His name echoed from the terraces straight in his debut game, but what exactly did Aleksandar Mitrovi? do to deserve such an openhearted support from the Newcastle faithful after only a handful of Premier League games?
Steve McClaren wowed to bring revolution to Tyneside.
He succeeded. Despite being considered an old-fashioned soccer manager, during some 130 days of his mandate so far, Newcastle boss has implemented some modern footballing traits is his team’s play, at the same time investing in discipline, refurbished training regime and playing style. But most of all, he invested in bringing fresh blood to St James’ Park.
More than £50 million for the club of Newcastle’s (current) stature was more than hefty, and it showed a drastic change in club’s policy. Of all the players that were added during summer, name of the Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovi? stood out from the beginning. With Charlie Austin waiting for the Premier League clubs with his arms wide open, more than few Newcastle fans believed that McClaren had made a mistake in bringing an undisciplined youngster from Eastern Europe instead of the experienced Premier League striker.
Their doubts were well argued. From his first steps as the professional footballer, Aleksandar Mitrovi? has been followed by stigma, disbelief, and criticism. However, his convincing displays at Partizan and later at Belgian giants Anderlecht, where he scored 44 goals in 90 games, were strong counterarguments. Part Drogba, part Materazzi, this self-proclaimed Serbian Mario Balotelli was more interested in outrageous hairstyles and on-pitch antics than in his football at the beginning of his career, and Newcastle fans who knew their way around Serbian football simply knew what to expect.
But Steve McClaren succeeded in what many before him failed to accomplish. It took him some polishing work as two yellow cards in Mitrovic’s opening two games for Newcastle and then a red one against Arsenal are there to confirm it, but he managed to contain him. Goals against Manchester City and Norwich most recently are not something to go by, but statistics are hiding one important aspect of Mitrovic’s instant influence – the excitement.
This 21-year-old is an exotic specimen which is well recognized by the Newcastle family.
“From the second you see his name on the teamsheet your body seems to be overcome by a certain element of excitement and nervousness as you count down the minutes until kick off. There’s a roaring fire within his belly which simply cannot be taught, and from that fire comes a burning passion to drive forward and make a positive impact on the field, dragging his team-mates with him along the way”, an ecstatic fan wrote in an open ‘love letter’ to Aleksandar Mitrovi? after the Norwich game, published by gallowgateshots.com.
Hidden between these lines there lies the real reason behind infatuation with Mitrovi?. Newcastle fans have long suffered with their unconvincing attacking line. Looking back over a ten-year period and the last season Alan Shearer played at St James’ Park (2005-2006), none of the players who wore the Newcastle shirt managed to get out of the legend’s shadow. Michael Owen did his best, so did Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi. Marko Viduka tried, Andy Carroll was sold just when he was supposed to’ explode’. Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba are players of different kind.
Mere glimpse of Mitrovi?’s ability was more than enough to bring back fine memories of fans’ most loved one, of the legend. Their search was over, disbelief promptly transferred to hope and eagerness. They want it to be him, they want this bad boy from Serbia to be the striker Shearer once was. Not the false nine, not the wide player, but real, genuine striker.
Someone who will make his aerial presence known, someone to hold the ball firmly to his feet, someone to blaze in the net – near, far, from every angle possible. Someone brave.
With the right guidance the Serbian striker could indeed be their man, and Mitrovi? is by no means afraid of accepting the label of Shearer’s successor. But the fans have put all their hopes upon the young man’s shoulders and they must also take the responsibility to themselves. Immature, juvenile and obstinate, Aleksandar Mitrovi? is unpredictable in nature. Wild. Easily broken.
But handled with care, he can fulfill their dreams, and his own.
About the author – Miloš Markovic
Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at Sportske.net and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.