Yes, ‘Wonderkid Watch’ covers Serie A as well! First up in this debut Serie A edition of the segment is a Serbian prodigy…
Name & Age: Matija Nastasić, 19
Club & Position: Fiorentina, Center Back
It’s no secret that Fiorentina are having a bad season. A club that was once a regular contender for a place in European competition now finds itself being sucked into a relegation scrap. At this point in time, then, fans need a lift, a positive to hold on to and cherish amidst all the doom and gloom. Please rise, Matija Nastasić.
The young Serbian, signed in January, 2011, from Partizan Belgrade, was unable to join the Italian club until that summer (due to the limit of non-EU players). He turned out to be well worth the wait, however. The player has proven to be a shining light amidst a nightmare season for the Viola, topping his impressive performances with a return of 2 goals in his last 3 games. But what makes the defender so highly-rated?
— Versatility — Nastasić, a left-footed Center Back by trade, is also able to do a job at Left Back. In fact, he featured there once this season (in a 0-0 draw away to Siena in December, 2011) and impressed. In fact, he was statistically the joint best player of the match. This kind of versatility should never be under-rated.
— Tackling — Averaging 2.4 successful tackles per game,* Nastasić has demonstrated a talent for getting stuck in. This is a crucial part of a defender’s game and one reason why Nastasić has caught the eye is because of this facet.
— Marking & Positioning — These two qualities go hand in hand and define successful defenders. Nastasić, although not yet world class, is definitely on his way. The fact that he is rarely dribbled by opponents (a mere .4 times per game on average) and makes an average of 2.4 interceptions per game confirms this.
— Offside Trap Awareness — Nastasić’s only obvious weakness is his inability to consistently execute the offside trap. He wins less than 1 offside per game on average (.7). Fiorentina utilise the offside trap, but Nastasić hasn’t yet adapted to it.
He needs to learn to anticipate when his opponent is going to play the through ball as well as be aware of the position of his defensive partner and the opposing player who is looking to run in behind him. Better communication on the pitch as well as a bit more work on the training ground will rectify this problem.
Nastasić’s versatility was mentioned earlier. He has performed well in his natural Center Back position and didn’t look like a fish out of water when asked to shift to Left Back. Thus, covering both positions over the course of his career shouldn’t be a problem for the young Serb.
There is a third position Nastasić should be able to play in, though. His good marking, positioning, and tackling, together with his respectable pass completion percentage of 82.9 and his preference for playing short passes make him the ideal foil for either a deep-lying playmaker or an attack-minded central midfielder.
His job would be simply to stay ahead of the back 4 and cover for his central midfield colleague(s). His simple passing style would see him lay the ball off to his more creative central midfield partner(s) who would dictate the play. Fiorentina don’t play possession football; but teams who do would get the very best out of Nastasić in this position.
Natural: CB, LB
Capable: DM (Anchor Man)
Estimated Transfer Value
Nastasić is relatively a ‘new kid on the block’. However, his impressive performances at a club that is performing well below standard is surely bound to attract interest. In fact, reports are already suggesting that Arsenal are interested in him. Given the fortunes of the 2 clubs in question, it is unlikely that Nastasić would turn down a move to the Emirates, should an acceptable offer be made. The lure of Champions League football, especially at such a young age, definitely outweighs a relegation dogfight.
Arsene Wenger is known to be quite keen on bringing in a new central defender, and given his preference for exciting youths, one shouldn’t be surprised that he has developed a reported liking for the young Serb. Currently, Nastasić may fetch around £7 million.
As said, Nastasić is relatively new on the map. His performances, however, suggest that he has been around for quite some time. He has already been capped (once) for the Serbian senior national team — testimony to the talent he possesses.
Should he indeed leave Fiorentina, he would be wise to think carefully about where he goes. A move to Arsenal, given their defensive frailties, may be ideal for him as he would be afforded an adequate amount of playing time. In addition, Arsene Wenger has quite a good track record when it comes to getting the very best out of the young players under his tutelage.
Nastasić already has the talent. If he continues to impress and he makes the right career decisions, we may be talking about this player for many years yet. Just remember, though, that you heard about him on ‘Wonderkid Watch’ first!
*- Stats courtesy of whoscored