When it comes to transfers, there are certain people that are far more interested in how much money has been spent than in how the squad is actually looking. Perhaps there is no better example of this phenomenon than the existence of Stefan Bajčetić, who most Liverpool supporters hadn’t even heard of ahead of the 2022-2023 campaign.
It was a season that very much lacked any sort of spark on the football pitch, with the Reds eventually stumbling to a fifth placed finish and missing out on the Champions League places for the first time since Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield.
A product of the Celta Vigo youth academy, Bajčetić arrived at Liverpool in December of 2020 and was happily playing in the youth teams, biding his time. That time came when the Reds’ midfield was genuinely dreadful and seemingly getting worse as the season wore on. Fabinho Tavares’ performances had fallen off a cliff, whilst the club captain struggled to shake off the disappointment that came with defeat for England in the World Cup in Qatar.
Perhaps not the best of circumstances for a young player to make his way into the team, but that didn’t stop Bajčetić from making his mark and making the transfer-hungry crew look like fools.
Who Is Stefan Bajčetić?
Stefan Bajčetić Maquieira, to give him his full name, gives you all of the information that you need when you break his name down. He is the son of the former Serbian footballer Srđan Bajčetić, as well as a Galacian mother, with his name demonstrating both his Serbian and Spanish roots. Born on the 22nd of October 2004, he spent his formative years in Celta Vigo’s youth academy before eventually catching the eye of several different clubs. It was Liverpool that won the chase for his signature, however, and the Reds paid the Spanish club £224,000 for his signature.
That was in December of 2020, with the player making solid progress through the ranks in the following couple of years. In fact, his progress was so impressive that he was given a new contract in August of 2022, having impressed in Liverpool’s pre-season campaign.
Throw back when Stefan unlocked a goal scoring attempt simply with a turn🤩
— Stefan Bajcetic Xtra (@SBMXtra) June 3, 2023
Of course, not everyone watches pre-season and even fewer people pay attention to the players on the outskirts of the first-team, but thankfully for Bajčetić the manager knows exactly who it is that is appearing on the pitch for him. He played 139 minutes in games against Manchester United, Crystal Palace, RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg.
It wasn’t just Manchester United who Liverpool had had to beat in order to sign the youngster. He was just 16 at the time of his arrival on Merseyside, with post-Brexit rules dictating that players had to be over 18 in order to be signed by English clubs. The Reds managed to get the deal done before they came in, however, impressing his family with their advances and the manner in which they felt that he could develop into an important player for them. Having been a ‘standout player’ for his age group, which soon saw him rise to the top of Liverpool’s plans at Anfield.
Making It Into The First Team
It is likely that Bajčetić’s ability would have seen him appear for the Reds sooner or later, but it certainly helped him that the manager was looking for other options in midfield after a frankly disastrous campaign in 2022-2023.
He made his first professional appearance during a 9-0 win over Bournemouth when he came on as a substitute, then a few weeks later he came Liverpool’s youngest-ever Champions League player when he replaced Thiago Alcantara in the 94th minute of a gamer against Ajax. Two months on and he got his first start, this time in a League Cup match against Derby County.
If his time at Liverpool had felt like a dream, with things moving quickly, he was to be sky-rocketed into the minds of many thanks to a goal against Aston Villa in the Premier League on Boxing Day 2022, having only come on as a substitute in the 79th minute. It saw Liverpool beat the Villains 3-1 at Villa Park, with only Michael Owen and Raheem Sterling having been younger than him when scoring in the Premier League for the Reds. By January 2023, Bajčetić’s importance to Liverpool was clear, which is why he was rewarded with another long-term contract.
Starts against Chelsea, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton in the Premier League proved that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, which was acknowledged by supporters on the 16th of February when he was named January’s Player of the Month. If he didn’t think things could get any better, the decision of Jürgen Klopp to start him in the Champions League knockout match against Real Madrid on the 21st of February put paid to that notion.
At 18 years and 122 days, he became the youngest player ever to start a Champions League knockout game for the Reds, which they lost 2-5.
Perhaps the thing that Liverpool fans are most excited about when it comes to Stefan Bajčetić is his positional flexibility. Having trained as a centre-back, Jürgen Klopp decided to deploy him as a defensive midfielder when he made it into the team during the 2022-2023 campaign.
As Trent Alexander-Arnold’s position in the team became somewhat flexible, with the England international starting as a right-back but moving into midfield when the Reds were on the ball, it became clear that he would need an understudy and some wondered whether Bajčetić might be able to play the part.
The more games he played, the more it appeared as though he could offer an attacking presence from the middle of the park. This notion was offered even more credence thanks to his goal against Aston Villa, with Alex Otero, the youth football co-ordinator at Celta, saying,
“He has amazing physical characteristics. He is extremely quick, makes good recoveries, has a great spring, is really impressive in the air and carries the ball cleanly…He can really play and help construct attacks but he is also noticeable for his comfort with his left and right foot.”
The future, then, looks bright for both the player and the club.