When Burton Albion host Leicester City in the Carabao Cup fourth round on Tuesday evening there is every chance that two childhood friends will be reunited on the pitch, writes Johnny Phillips.
Burton striker Oliver Sarkic and Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans grew up together in Brussels.
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They met in 2004, when Oliver and his twin brother Matija moved to Belgium and secured a week’s trial at Anderlecht, after which the pair were signed as youth team players for Anderlecht’s under eights, who already had Tielemans in their ranks.
“From the age of seven to 16 there was me, my twin and Youri all playing together,” Sarkic explains.
“Youri was my captain, we grew up together, and saw each other every day after our training sessions. Everyone knew he would be good. Technically he was really good, always making a difference. He could play anywhere.
“From the age of 14 the coaches played him a bit higher up to work on his finishing as they knew he was such a good talent and they wanted him to fulfil his potential, but he was always going to end up as a central midfielder.
“I watch him in the Premier League now and I’m really happy to see him doing so well.”
Oliver Sarkic would do very well in the John Arne Riise arena with top bin efforts like this ? pic.twitter.com/C75DrGtCQL
Sarkic is starting to fill his own potential after a circuitous route to the East Midlands. He left Anderlecht in 2015 for three years with Benfica B, before moving on to Leeds United, where he spent an injury-plagued season before being released last summer.
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“I loved Benfica, and things started really well there,” he continues. “I scored two goals in my first game with the B team. It’s a massive club and I didn’t really get the chances so I moved on to Leeds.
“I got an injury there with my ankle and never really got a chance to show what I was about after that. So then I had a two-day trial at Burton, the gaffer liked me and I really liked what I saw at the club.
“I didn’t really have a pre-season so I’ve had to be careful with the amount of games but it’s gone well.
“It’s different to other clubs I’ve been at. With bigger clubs you get a different environment. There can be more egos, whereas Burton is a friendly group and everyone is pulling together.
“Teamwork is one of the most important things because we only have 17 or 18 players in the first team squad, we have to be honest with each other.
“We’re all fighting to get promotion and bring the club back into the Championship.”
Sarkic has been operating as a wide attacker, scoring three goals in his last four starts for the Brewers.
His brother Matija has made a break through too, moving from Aston Villa on-loan to join Scottish Premiership side Livingston, where he kept a clean sheet in Saturday’s goalless draw with Hearts.
“I keep a close eye on my brother’s progress. He made his league debut for Livingston against Celtic. It was a great game, they won 2-0, and he even got an assist.”
The brothers have led a nomadic existence for much of their life so far. Their father, Bojan, is a Montenegrin diplomat who met their mother, Natalie, when he was working in Moscow. She was originally from Grimsby, which is where she returned to give birth to the twins in 1997.
They spent the first three months of their life in England before moving out to Moscow for a further two years. In 1999 they moved to London before heading off to Brussels five years later in 2004.
As a result, they are eligible to represent England, Belgium and Montenegro, with both having already represented Montenegro U21s.
Tuesday evening’s Carabao Cup clash will pose another big test for Burton. Nigel Clough’s side have already overcome Premier League Bournemouth in this season’s competition.
They appear to have acquired a taste for this particular cup competition, after making it all the way to the semi-finals last season. Burton currently lie 13th in League One, six points off the play-off places with two games in hand.
“We know that the way we play, we can go out and win every game,” Sarkic adds. “We’ve dropped points where we shouldn’t have, in added time against Portsmouth and Tranmere for example. We have dominated a lot of games.”
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