Lazar Marković is not a good soccer player. It would even be fair to describe him as an actively bad one, at least relative to the level expected of players at the clubs that have paid him a sizable salary to do anything but play soccer for them these past few years. And yet, until today, Marković has spent five years employed by clubs in the Premier League—most of that time by the eminent Liverpool Football Club—and has cashed every single one of the fat checks those teams promised him in spite of him doing almost nothing to earn them. For his dogged insistence at being paid every cent he was owed, he is a hero to us all.
Liverpool put Marković on the map when they purchased him in the summer of 2014, back when he was one of the more coveted young attacking prospects in European soccer, for a soon-to-be infamous sum of £20 million. The amount seems paltry now, but £20 million was a hefty chunk of change back then, the kind of money you’d spend only on someone you thought had a real chance to be a star.
Clearly, the powers that be saw something in the then-20-year-old Serbian winger that convinced them to sign him up and hand him a reported salary of £35,000 per week—near the bottom of Liverpool’s payroll, but still a very competitive figure that few teams around Europe could afford for a promising rotation player. In retrospect, whatever they thought they saw in him was an illusion.
In Marković’s first and only full season with Liverpool, it was almost immediately obvious he didn’t have the skills to contribute to an elite club. He is fast, and can run past slower guys if he has open space in front of him and a head of steam, but he can’t shoot or pass or even move well in anything other than a straight line, making him essentially useless for any club of a decent level.
After realizing he was useless, the Reds banished Marković from the first team with extreme prejudice. His last appearance for the Pool Boys was a six-minute cameo against QPR in May of 2015, a game remembered only for being the date of Steven Gerrard’s final Anfield goal. After that he went nearly an entire five years without stepping foot onto the pitch in Liverpool colors for a meaningful game.
In spite of Liverpool’s constant efforts to pawn him off on someone else—the Reds loaned him out to Fenerbahçe, Sporting CP, Hull City, and Anderlecht over the years—and to stuff him so far down their own roster in hopes he might flee town just to remember what direct sunlight feels like, Marković clung stubbornly to the club, like a small but aggravating tick that wouldn’t release its bite until it had its fill. Marković made no appreciable impact on any of the clubs Liverpool loaned him out to, never becoming a regular starter and, over the past four seasons, making 41 league appearances for five different teams in four different countries, scoring just four goals. The only time one of the teams that brought him in (Anderlecht) made an effort to sign him permanently at the end of a loan, Marković snubbed them in order to suck down the last drops of cash Liverpool owed him in the final season of his contract.
It wasn’t until this January, coming into the final months of the ill-conceived five-year contract the club handed Marković during that fateful transfer window in 2014, that Liverpool finally got rid of him. On the final day of the winter transfer period, after spending the first half of the season with the Reds’ reserves, Liverpool and Marković agreed to end their contract so that Marković could join eventually relegated Fulham on a free transfer. Fulham gave Marković a contract that lasted to the end of the season.
At last, Liverpool were free of Marković, and Marković free of Liverpool—free to restart his career in earnest in a new permanent home. After playing him in a single match during the back half of the season, Fulham announced today that they have released Marković, making him once again a free agent.
Were Marković a better player, it might be tempting to castigate him for not doing more to realize his potential. Talent is in such short supply in this world, and so many without talent sacrifice so much in a doomed attempt to realize their dreams, that those with talent have a duty to use it well. Marković, thankfully, is different.
In the best case scenario, Marković (who is still only 25) probably would’ve topped out as a middling contributor to a mediocre team in a good league, or as a good player on a good team in a bad league. Marković hasn’t wasted any precious resources in his years steadily siphoning money out of John Henry’s bank account. Instead, he’s been doing the Lord’s work, refusing to let platitudes like “duty” or “honor” or “shame” prevent him from cashing every one of those big checks—the size of which he almost certainly never see again—Liverpool promised him.
Marković is a worker, same as any of us, doing only what he needs to do to make sure the money keeps coming in. He is a positive role model for the salaried wage slave who takes maybe one week off every year despite their employer’s unlimited vacation policy. He is a beacon from a brighter world for the NFL player cast out on his ass by a capricious team’s unilateral decision to cut short his non-guaranteed contract. He is an icon to slackers everywhere, a man who lucked into a high-paying position he was probably never qualified for and had the good sense to ride it out as long as he could, knowing the only true disservice would be to voluntarily bail out the indecently rich company that paid him by turning off the spigot himself.
For that, Marković is a true people’s hero. Today, we honor him for his service.