Fiorentina fans aren’t used to boring end-of-seasons. In the past ten years, their thoughts at this period in the campaign have been, variously: relegation, promotion, cup finals, Champions League qualification, and even bankruptcy. But with European qualification never likely, relegation not a realistic danger and the Coppa Italia dream over in December, it’s been a surprisingly quiet few months for Florentine football fans.
The one ray of light seems to have disappeared – Stevan Jovetic now seems unlikely to play this season. The Montenegrin youngster has been out for the entire campaign with a cruciate ligament injury – in fact, this week marks exactly a year since he last pulled on the viola shirt. Fiorentina’s campaign has been ruined by injuries – with a squad not really strong enough to cope, despite a high wage bill – but it is Jovetic’s absence that has been felt more strongly than any other.
The initial diagnosis said that he’d be back in February, March at the latest. That was put back to April, and then May, and now, with only one game of the season left for Fiorentina, he might have to wait until September.
It’s terribly cruel that Jovetic has been robbed of an entire season at such a young age. He is still only 20, and a serious knee injury at that age can affect an entire career. He was widely regarded as ‘one to watch’ last season, but in truth he had already surpassed that status to become a truly excellent footballer – playing just off Alberto Gilardino in Fiorentina’s fluid 4-2-3-1 system, he was at the heart of everything good about the side.
Jovetic is a slightly strange player – he is clearly an exceptional talent, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular attribute he excels at, or compare him to another player based upon his abilities. He’s something of an all-rounder – he links up well, he can dribble, shoot from long range, and has a poacher’s instinct in front of goal. He’s been used as the main striker, behind the main striker, and occasionally out on the wing when Fiorentina have need a more defensive outlook in away games.
Were it not for Jovetic’s babyface – he looks more like 14 than 20 – it would be easy to assume that he was a much more experienced player. Unlike many players his age, you don’t get the impression that he’s a ‘raw’ talent waiting to be fleshed out into something more mature – he doesn’t try extravagant tricks or rely on a burst of pace, he simply does as his manager would like – plays simple passes, gets into good positions, scores goals.
All this makes him a manager’s dream, and he’s inevitably been linked to various clubs across Europe. In fact, Jovetic’s agent revealed that he turned down a move to Liverpool last summer – he was content to remain at a club that has shown immense faith in him from a young age. That shows maturity and professionalism, and also hints that Jovetic understands the need for playing time. After a year out, that need has only increased.
It seems his best position will be as a classic number ten – and he’s been fortunate to emerge at a time when this type of player seems to be coming back into fashion. When Barcelona and Manchester United last met in a Champions League final, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi were playing out wide. Two years later, they’re playing centrally in the position more suited to the number on their back.
The Serie A season is all but over – the champions are Milan, the relegation spots have been confirmed, and only the race for the final Champions League place is still alive. The majority of games are irrelevant - but it’s worth keeping an eye on the Stadio Rigamonti in Brescia, and hoping that one of Europe’s brightest young footballers finally makes his return.
Michael Cox is the founder and editor of zonalmarking.net, and contributes tactical analysis for the Guardian newspaper.