Sydney FC are preparing to replace departing star Milos Ninkovic with another former Serbian international, who as a youth was likened to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but is regarded as one of Liverpool’s worst signings of all time.

Lazar Markovic, who the Reds purchased from Benfica for $35 million in 2014 after helping the Portuguese giants win the domestic treble, was once considered as one of Europe’s most promising young prospects.

Desired by teams including as Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich, and Fiorentina.

Former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who coached Markovic at Partizan Belgrade, said he was the finest 19-year-old talent he had ever seen, away from Messi and Ronaldo, and teammates regarded him as a “genius” at five-a-side football during training.

But Markovic failed to live up to the promise, appearing in only 19 English Premier League games in five years at Anfield, none of which came during his final four seasons, which were all spent on loan, and was released on a free transfer at the conclusion of his contract.

He is presently a free agent after completing a second term with Partizan, his boyhood club, where he was named captain.

Markovic, now 28, is about to follow in the footsteps of many other undiscovered talents who have found happiness in Australia, with the Sky Blues close to signing him, according to sources close to the club’s preparations.

Markovic, who has 22 caps for Serbia, has rebuilt his career to some extent in recent years, but not at the greatest level, after scoring 21 goals in 89 appearances for Partizan over the last three seasons.

He scored three goals in Partizan’s progress to the UEFA Conference League round of 16 last season.

Nominally a winger, he might assist in bringing the new inventiveness that Sydney FC is looking for in the final third following Ninkovic’s contentious departure to the Western Sydney Wanderers and Kosta Barbarouses’ return to Wellington Phoenix.

Markovic would fit in nicely with what insiders believe is a new structure being prepared by coach Steve Corica, who is transitioning to a 4-3-3 configuration from the 4-2-2-2.

The Sky Blues have used this formation during Socceroos head Graham Arnold’s successful spell at the club.