Jovetic grows into the face of Fiorentina
In the majority of Europe's major tourist destinations, replica football jerseys on sale are geographically unspecific -- it's "Messi 10" and "Ronaldo 7" across the board, regardless of which country you're in.
In stark contrast, Florence remains refreshingly purple. There are a few Inter jerseys with /
On the back of the majority of these jerseys is one player's name -- /
Fiorentina are one of those clubs that seem to insist upon a prolific central striker. In the same way that Newcastle's No. 9 shirt has been worn with great distinction by the likes of Jackie Milburn, Malcolm McDonald and Alan Shearer, and Athletic Bilbao's /
Gabriel Batistuta remains Fiorentina's most celebrated striker in living memory. He scored so many goals that supporters erected a statue of him, which was unceremoniously torn down when he defected to Roma in 2000. The season after he left, /
Jovetic is a different case. Unlike those players, he's not a natural No. 9 -- in fact, the "8" on the back of his shirt looks strange displayed at market stalls across the city, as it's hardly the most iconic number -- but he's increasingly thriving in their position. Coach /
There were already suspicions that the latter suited Fiorentina better, especially in games against strong opposition, and Sunday night's superb 4-1 victory over Inter supported that theory. Jovetic was supported primarily by the tricky, wayward but occasionally exceptional fellow Slavic attacker Adem Ljajic, who drifted around between the lines, playing quick one-twos with teammates to get into goal-scoring positions. Jovetic played as the primary striker, dropping deep away from goal to collect possession, but also doing traditional centre forward things like battling with Andrea Ranocchia to challenge for long balls downfield, and darting to the near post when the ball was played wide.
Jovetic and Ljajic were sensational -- two goals apiece, and Fiorentina could have won by more. They recorded 11 shots on target before /
But Jovetic was inevitably the star. It's slightly surprising that the main striking role suits him -- like /
With those four in the side, Jovetic's best position is up front. He's developed physically, to suit the demands of playing up front in Serie A -- he was once a gangly, slender player with supple hips and a change of pace. Now, since his return from the cruciate ligament injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010-11 campaign, he seems more powerful and sturdy.
"Tonight I played as a centre forward, which in general I don't like as much," he admitted. "But I did pretty well, I scored two goals and am very happy."
His happiness is apparently paramount to his performance. In the build-up to the game, Sinisa Mihajlovic, who coached Fiorentina until last season, remarked upon Jovetic's recent poor form. "Jovetic is a sensitive guy and it's fundamental you know how to deal with him. As with all great champions, he needs to feel important," he said. "I consider Jovetic to be one of the best players in Serie A, but right now he is not playing at his level. I am no longer in Florence, so I cannot say for sure what the problem is. It's evident he is suffering because of something and if things don't change I think he'll leave at the end of the season."
The issue of Jovetic's departure won't go away. Fiorentina are in the second tier of Italian football, rather than one of the true big boys, and they've sold plenty of star names in the past. But losing their best player wouldn't be a disaster now -- for the last couple of seasons Fiorentina relied heavily upon Jovetic's talents; they were too dependent upon one injury-prone player at the expense of squad harmony and cohesion. Now Montella has created such an exciting, harmonious side comprising like-minded technical individuals that Fiorentina could afford to lose him, assuming they replaced him wisely; their recent recruitment has been sensationally successful.
Jovetic will be in demand this summer, and if his best position is in question, his raw quality is not, and the Montenegrin has the potential to play for any of Europe's elite clubs. Nowhere else, however, will he be worshipped to the extent he is in Florence.