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There are very few players who leave a club at the lower reaches of the Premier League, being considered broadly as a failure, but then go on to become a star at their new club and drive a young team on towards the semi-finals of the Champions League. In fact, few may be an exaggeration, it’s a question if there’s ever been any, but when Dušan Tadić left Southampton last summer, he was about to embark on such a journey.
Four years with the Vojvodina senior team in his native Serbia led to a move into the Eredivisie in the Netherlands, firstly with Groningen and then FC Twente. Staying for a couple of seasons at both clubs, he was a worthy rather than spectacular forward, hardly tearing up the record books with 46 goals in 134 games across all competitions. It was deemed sufficient pedigree however for Ronald Koeman to make the Serbian his first signing when he took over at St Marys, laying out some £11 million to bring him to the South Coast.
Although playing more as a creator than an out-and-out striker during his time with the Saints, a paltry 23 goals in 162 games for the club suggested that perhaps the English game may well have been too frantic for the silky skills of the Serb. At 30 years of age last summer, very few Saints fans would have been shedding too many tears when Tadić announced his intention to leave the club, and a bid from Ajax which broadly gave Southampton their money back seemed like an attractive option.
At the time, it hardly looked like a step up for the forward. Ajax had managed to head into the playoff rounds for the Champions’ League group stages, but there were hardly any great expectations that the club, once the dynamic leading force on the continent were anywhere near a return to their former glories. A young team, as is so often the case with the Amsterdam club, looked promising, but particularly short on experience.
Along with the signing of Danny Blind from Manchester United, however, the team suddenly had an infusion of the sort of experience required and things took off. Whilst so much focus – and transfer speculation – has swirled around the younger stars of the new Ajax team, however, in the Netherlands, it’s widely accepted that the addition of Tadić has been a key factor in the phenomenal rise of the club. Many have been moved to link the influence and talent of Tadić with the impression given by Luis Suarez in his time with the club before moving on to Liverpool.
One of the incentives to bring the Serb in was to cover for the potential loss of Hakim Ziyech, with the Morocco international thought likely to be leaving Amsterdam last summer. The move, however, didn’t materialise and, instead, the teenager has formed a formidable partnership with Tadić, providing the creative drive as the young team blossomed so spectacularly.
It has seen the Serb deliver his most prolific time of his career. The season is still unfinished, but ahead of the semi-final confrontation with Spurs, he has already scored 34 goals in 51 appearances for the club, an increase of 50% on the total acquired over four seasons with Southampton. It should also be added that nine of those goals have come in the club’s stunning run in the Champions League, producing outstanding displays eliminating both Real Madrid and Juventus with some scintillating football.
Inevitably, and somewhat sadly for all romantics amongst the football fan fraternity, it seems likely that this new flame of Dutch football may well be but a brief flaring, doomed to die away as quickly as it burst into life. Already some of the powerhouse clubs of Europe are eyeing up the crop of talent bearing the famous white shirt with the broad red stripe, and Barcelona, in particular, seem intent on further indulging their regular habit of hoovering up the best talent that Dutch football has to offer.
It may well be of course that there are others at the club ready and able to step into the gaps left by any players seduced away by fame and fortune, but it would take another burst of inspirational genius from manager Erik ten Hag if it were to maintain its new-found impetus in the face of losing three or four of their top stars. Talk also abounds that Tadić’s form and ebullient talent could attract interest from other clubs, and a last big payday may well persuade him to move on.
Perhaps, however, ten Hag can persuade the forward from any such flights of caprice. Ajax stand at the top of the Eredivisie, are already in the Dutch cup final and, given their performances to date in Europe, may well be on the way to emulating their illustrious predecessors at the club. With Blind and Tadić in place as the father figures of the squad, perhaps the renaissance can be maintained. It may all depend on what offers are received of course, but if one comes in from Southampton, it’s probably safe to say that Dušan Tadić’s passport may not be required.