by László Borsos (Nemzeti Sport)

BUDAPEST – In the top 10 of the Index of 100 candidates for the Golden Boy Award 2023, hungarian 19 year old talent Milos Kerkez got into football in his hometown of Vrbas, a village close to Subotica in Serbia (Vojvodina Province). Until the age of 14 he was a player for Hajduk Kula, then he attended a trial game at Rapid Wien where two boys, one being him, were chosen out of hundreds to join the Austrian club. He wasn’t easy to deal with, so didn’t spend a lot of time at Rapid due to behavioral problems and he had to leave the club. At the age of 15 he got the chance to prove himself in the youth teams of the Hungarian second division team ETO FC Győr. There were problems with his attitude both on and off the field but his coaches, teachers and tutors helped him and his will to win made him stand out from his peers.

In the summer of 2020, he got the opportunity to train with the first team squad. According to training reports he tackled aggressively, which was hard to tolerate by his older teammates. Veteran, ex-national team players like the former Watford striker Tamás Priskin and Zoltán Lipták took him under their wings to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. The board of the club held discussions regarding Kerkez, during which they agreed that the talented player should be included in the team even if some points are lost due to his mistakes. As they have expected, his performance was not perfect, against Szentlőrinc he was sent off after half an hour but he adopted quickly to the rhythm of professional football.

Kerkez played only 16 matches at this level when he was contacted by one of the most famous clubs in the world: AC Milan. The “Rossoneri” believed that there was no left-back similar to the Hungarian player in their youth teams, so on the last day of the 2021’s winter transfer window, they left no stone unturned to sign the 17-year-old talent. Moreover Kerkez was personally chosen by Paolo Maldini, former legendary defender of Milan who at the beginning of his glittering career played as a left back, the same position as Milos. The Magyar youngster was introduced in Italy with the company of the former worldclass sportsman.

There was a lot of good news about the wingback from Milan: his integration went well, improved a lot in the “Primavera” team, he also trained with the first team. Despite he scored two goals as a substitute in his first pre-season game, he never got the chance to play in any official games. Milos got another opportunity in the winter of 2022 when he accepted the offer of the Dutch AZ Alkmaar.

His first season in the Eredivisie team was all about adaptation but in the 2022–2023 season he made 52 appearances for his team (33 in the Dutch league, 11 in the UEFA Conference League, 6 in the Conference League-qualifiers and 2 in the Dutch Cup), scoring 5 goals and providing 7 assists. He was subjected to a tremendous physical workload, he played in 60 matches including the national team games and spent 4.778 minutes on the pitch, excluding extra time.

<When he arrived Alkmaar he was hungry to show himself and help the team, but Dutch international Owen Wijnald was his post-rival, so he had to be patient at first, which was one of his weak point>, AZ head coach Pascal Jansen told hungarian sport newspaper “Nemzeti Sport” in May. <Knowing the fact that he is very gifted and has a great personality, he adapted easily, his teammates accepted him and he took his chance when Wijnald got injured and earned his place in the starting line-up. Unsurprisingly, the crowd fell in love with his game and his personality. He showed an incredible energy on and off the pitch, and his passion contributes a lot to the team. Defensively he is good in one-on-one situations, he marks his man aggressively, but his extra qualities come alive when we have possession. He is confident with the ball, recognises the spaces on the own and the opponent’s half to get an offensive posession and runs a lot, which is valuable for our attacking football. He is a good combination-player, has quality to deliver assists and he also scores>, concluded Jansen.

In addition to his talent, his exceptional mentality was also necessary for the breakthrough. <I think the following story says it all – told Simon Zwartkruis, AZ-specific reporter of “Voetbal International” to “Nemzeti Sport” – . The team’s left winger, Jesper Karlsson regularly practices one-on-one situations after training sessions. When I asked him who he practises with, he named the Greek Pantelis Chatzidiakos, who is a central back (now at Cagliari, ed). I asked him why he didn’t train with Milos and he said he doesn’t want to miss the next game because of injury… At first he was over-excited in training, he had to be calmed down, the staff forbade him to make hard tackles, but that’s his personality. He become smarter and more responsible but at the same time he has kept his excellent mentality and dedication. He’s not afraid of anyone or anything, his strength is fantastic, he hasn’t been injured during the season. His virtue is that he performs well in tough, important games, and he’s always up for it against the top teams.>.

His ambition to play in one of the three strongest leagues in the world has been fulfilled. In England, as a Bournemouth player he can prove himself against top teams every two or three weeks. Although the difference between the Dutch and English leagues is considerable, he has already proved his ability in his first Premier League games. The Bournemouth fans were pleased with him, they voted him the player of the month in August: he had impressive performances in the “Cherries” coached by Iraola against West Ham, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford too.

Bournemouth midfielder Marcus Tavernier is also a big fan of his new teammate. <He’s a mad man! He’s great, I love that guy to pieces – the midfielder told to “Daily Echo” – . He brings a lot of energy to the team when it’s quiet and stuff. He has come into the team and been great. I’m just hoping he can continue his form and continue playing well. When he first came in, the first two days, you’d think he’d been here five years and he’s the oldest player in the team. He’s a great guy and I’m happy for him>.

Just as the Hungarian fans are happy about him. It was a hot topic in Serbia why he chose to represent Hungary. The leftback told “Nemzeti Sport”, that it was not a question at all that he wants to play for Hungary (the Turin selector Marco Rossi made him debut one year ago, 23 September 2022, against Germany in the Nations League: he played 90 minutes and the “Magyarok” won 1-0 in Leipzig).

<Hungary always came first. My father Sebastijan and my Hungarian grandmother would have wanted it, and so did I, there was no question about it. I decided at a very young age, at fourteen, that if I ever got that far in my career, I would like to play for the Hungarian National team. Otherwise Serbia has never asked me to join while Hungary did when I was fifteen. I’m respected here, as is my family, and I will never forget that>.