It has been a remarkable rise for Liverpool midfielder Stefan Bajcetic, who only 15 months ago was making a name for himself as part of the under-18s.
In a difficult season for Liverpool so far, Bajcetic has emerged as one of the overriding positives as he breaks through into the first team.
Bajcetic has also featured against Ajax (twice), Derby, Man City, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Leicester and Napoli this season, and became the club’s third-youngest Premier League goalscorer when he netted against Villa on Boxing Day.
A £220,000 signing from Celta Vigo in 2020, the Spaniard initially arrived on a scholarship deal and joined up with Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s U18s.
Then a centre-back, talks with his U18s coach along with academy director Alex Inglethorpe led to a tweak in his position, stepping forward into midfield.
“As elegant as he was as a centre-back, we wondered whether he’d have more opportunity if he moved up a line,” Inglethorpe told the Liverpool Echo in December.
“Interestingly, I spoke to Stefan around that time and he said his dad, who is a former player, had always said he’d end up a midfielder.
“I don’t think we were pushing against a closed door with our decision to move Stefan.”
A landmark in that role came during a 4-0 thrashing of Everton in the mini-Merseyside derby in October 2021 – a star turn that included the afternoon’s fourth goal.
Three huge talents! pic.twitter.com/89Pnxb0emv
— Jack Lusby (@LusbyJack) November 18, 2021
That came just over a week on from his 17th birthday, and three weeks on from that, Bajcetic was called up to first-team training along with Bobby Clark.
Days later, the youngster signed his first professional contract.
One of the standout performers this season at CB and DM, and giving the contract so soon after his 17th birthday shows the belief at the club. pic.twitter.com/ksqsvNt6Qe
— Jack Lusby (@LusbyJack) November 25, 2021
Due to contractual regulations, the longest that deal could have been was three years, which would have seen it expire in 2024.
But Liverpool moved to tie him down to extended terms in August, when Bajcetic put pen to paper on a new multi-year contract.
Though the exact length of the deal has not been disclosed, it is likely to have been five years, which would take him to 2027, in line with new contracts agreed with Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay.
Having made his mark during pre-season, the now-18-year-old is proving a valuable squad player for Klopp in a campaign plagued with injuries, including in midfield.
“He just stands next to me and whispers ‘wow, Stefan and Bobby Clark – they play so mature! They play like they are 25!’.”
Bajcetic is a staple in first-team training and has been in the matchday squad for 22 of 29 games, two of which he missed due to a hip injury, and his role could increase in the coming weeks.
If he is allowed to head out on loan in pursuit of a regular starting role next season, however, the teenager already has one suitor.
Realistically, though, Liverpool may be looking higher up the pyramid if they do allow Bajcetic to move on loan in the summer.