Intelligent Serb can be perfect foil for Torres at Anfield...Neil Jones | Liverpool Correspondent
Rafael Benitez might not have gone all-out to strengthen Liverpool’s squad in the January transfer-window, but the Spaniard has wasted little time in securing his first signing for next season.
Serbian international forward Milan Jovanovic is poised to sign a three-year contract at Anfield – subject to a medical – which will commence when his current deal at Belgian champions Standard Liege expires in June. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man is said to be "delighted" by the prospect of joining "one of the top 10 clubs in Europe"
Jovanovic is a striker of some pedigree, as his record of 68 goals in 141 games for Liege suggests; and the 29-year-old has also scored nine goals in 23 appearances for his country. He was named Belgium's Footballer of the Year in 2008, and has two league winners’ medals to his name.
So what can Liverpool expect from their new Serbian star? Goal.com UK asked Belgian football expert Gary Niblock what he made of the man Liege fans call ‘Jova’....
Firstly, Gary, what kind of player is Jovanovic? What are his strengths as a player?
Jovanovic is mainly a striker, although he was moved to the left (being a left footer) as punishment by his manager Boloni Laszlo because 'Jova' was making noises about wanting to leave the club.
He is a very good finisher; but his major strength for me is his technique. He is skilful and, whilst I would accept he is no flying machine, he makes up for it with his intelligence and he knows how to be in the right positions.
At Liverpool, he is likely to be either a foil for Fernando Torres, or a replacement. How do you think he will handle this? What is he like as a link-up player?
He likes to come deep and be involved in the play and as for linking up with others, I would say that if you look at his partners at Standard - Igor De Camargo and Dieumerci Mbokani - the three link up well but in particular Jovanovic with Mbokani, who is a direct, target man type striker.
Whilst Jova is tall and fairly strong, he likes to play with someone who will lead the line and put themselves about so to speak - a bit like Torres does. He is decent in the air but I wouldn't be too worried about him from that point of view if I were Nemanja Vidic, say, although as I say, that's not so much his role in the team.
Quick thinker | Lacks pace but plays intelligently
What about his character, is he a likeable guy in the dressing room with his team-mates?
Jovanovic is charismatic and with a good sense of humour. He likes to joke with reporters and at the same time he is quite emotional - often he reminds me of the tennis player Goran Ivanisevic in the way he comes across.
With his fellow team-mates, I am of course not in the dressing room but he seems to be appreciated for his footballing ability, though I'd say that his ambition to leave did create tensions with the other, mostly younger, players at Standard. However I don't believe this affected his performances too much, every player has a dip now and then but he has been consistently a fine player for Standard.
In terms of the media, Jovanovic speaks good English, is he popular with the press in Belgium?
He is in the media a lot because of his media-friendly nature and he is not shy to get his viewpoint across, especially when he feels he has been harshly treated and hard-done by. Journalists enjoy interviewing him in English as he speaks very little French, and he is always happy to answer questions.
Standard Liege’s supporters were critical of Jovanovic earlier in the year when the team was struggling, why was this?
During some games earlier this season the Standard fans were chanting anti-Serbian slogans (pro-Kosovo chants) as a way of getting at Jovanovic. They blamed him for the team's underperformance this season when the reality is that the departure of Guchi Onyewu left a big hole in their defence.
As to why he was singled out, it's difficult to say, I was as much surprised by it as Milan was himself. He always used to remind the fans in interviews that he was the club’s top scorer. I think they felt he lacked commitment and that sometimes if it wasn't going for him in games, it was because his heart wasn't in it rather than the fact he was just not in top form or he just wasn't getting the rub of the green. It was very unfair and harsh on him; however, I don't believe this pushed him out the door.
At 29, Jovanovic is a fairly late arrival to the big-time, why has it taken him so long to join an elite European league?
He is a late developer and when Standard won the play-offs last season he did say that he was no spring chicken anymore and that he wanted one big move in his career - to make up for lost time in a way - but there is no doubt that a lot of the motivation was financial and he was looking for a monster pay-day before probably retiring back to Serbia and winding down his career that way.