It won’t be long before the name of Serbian forward Luka Jovi? is added to the long list of Serbian footballers plying their trade across Europe.
The number of Serbian players in top leagues has been steadily increasing over the past few years. The latest report from CIES Football Observatory ranked Serbia as the fourth exporting country in world football, with the total of 607 players competing in foreign leagues. Only France, Argentina and Brazil export more footballers at this moment. Some of the Serbian names have been catching a great deal of attention in the top-notch competitions, such as the Premier League. With Tottenham and Arsenal leading the race for the talented Red Star striker, Luka Jovi? might end up being the latest addition to the Serbian colony in England, and Europe in general.
So, who is he and is he worth all the hype?
Talented 17-year-old plays for Red Star Belgrade or Crvena zvezda as it is called in Serbian. Luka Jovi? is their prized possession, but this jewel could have easily become a player of Partizan, Red Star’s fierce rivals. Having been spotted after a single game in a youth tournament, Jovi? was invited to train with Red Star. Partizan wanted to cut the chase by immediately offering the youngster a contract, but his heart was however set on Red Star and he would eventually become their player in 2005 when he was only eight years old.
His senior career began in 2014 when. At the age of 16 years, five months and five days, Luka Jovi? went out to become the club’s youngest goal scorer in (a competitive match) in history. He bagged one on 28th May in a derby game against Vojvodina after being brought on as the substitute in a game which gave Red Star the Serbian Super liga title.
Being touted to become the club’s shiniest star, Luka Jovi? was at first given all the attention in the world. Despite his young age, he was given a number 9 shirt which holds a symbolic meaning to every striker on the globe. He responded with six goals in 22 games of his maiden season thus announcing himself to the world. His technical abilities are impressive. Despite his young age, Luka Jovi? is a strong player. Jovi? is a striker who works for the team, and his work rate in the build-up in the final third and around the penalty area make him a complete forward. His off the ball movement will never lead you to believe that we are talking about a fairly inexperienced 17-year-old boy. His finishing needs polishing, but this is also the point when his inexperience kicks in.
Red Star General manager Zvezdan Terzi? was the first one to publicly compare Luka Jovi? to Radamel Falcao. Monako striker is also Jovi?’s favourite player, the one this youngster looks up to. In all the fairness, footballing world has seen a fair share of player comparisons over the years, but in the case of Serbian starlet the similarities with the Colombian striker have recently been uncanny.
Couple of months after his senior debut, Luka Jovi? has become the subject of some controversial talks regarding his contract, much to the similarity of the Colombian striker. Red Star have declared their intention to hold on to the striker and make him a key player in the years to come, contrary to the usual dealings of the Serbian clubs which sell their young assets at the first chance of a hefty fee. Belgrade club even rejected the £2 million offer from Atletico Madrid. Rejecting a solid bid from Spanish side in a difficult financial situation raised a couple of eyebrows, but deeper analysis of the rejection provide an answer. Namely, part of Jovi?’s contract (allegedly 70% of it) was last year sold to agent Fali Ramadani in a reported £1 million deal. It has become a common practice in Serbian football, but with FIFA banning the third-party ownership this year, all the dealings will have to be ended. With this in mind, Red Star would not have made any significant earnings from the sale, and it may have been a major part of their decision to reject Atletico Madrid.
With the managerial shift during summer, Luka Jovi?’s fortunes have also turned. Young striker could have been a part of Serbia’s Under20 triumph in New Zealand and he would have been crowned World Champion, but he missed the World Cup due to his knee injury, again much to the similarity of his Colombian counterpart. At the same time, there have been some accusations that his club pressured him to skip the competition, accusations that have been additionally increased when he was seen at his club’s pre-season training preparing for Europa League qualifiers. New coach Miodrag Božovi? wanted to assess his team in the summer that proved to be crucial for Luka Jovi?’s current situation.
It is simple, despite the big announcements – the boy is not playing. There have been speculations about the club being unwilling to invest in a striker that is sure to change clubs in January. New manager is relying on the more experienced players explaining that his first goal of the season is not to promote young players but to win the title and lead his team to Champions League. Sitting on the bench for most of the time in the new season, Luka Jovi? was given half an hour on the pitch away in Subotica, in the last round of Serbian Super liga before the international break, which was enough for him to score a winner in 81 minute of a thrilling 3:2 encounter against Spartak. The boy is quiet, refusing to comment on his manager’s choices, unlike his father who publicly criticized Red Star for not giving his son more playing time.
Stuck between the financial interests of his club and agent(s), Luka Jovi? could go from shining star to shooting star at the very beginning of his career. Another jewel on the crossroads, with some important decisions ahead of him.
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.