.
“We’re one big team and he is a big part of that. There is great team spirit and no doubt our dressing room is one of the best around.
“We have a really good chance of earning promotion and the lads would have the chance to play Premier League football for Cardiff City.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for us and we just have to keep on doing what we are doing.”
Liverpool manager Klopp has talked about Grujic’s ability, saying: “When I came here our scouts showed me some footage of a skilled player from Red Star Belgrade. We watched it, spoke to him and we met.
“He’s a young boy, a tall boy who is quick and good at technical things. Marko can play passes and dribble, but he has to develop.”
This stage of Grujic’s development is with Warnock’s Cardiff City and he said after a telephone call from Klopp.
“The manager (Klopp) did most of the talking and told me about the plans that he had for me,” said Grujic.
“His vision is that I should be something between a No. 6 and a No. 10, a box-to-box midfielder.
“When a coach like that calls you on the phone personally, that’s the greatest privilege. That call really cemented my desire to join Liverpool.
“I would choose Liverpool over Real Madrid and Barcelona. I love the club.”
For the rest of this season, though, Grujic is a Bluebirds and is intent on a promotion charge. How he would love to be playing for Liverpool against Cardiff City in the Premier League next season.