An exclusive interview with the teenage full-back exciting at AZ Alkmaar
Ben Bocsák speaks to Milos Kerkez, an exciting teenage full-back, about his time at AC Milan, move to AZ Alkmaar, playing for Hungary, and so much more…
At just 18 years old, Milos Kerkez has already played in five different countries, broke the hearts of AC Milan supporters, and established himself as a cult favourite in the Netherlands. Everywhere, the youngster has gone, heads have turned, and he is showing no signs of slowing down with the latest feat set to be a senior international cap for Hungary.
Ahead of his first call-up to the national team, Kerkez sat down with Ben Bocsák for Scouted Football to discuss his journey so far.
“It’s an honour to play for the national team,” Kerkez says when he picks up the phone. “Whether the coach needs me for five minutes or ninety minutes, I will go out there and give it my best and put in the tackles. I feel like I am ready.”
The 18-year-old, who is still very much on the rise, has enjoyed a remarkable few years. It’s hard to believe less than two years ago, instead of facing Ajax, Germany or Italy in the space of a few days, he was taking on the likes of Dorog and Kazincbarcika in Hungary’s second division.
Some of Europe’s elite made the trip to Győr to watch him in action. Kerkez had received plenty of approaches, but in the end, it was one phone call in particular that sealed the deal from an icon of European football.
“There were a lot of interests in me in the winter. Everything was going fast because the period was so short. I actually wanted to stay in Hungary to grow more physically and leave in the summer. Two days before the window, [Paolo] Maldini called me personally, and he wanted a meeting with me and my father, and we spoke, and that was a big pull for me. You know when Maldini is calling you, you are not thinking too much.
“After that, it was obvious I was going to go to Milan. It was a big club, and when they want you like this, you cannot say no.”
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/AC Milan via Getty Images
The leap from Hungary’s second division to one of the biggest clubs in world football was not something that fazed Kerkez. He joined AC Milan’s Primavera team and settled in quickly.
“You have a lot of really talented young players in the Primavera and you can grow tactically there, which was good for me. I was determined to prove myself.”
Having played in Serbia, Austria, Hungary, Italy and now the Netherlands, the experience in Milan was the most profound in terms of his tactical development for Kerkez.
“Football is different everywhere. In Italy they expect more tactical football, in Hungary it was more physical, now in the Netherlands it’s a more extensive football with quick rapid changes both in the defence and offence.
“In my experience in Italy, it was always about tactics. Even in Primavera, we did one-and-a-half-hour video analysis after every game. It was a lot of video analysis and free-kick analysis, so I grew up really tactically to play clever and use my head more on the pitch. I think that was a good learning experience and the perfect way for me to grow.”
Kerkez didn’t just grow in Italian football, he flourished. Within a few months he was already dominating the Primavera, and regularly training with the club’s first team alongside players like Zlatan Ibrahimović.
“It was crazy to train with the first team,” Kerkez remembers. “The first time I went there, and I was looking around, there was Ibra, [Théo] Hernández, and [Rafael] Leão. It was really new for me. I watched them on the TV two months ago, and now I was training with them. It was unbelievable, but a really good experience. They were all nice guys.
“At the same time I wanted to prove myself, I was training really hard in training. I wanted to show myself to the coach and prove that I can be part of the team.”
Kerkez used the experience like a sponge.
I expected more first-team football after that. I was expecting to get a chance because I was performing better than any full-back in the Primavera from any team. But unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.
Milos Kerkez on his frustration at AC Milan
“I watched Théo [Hernández] a lot. I still do. He taught me a lot in the offensive play, like how to run in the space inside, how to make more space with the speed that we have, and how to use our speed in the best way.”
Kerkez’s determination and hard work was rewarded with a call-up to the club’s first team in pre-season during the summer of 2021 after just six months at the club. He made his debut against Pro Sesto 1913 in a 6-0 victory, which would prove to be a memorable one for the youngster. Just 17 years old, Kerkez scored twice in the space of two minutes in a spectacular sequence of events.
“After that everyone knew about me, and there were a lot of fans waiting for me after the game.”
The moment felt like a catalyst for the youngster. It seemed inevitable that he would be involved with the first team heading into the Serie A season, but that opportunity never arrived. One day after Kerkez’s brace, AC Milan signed Fodé Ballo-Touré, who would ascend him in the ranks as the club’s back-up option to Hernández and condemn Kerkez back to the club’s Primavera side.
“I expected more first team football after that. I was expecting to get a chance because I was performing better than any full-back in the Primavera from any team. But unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.”
In the end, lack of opportunities would drive the youngster towards making a bold step in his career.
“Milan is obviously a huge club, and it’s not easy as a young player to get a chance there. But I think with my performances and what I did maybe I deserved a chance, but you know every club has their philosophy how they work with the youth so in the ended I decided because of that [not getting a first team chance] I wanted to leave and play adult football.”
Milan initially offered Kerkez the chance to go out on loan, but his entourage were determined to secure him a permanent deal in order to ensure his career did not go awry.
