Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mané weren’t the only former Southampton players to make it to the Ballon d’Or list. Deserving of his spot next to Liverpool’s Champions League-winning duo has been Dusan Tadic. A participant throughout his four years in St Mary’s, since moving to Ajax he has become a match-winner. While Van Dijk and Mané finished second and fourth respectively, Tadic was 20th, level on points with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It was a remarkable accomplishment all the same, although the ranking didn’t do justice to a special year from the Serbian.
The idea of him featuring in a discussion of the planet’s finest players could have seemed absurd when he had been flattering to deceive from the Premier League. Tadic came from FC Twente in July 2014 in Southampton. He was Ronald Koeman’s first signing and twice helped the team to qualify to the Europa League. Early on he had been a joyful, jinking presence from the Saints’ midfield, setting up a record four goals in the 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland just three months after joining. Regrettably, the influence of Tadic waned following the departure of Koeman in 2016. Since coming into the Premier League, Southampton had been hailed for their playing fashion and far-sighted recruiting coverage, but both were increasingly compromised by muddled decision-making. Following a couple of years of performances, as a shaky club fought against relegation, they let only 10 million is left for by Tadic. He had been expected to rediscover his spark back where he had previously shone for Groningen and Twente, but nobody could have predicted the scale of his impact, especially in the Champions League. Tadic was outstanding as part of Ajax’s unexpected run at the Bernabéu, dominating to the semi-finals as reigning champions Real Madrid were dispatched. That 4-1 triumph in the second leg of the round of 16 tie has been the defining period of an extraordinary campaign. Tadic made Actual, who had won four of their five Champions League titles, seem amateurish. After pirouetting past Casemiro, he teed up the first for Hakim Ziyech and slipped in David Neres for its next. He then curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner from just inside the box to make it 3-0. It was a masterclass from someone performing at their peak. Domestically he played the left wing, however, in Europe he thrived as a false nine, dropping deep create space for runners behind and to collect the ball. No matter where he had been requested to run from, he was uniformly brilliant. Around 56 appearances in all competitions Tadic contributed to an unbelievable 62 goals, scoring 38 and establishing 24.
His consistency in home and overseas was recognised with a location in the Eredivisie team of this season and the Champions League squad of the year. Tadic became a pioneer in the dressing room also, taking more than Matthijs de Ligt as captain the protector left for Juventus, also was given a contract extension a year to his first deal once. An unconventional registering for a club so obsessed with youth and potential, the 31-year-old has more than repaid the transfer fee they had been ready to invest to a player of the age, and the faith shown in him by Ajax. Like Tadic brought expertise and a mentality that has helped to nurture the next generation. Ajax were prepared to allow striker Kasper Dolberg leave last summer with no signing up an immediate replacement, so confident were they Tadic could fill the void up front to a permanent basis. He’s done so with another remarkable haul of goals and assists. Although Ajax couldn’t repeat their Champions League heroics, finishing third in a difficult group, they stay on track for another Eredivisie title. There may have been an inevitable exodus of players after a thrilling period, together with Frenkie de Jong another massive loss, but Tadic proceeds to lead the way as the senior figure in the squad. From the draw with Chelsea, he was the only player they fielded over 30. Occasionally a bit flaky he has matured and become much more critical taking his performances to a degree that is unexpected and new