Tottenham Hotspur should target Benfica's 20-year-old right winger Lazar Markovic in the summer transfer window, even though he is a Chelsea supporter.
Chelsea signing Markovic has been a distinct possibility since he linked himself to the Blues in December 2011 while playing for Partizan Belgrade.
"I really hope I can go to Chelsea, it's my dream," Markovic said, per the Sun (h/t Sky Sports). "I had all the pictures of the team on my wall at home back to when they had Gianfranco Zola."
A year later, then Partizan director Ljubisa Tumbakovic dismissed mounting speculation that Markovic was set to join Chelsea in the 2013 January transfer window.
"On Saturday, I spoke with club president Dragan Djuric and he also told me that he knows nothing about Markovic's transfer to Chelsea," Tumbakovic said, per Sportski Zurnal (h/t ITV). "Maybe the journalists have better information than us in the club."
When Markovic departed from Partizan in June 2013, several media outlets claimed Djuric said Chelsea had signed Markovic and loaned him out to Benfica, per Sportski Zurnal (h/t Jure Bohoric at Sky Sports).
What happened was Djuric spoke about the possibility of the Blues signing Markovic and being loaned out to Benfica, which was lost in translation.
In reality, Benfica signed Markovic on a five-year contract, per Partizan's official website for English speakers.
Markovic's signing was in line with how Benfica do business: Seal the deal for a promising talent before he is signed by richer European clubs, as exemplified with Aldair (Flamengo), Angel di Maria (Rosario Central), Axel Witsel (Standard Liege), David Luiz (Esporte Clube Vitoria), Fabio Coentrao (Rio Ave), Fernando Meira (Vitoria Guimaraes), Nuno Gomes (Boavista), Ramires (Cruzeiro), et al.
This successful transfer policy is supplemented by Benfica finding "discards."
In other words, players who are overlooked by European heavyweights are turned into productive players by Benfica in a Moneyball-esque strategy, such as Ezequiel Garay (Real Madrid), Nemanja Matic (Chelsea), Javi Garcia (Real Madrid) and Rodrigo (Real Madrid).
Chelsea cannot emulate Benfica's success in the transfer market, so they have struck up a one-sided partnership with Benfica, signing Luiz, Matic, Ramires and Tiago in deals which make Benfica richer (instead of buying their players, why not hire away the people running Benfica?).
The Luiz to Chelsea deal in 2011 was packaged with Matic going to Benfica, per BBC Sport.
Clearly that deal did not work out in Chelsea's best interests since Matic was re-signed for £21 million three years later, per BBC Sport.
The partnership is why Chelsea have a "first option" to sign Markovic from Benfica, per Jack Gaughan at the Daily Mail.
The confusing Markovic Benfica/Chelsea ownership situation is explained in today's @Record_Portugal. Benfica own 50%, a fund 50% but...— Tom Kundert (@Portu_Goal) February 26, 2014
..Chelsea have option to buy Benfica's 50% share (which cost Benfica €6.5m) for just €7.5m. If Benfica sell to other club can set any price.— Tom Kundert (@Portu_Goal) February 26, 2014
Spurs were in pole position to sign Willian only for him to change his mind and move to Chelsea.
It would be an ironic twist if Willian, described as an "extra target" by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, swayed Markovic's decision in not going through with his goal of playing for Chelsea.
Markovic only needs to ask Romelu Lukaku, a Chelsea fan who predicted that he would be playing for the Blues in the documentary De school van Lukaku while on the books of Anderlecht, how difficult it is to break into the Chelsea starting XI.
To quote Liverpool owner John W. Henry, per James Pearce at the Liverpool Echo: "These contracts don't seem to hold, we took the position that we're just not selling [Luis Suarez to Arsenal after the Gunners triggered his buyout clause]."
How much weight Chelsea's "first option" to sign Markovic holds is undetermined.
This is why Spurs should target Markovic in the summer transfer window, especially with Erik Lamela wanting a Serie A return, according to his father, per ESPN FC.
Remember a guy called Lamela? Apparently he does exist and should be at training tomorrow.— Paul O Keefe (@pokeefe1) March 4, 2014
How Good Is Markovic?
Markovic's explosive dashes have become a trademark of his game, as the back lines of Sporting Lisbon and Belenenses found out.
When Markovic is in full flight, opposing defenders are often laboring to keep up with the Serbian's shadow, giving you an idea of how quick he is with the ball.
While he is elusive and can evade tackles, he is direct and will generally go for goal.
He scored a pivotal goal against Gil Vicente which engineered a late comeback in a 2-1 win.
In a 2-0 win over Porto, Markovic accelerated deep into Porto's defensive half, forced several of their players out of position and then played a perfect through-ball to team-mate Rodrigo, who lashed the ball past Porto goalkeeper Helton.
From a technical point of view, Markovic is a world-class player, which was displayed when he dinked the ball over Vitoria Guimaraes goalkeeper Douglas, ran around him, controlled the ball and walked it over the line for a goal.
When Markovic went up against Spurs in a 3-1 UEFA Europa League victory, he proved he could contribute off the ball: completing a tackle, cutting off two passes and making four clearances.
Markovic is on his way to the top and the advantage Spurs have is they can offer him first-team football, whereas Chelsea have stock-piled so many talents that it could be a turn-off to Markovic.
How is he going to play regularly if Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah and Willian all want to start?
Before you say: "But Markovic is a Chelsea supporter."
Well, do you know what the Arsenal fans have been chanting at Spurs manager Tim Sherwood?
"Tim Sherwood's A Gooner" echoes around The Emirates.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) January 4, 2014
Sherwood, once rated a better player than Zinedine Zidane, according to the late Blackburn Rovers owner Jack Walker, per Andy Cryer at the Lancashire Telegraph, is an Arsenal supporter. But he never played for the Gunners.
If Lamela wants out, Markovic would be an ideal replacement at Spurs.
Statistics via WhoScored