“We had a lot of offers to go out on loan, but being a loan player is a risky situation. Maybe the team wants to play their player from the academy instead of you, so I didn’t really like the loan decision. I wanted to get a permanent transfer if possible, and it was really hard because Milan didn’t want to give me up that easy.”
Photo by Peter Lous/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images
In the end, with just a few days left in the January transfer window of 2021, AC Milan succumbed to Kerkez’s determination and accepted an offer from AZ Alkmaar.
“I had a few clubs from Germany, but I really liked AZ’s offer and it was a simple decision with the way they planned things for me.”
Kerkez’s move to AZ Alkmaar was well timed for both the club and the player. The Dutch side’s captain, Owen Wijndal, was approaching the end of his time with AZ, and it had already been decided that he would leave for pastures new in the summer. That meant Kerkez had six months to acclimatise to life in the Netherlands, and to learn the trade from the man he would succeed.
“I would not have come here if they didn’t tell me about the plan to sell Owen, because I knew it was hard to compete against the captain, so they told me I was here to adapt for three, four or five months and then after that I was going to play.”
Just like in Milan, Kerkez settled in quickly. He was used regularly in the club’s reserve side playing in the second division, and sat on the bench for the Eredivisie where he had to practise plenty of patience.
Kerkez spent 14 league games on the bench before his debut in the league for the first team, and for a player itching to get on the pitch, that wait wasn’t always easy.
“For me, patience is always the problem,” Kerkez chuckles. “I am always the guy who knows I deserve to play. I always give my 100 per cent in the game. So that waiting period was hard, but the coach was really great. He talked with me every second week about how he had me in his plans, and my father also helped me to keep patient. The games with Jong AZ were really good too, to keep the rhythm. In the end, that wait helped me because when the chance came for me, I was even more determined to get the chance.”
I had a few clubs from Germany, but I really liked AZ’s offer and it was a simple decision with the way they planned things for me.
Milos Kerkez on his decision to join AZ Alkmaar
Kerkez’s chance in the first team came when Wijndal picked up a knock ahead of the club’s final few games of the season in the UEFA Conference League play-off matches.
Kerkez made his debut against Heerenveen and immediately caught the eye. In the end, he started all four games in a successful play-off for AZ and even grabbed an assist in the second leg of the final against Vitesse.
“The play-off was a really good opportunity for me to make a mark,” Kerkez agrees. “Without that moment, I am not sure I would be the regular [left-back] in the team now.”
The youngster hasn’t looked back since. Already he has made 6 goal contributions for the club this season after just 14 games, which is almost half of Wijndal’s (13) total goal contributions for the entirety of last season.
Kerkez knows he still has plenty to improve before he can start dreaming about making the same path as his predecessor, but he is determined to emulate and even ascend Wijndal’s path.
Photo by ANP via Getty Images
“I think crosses and finishes. I need to do much better, and that’s what I am working on to improve. Because I give a lot of crosses depending on the game. I give most of the time 5/6 crosses. From six I want five to arrive good but at the moment it’s only 3-4, so that’s the thing I want to improve on. And also, I want to improve on finishing, because I know I get in chances to score so I want to improve my calmness in front of the goal.”
To improve, Kerkez watches the likes of Alphonso Davies and a familiar face from Milan: “I still watch Théo to learn. I also watch Alphonso Davies sometimes. When Jordi Alba was in his prime, I liked him a lot, too. He was great.”
Later in September with his form having been recognised at international level, Kerkez will have the chance to measure himself against some of the best wingers in European football, should he make his debut for the Hungarian national team in their Nations League fixtures against Germany and Italy.
To play against two star-studded teams in September is a prospect Kerkez is relishing: “Obviously, these are big games. When you play against Italy and Germany, you go up against really great attackers, but that’s the thing I want to do. I want to compare myself against some of the best attackers and play at the highest level possible.
“If can stop [Serge] Gnabry or [Leroy] Sané in one vs one in the defence and hold myself well, then I know I can get to that level and make it to the big teams.”
Serbia never called. Hungary had already given me a chance when I was 15 years. Back then Serbia never called me and now they don’t call me as well.
Milos Kerkez on his international allegiances
Had things turned out differently he could have been competing in the World Cup later this year for the country of his birth, Serbia, but Kerkez says that is in the past.
“Serbia never called. Hungary had already given me a chance when I was 15 years. Back then Serbia never called me and now they don’t call me as well. They call me but not personally; they call me through other people.
“Hungary shows me big respect, and that’s what I like. They gave my family big respect from an early age and that’s unforgettable for me, so I want to give double back. From the beginning I decided that if I get to a good enough level, I want to represent Hungary’s national team. It’s an honour for me and I will play my maximum when I get the chance. My decision is Hungary, and it’s Hungary, that’s it.”
At the rate he is going, the 18-year-old will not just give double, but triple and quadruple back, to both his country and his employers, and it won’t be a surprise to see him competing in Europe’s top five leagues in the future.
“That’s the dream,” Kerkez admits. “For me, Spain is number one, England second, and then Italy third. I put Spain in front because I like the football better. It’s more explosive, you have more runs in the deep, and it’s more technical and faster.”
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Milos for his time. If you wish to report any of these quotes, please credit Scouted Football and include a link to the original page.