One of the miracles of last season was when West Ham United were leading the race to finish in the Top 4 ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham. However, their form trailed off towards the end of the season but the Hammers did manage to secure qualification to the Europa League alongside Leicester, who also missed out on Champions League football.
David Moyes, however, was buoyed by his team’s performance throughout the season but believes that with a couple of additions, they can challenge for a spot in the Top 4 again, courtesy of which, the club have intensified their transfer business.
A big part of this is signing Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenkovic, a player Moyes wanted to sign last summer and in the winter transfer window this year.
Who is Nikola Milenkovic?
One of the stars of Serbian club Partizan Belgrade’s academy, Nikola Milenkovic was bumped up to the senior team of the club in 2016 as an 18-year-old. One of the smarter defenders of his generation, Milenkovic always had the eye for a pass and believed in winning the ball back rather than tackling down somebody for the heck of it.
His performances did not go unnoticed as Fiorentina were ready to snap up the 19-year-old after only a year in Partizan’s senior team. While it took him a year to adjust to life in Serie A, Milenkovic went to make 38 appearances in only his second season. While most Serie A clubs prefer experienced centre-backs or young Italian centre-backs, Fiorentina went a different way and kept faith in the Serbian.
After a largely successful 19/20 season where Milenkovic helped Fiorentina finish in the top half of the table, the Italian club could not replicate the performances this year as they finished 13th in the table. Milenkovic, however, was a huge part of Fiorentina not conceding as much as they should have. Fiorentina’s xGA last season was 65, whereas they ended up conceding only 59, one more than 7th placed Roma.
Playing style in Numbers:
Milenkovic averaged 3.5 clearances per 90 minutes during this period while he was also averaging 1.5 interceptions per game, the highest amongst the Fiorentina backline. While 1.5 interceptions may not seem a lot for a team that conceded more than 1.5 goals per game, most of the goals conceded by the Italian outfit were from set-pieces or through the wings, which would leave Milenkovic outnumbered at the back alongside Martin Caceres, the other centre-back in the team.
A frequent passer from the back, the Serbian averaged 50 passes a game with an 85% pass completion rate, with most of his passes penetrating the opposition midfield line. Milenkovic did not hesitate to spray long balls either as he was completing 3.5 long balls per 90 minutes, a tactic very key to Fiorentina, who use the pace of their forwards to launch attacks.
How does Nikola Milenkovic fit into West Ham?
West Ham’s centre-back pairing last season of Issa Diop and Craig Dawson was brilliant as the pair let in only 47 goals, 3 fewer than Leicester City, who finished above them. While Diop bullied defenders off the ball, Dawson brought a calm presence in the backline.
However, with Dawson’s contract up in 2 years, West Ham want to get ahead and inculcate a new centre-back to replace the 31-year-old. Dawson’s age is catching up with him and with the Premier League becoming a faster game every year, West Ham will need a young centre back who can do all parts of the game comfortably for 90 minutes. Milenkovic fits the bill, as he can cover every blade of the grass, while he can offer the same presence as Dawson at the back.
At 6’5, Milenkovic can not only win the aerial duels but also be an incredible addition to West Ham’s already loaded threat from set-pieces. While Issa Diop looks a tad unorthodox and uncomfortable while passing the ball out from the back, Milenkovic’s confidence on the ball will be a big relief for Diop. Michael Antonio’s pace will be something Moyes will be looking to utilise next season, and with Milenkovic’s range of passing, it could give the Hammers a new dimension of launching attacks.
He is a player suited to the style of the club, and the adjustment would be seamless given that Milenkovic is asked to perform the same duties as he did in Fiorentina.
How close are West Ham to signing Nikola Milenkovic?
The Hammers have reportedly bid £20 million for the centre-back but Fiorentina are set to hold out for a fee of £25 million for the player. The reason behind this asking price is that 10% of Milenkovic’s transfer fee will go to Partizan Belgrade, and Fiorentina themselves want at least £20 million after giving Partizan their fee for the player.
Milenkovic, whose contract will be up in June next year, has turned out a contract extension and made his intentions of leaving the club this summer sufficiently clear to the Fiorentina board. The Serbian is interested in a move to West Ham as the club will play European football next season.
There is a lot to work out in this contract, but with two out of three parties in sync about the deal, it will not be long before West Ham bring Nikola Milenkovic to the London stadium.