LIVERPOOL fans were treated to a glimpse into the future as they saw their side brush aside Newcastle at St James' Park.
Bossing the game in the middle of the park was 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic, a rising star and an important part of their midfield rebuild.
The teenager showed delightful footwork on the half-turn, before striding up the pitch to kick-start a move for Cody Gakpo's goal.
His brilliant display that drew comparisons with Sergio Busquets followed another commanding performance in the Merseyside derby.
Now, with Real Madrid up next, Bajcetic will get the opportunity to prove his worth against his fellow countrymen.
It is no wonder Spain are reportedly desperate to cap him at international level – to avoid losing the dual-nationality midfielder to Serbia.
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However, if Manchester United would have moved quicker – Bajcetic could have been playing for the Red Devils.
Born in Vigo, Bajcetic is the son of former Serbian footballer Srdan Bajcetic – who played for clubs including Celta Vigo and Red Star Belgrade.
Incredibly, Bajcetic Snr played alongside Brazil World Cup star Mazinho – who is better known now as Thiago Alcantara's dad.
The son came through the ranks of Celta, where his dad enjoyed a spell between 1994-97, playing for the youth teams at centre-back.
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That is where the English clubs circled – with Man Utd and Liverpool paying the most attention.
"Some scouts from Liverpool saw him and contacted us. But Stefan was still a child, not even 16 years old. He couldn’t go anywhere,” the Bajcetic’s father told Spanish outlet El Mundo.
"At first, Liverpool told us that they couldn’t do it and then United called us, [saying] that they could. Liverpool found out and contacted us again to sign him.
"Celta does not have the financial power to [offer] professional contracts at that age. Sometimes [the young players] leave."
Liverpool academy director Alex Inglethorpe sat down with the player and his father – managing to convince them that his future belonged at Anfield.
And he signed on the dotted line for the Reds – with a fee of just £224,000 agreed with Celta.
However, Liverpool had a race against time to acquire Bajcetic because of Brexit.
On December 31, 2020, the UK left the EU – and that meant new laws were put in place forbidding Premier League clubs to buy U18 players from overseas.
However, Jurgen Klopp's side were able squeeze in a deal before that deadline.
But, it wasn't the easiest settling in period for Bajcetic.
With the country in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the boy was on his own on foreign shores.
"He was not playing…locked up,” the father said.
"I think all this made him mature before. He never said it was complicated or that he wanted to go back. Never. He was always very clear about it and he has been very professional."
Boy to man
This season, Bajcetic has been blooded into Klopp's first team line-up.
Injuries in a creaking midfield to the likes of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara meant Liverpool were reduced to bare bones. They had no choice but to give youngsters a chance.
He came on as a sub in the 9-0 win over Bournemouth, before a late sub appearance against Ajax in the Champions League meant he became Liverpool's youngest ever player in the history of the competition.
His first start came against Derby in the EFL Cup win over Derby, and his first goal was away at Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
That sudden rise has seen German boss Klopp turn to Bajcetic more in recent weeks.
His team-mates, including Jordan Henderson have been wowed by his ability.
"I'm very impressed. He has been outstanding since he has come into the team," Henderson told LFCTV after they beat Everton.
"Over the last few weeks, even though the performances haven't been great, he has been the one that has probably stood out and performed to the levels he is capable of.
"The difference (against Everton) was everybody else stepped up, everybody else performed and when that happens good things can happen."
La Roja manager Luis de la Fuente is well aware of Bajcetic, who is seen as the future of the Spain national team.
According to Diario AS, the youngster called "brilliant" by Jurgen Klopp is in contention to be picked for the next international squad.
The report adds that Spain are keen not to miss out on another young starlet who is eligible to play for another country.
Alejandro Garnacho (Argentina), Nico Paz (Uruguay) and Alvaro Rodriguez (Uruguay) all chose to play for South American countries, while Bajcetic could represent Serbia – his dad's place of birth.
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But, Bajcetic has represented Spain's U21 side – so that may give an indication to where his future lies.
Either way, it will be at the heartbeat in the midfield for club and country.
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