In most countries around the world, children are given a single surname, their father's, as a matter of course. Serbia is no exception to this rule, but Spain is. This explains why Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has two last names, having been born in Lleida (Catalonia) to Serbian parents on 27 February 1995. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the couple passed on to their offspring.
"My dad, Nikola, was a professional footballer, while my mum, Milana, was a well-known basketball player back home. I don't know if sport is in our genes, but it's fair to say that I was steeped in a competitive environment from a very young age," the Genk and Serbia U-20 midfielder told FIFA.com. "I chose to go into football because when I was younger I was more in the habit of going to see my dad in action, rather than my mum. But I do love basketball too and I enjoy playing it whenever I have a bit of free time."
So, though he has his mother's smile and physique (he stands 6'3 tall), the promising anchorman is indebted to his father for his footballing calibre. By this we mean not just his passion for the game and technical ability, but also superb vision – as befitting the son of a fine attacking midfielder whose playing career took him to Spain, Portugal and Austria and clubs such as Almeria (via Lleida), Chaves and Grazer AK respectively. "My dad plays a very important role in my career. I definitely benefit from his top-level experience. He's always quick to give me advice; that's a real advantage for me," Sergej noted. "But", he hastened to add, "I could just as well say the same for my mother and my brother."
Brothers in armsSergej may well be one of the most exciting prospects in Serbian football, but so too is his 17-year-old younger brother, Vanja. And while the former shines with the ball at feet, like his dad, the latter has followed in his mother's footsteps by largely using his hands for a living. The towering goalkeeper (he is 6'8 and rising) is currently denying attackers for both Vojvodina Novi Sad, who lie third in the Serbian top flight, and the U-20 national team. "Getting to develop alongside your brother is priceless. As the older sibling, I try to set an example. Vanja is a huge source of motivation for me," admitted Sergej.
In fact, it is no coincidence that Vanja came to try his luck in Novi Sad after being farmed out on loan by Manchester United. Vojvodina is where it all started for Milinkovic-Savic the Elder. In Sergej's words, "They're one of the three top clubs in the country and they give young players a chance. I got my break and that's how I wound up being able to subsequently sign for Genk, one of the most famous clubs in Belgium." Having hit three goals in 13 appearances in his debut season in Serbia, the midfielder has netted twice in as many matches this term at Genk, currently sixth in the Belgian Pro League, and is enjoying his football. "I'm getting more and more game time, I'm scoring goals, it's a young team and I feel completely settled in. Genk is the ideal setting for me to continue my development and gain more experience."
A score to settle on the international stageThe forthcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand will be another fantastic showcase for budding talents, and the young midfielder is determined to make an impact there. Not only because, as he put it, "Playing for my country means a great deal to me," but also because he has a score to settle from last year's UEFA U-19 European Championship. A linchpin of the side that claimed the trophy in 2013, his club only allowed him to join up with the squad at the semi-final stage of the 2014 event, whereupon Serbia – unbeaten up to that point and having sealed their place at New Zealand 2015 – were duly knocked out by Portugal. To make matters worse, the defeat came on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes and the Genk schemer missed the crucial kick in the shoot-out.
Milinkovic-Savic is confident that he will have a chance to make amends on the world stage: "The team are brimming with talent and they deserve to go far at the upcoming U-20 World Cup." If they do so, you can expect to hear plenty more about the midfield starlet with the double-barrelled surname.