A few months ago, in a sizzling European summer of record-breaking heat, former heavyweight Red Star Belgrade saw a staggering 16 players leave the famous club. The outgoing player list was headlined by the AU$15 million sale of Strahinja Eraković – who was eligible to represent Australia through his mother. With such a high turnover of players and a brand-new manager in charge, money was made available for purchases and an eclectic bunch of replacements arrived. In the space of 24 hours, Red Star broke its own transfer record splashing out AU$7.6 million on Cherif Ndiaye followed by Hwang In-Beom for AU$10.5 million. Two of the most underrated signings though have come in former cult hero Milos Degenek, with the Australian now in his third spell with the club and the fast-rising young New Zealander – Marko Stamenic. As a 17-year-old Stamenic looked set to join his hometown A-League side Wellington Phoenix, but on the showing of strong performances in the 2019 FIFA Under 17 World Cup, he saw a dream move to Europe on the cards. From there, the rising star signed for perineal Danish champions FC Copenhagen. After three seasons with Copenhagen, which culminated in lifting the Danish Cup in 2022/23 – Stamenic shocked his employers by rejecting a new contract and testing the market as a free agent. Red Star Belgrade (also known in some places by the native name, Crvena zvezda) had been after the player with Serbian ancestry through his father for some time and finally signed the young Kiwi in February 2023. Even though the club has an academy set up in New Zealand, Stamenic’s arrival was met with dismay by Red Stars passionate fan base – who still consider the Kiwis a minnow in terms of world football. The combative midfielder quickly set out to prove that those views were misguided and that he was worth his place on the pitch. Since then he has become a fan favourite in the terraces for his efforts in the heart of the engine room. Stamenic has played 12 matches in the league this term, with Red Star chasing local rivals Partizan for the top spot. He has also registered three matches in the European Champions League, including becoming the first New Zealand-born player to score a goal in nearly 30 years of that competition. ???????? Marko Stamenic is the first Kiwi to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League in almost 3 decades, the last one being Wynton Rufer for Werder Bremen in 1994. ⚽️although losing 3-1, Marko got on the score sheet for Red Star Belgrade in the 70th minute against RB Leipzig ???? pic.twitter.com/gh4F98g7gu— FernsHub (@FernsHub) October 25, 2023 The big-bodied 21-year-old has never been the quickest of players but makes up for his lack of acceleration with a cultured right foot and the vision of an attacking player. A highlight of his short time in Belgrade has been his crisp passing range – in particular weighted long balls. Several times this season Stamenic has lived up to the famous football cliche “turning on a sixpence” when under heavy pressure from opposition – almost instinctively hitting a long-range pass in the path of the side’s forwards. Stamenic is averaging over 50 passes a match, with a completion rate of almost 90 per cent – his vision from such a deep-lying position has also seen at least one key pass leading to a goal-scoring chance for his teammates per game. ???????? Marko Stamenic becomes the first Kiwi to play Champions League football since Chris Killen played for Celtic in the 2007-2008 season.doing New Zealand proud ???? pic.twitter.com/XFoON8u2uj— FernsHub (@FernsHub) September 15, 2022 Playing in such a combative position can normally lead to disciplinary issues, however, Stamenic has only picked up two cautions so far – even with his average of six contested duels won per match. The signs so far have been very promising and it would come as no surprise to see Red Star cash in on their prized asset at season’s end. Whether it is academy players or ones that have been discarded from other sides – Red Star prides itself on being able to spot a talent and then sell it for a massive profit. Having spent time with the player in the summer, Stamenic is relaxed about his future and content in one of Europe’s most underrated cities. Stamenic’s star continues to rise and at this rate he will be the cornerstone for the New Zealand national team – which is ever so quietly, developing a very good generation of players that are flying under the radar.