Nikola Milenkovic is no stranger for Jose Mourinho or Tottenham Hotspur. The Serbian, along with former Sampdoria defender Joachim Andersen, was one of the defensive targets for Mourinho during his time at Manchester United. The 22-year-old was also a target for Spurs and links came up around last year.
Those links show that there is a common thread there. Mourinho at Tottenham.
The Fiorentina man never left the Stadio Artemio Franchi, seeing the club avoid the drop in the Serie A. La Viola had Vincenzo Montella back at the helm in April, replacing Stefano Pioli. The man who had taken them to consistent top four finishes in his previous stint, couldn’t win a single game last season.
As a result, Fiorentina found themselves in a relegation scrap. But in the end, they managed to avoid the drop after Empoli took a painful loss against Inter on the last day of the season to go down into Serie B.
Before Montella came in, Milenkovic was the first-choice right-back under Pioli. He would often play as a centre-back, but Pioli saw him more as a right-back because of ability on the ball. But back during his time at Partizan Belgrade, Milenkovic was always a central defender and would play there in just about every game.
Last season, Milenkovic had 34 appearances to his name. Towards the end of Pioli’s time, he began to play centrally sometimes. But it happened more often under Montella.
This season has been better for La Viola. But Montella looks on the edge of a potential sack. Milenkovic has had a good season, playing 14 times in Serie A and has found the back of the net three times.
His aerial ability stands out- something that can always attract managers. Last season, he won 3.4 aerial duels per game, with that number at 2.1 per game this season which is second-best for regulars (via Transfermarkt). Playing in a 3-5-2 shape under Montella this season, Milenkovic plays as a right-sided central defender alongside skipper German Pezzella and Martin Caceres.
Playing slightly on the right has made him look assured, allowing him to get on the ball. His ball-playing abilities have come to the fore. Amongst the regulars, Milenkovic has the highest passing accuracy- 88.3%. He also has the second-highest number of average passes per game – 49.
These qualities are very similar to Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld- the man Mourinho was after at Old Trafford. His ball-playing ability, the aerial presence to win headers and score and the quality to play at right-back.
Milenkovic has also won 1.8 tackles per game- the third highest at Artemio Franchi. He has always been someone who uses his 195cm stature very well. Which makes him tough to dribble past. Indeed, Milenkovic has been dribbled past only 0.7 per game this season- a very good stat (via Transfermarkt).
These are the set of abilities that Mourinho needs in a defender if Alderweireld does leave. The Belgian’s current deal expires at the end of the season. The same goes for Jan Vertonghen, who is played in a defensive left-back role by Mourinho.
Last September, former La Viola president Mario Cognigni told Sky Italia (ITA SportPress):
“This is a young player that we absolutely want to keep, as evidenced by our refusal of a 40 million euro offer received last summer. We want to grow further by keeping our best players close ”.
Milenkovic is 22 and fits right into the way Mourinho would like to play. He is the modern-day encapsulation of what a defender should be. Mourinho likes Alderweireld from the time when was after him at United, but if Vertonghen keeps playing at left-back, Spurs will need another option at the back.
Davinson Sanchez is still growing. The Colombian is yet to reach his and is playing regularly under Jose. It shows that the former Chelsea man does trust him. But if one of Alderweireld or Sanchez aren’t available, they will need another defender. That man should be Milenkovic.