Hertha Berlin head coach Pal Dardai reached for the superlatives after Marko Grujic's match-winning display against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, calling the midfielder "by far the best midfielder I've seen in my time at the club".
The 22-year-old Serbia international, on loan in the German capital from English Premier League leaders Liverpool, scored with a thumping header at the Olympiastadion on Matchday 14 to give Hertha a 1-0 win that lifted them up to sixth in the Bundesliga standings.
It was his first Bundesliga goal in just seven league appearances since joining Hertha in August, following almost two months on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Nevertheless, even that brief period has been enough to impress Dardai, who arrived at the Old Lady in 1997 and stayed on as youth team coach after retiring, before taking charge of the first team in 2015.
"I've been at Hertha for 22 years," said the 42-year-old at his press conference after the Frankfurt win. "This isn't meant as an insult to anyone else, but Marko is by far the best midfielder I've seen in my time at the club."
The raw data from the game certainly backs up Dardai's impression of the youngster. From his position in central midfield, Grujic did the dirty work – winning an average of 54 per cent of all challenges – while he was also helping out in other areas by completing 92 per cent of his passes and having four attempts at goal – more than any other Hertha player.
"I was a defensive midfielder and managed to score 17 goals, which isn't bad," Dardai continued. "But Marko carries much more of a goal threat, he's got a sensational shot on him and is much better than I was [...] He can play anywhere in midfield.
"He's got so much potential, and you can see that out on the pitch. He's so robust in the middle of the park, but he can still play. He's good in the air, he wins tackles and has got such a strong desire to win. I can only say: 'respect'. And he's not even fully fit. Just imagine what he'll be like when he is!"
Dardai is unsure what will happen when Grujic's loan deal ends in summer 2019, but said that sporting director Michael Preetz "will no doubt do everything he can" to extend the midfielder's stay.
Preetz himself is also a card-carrying member of the Grujic fanclub, saying: "He's instinctively always in the right place. His height and technique make him a blend of both a defensive and attacking midfielder."
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