By Mark Doyle
When Stevan Jovetic’s right knee gave way during a pre-season training session in Siero a Sieve last August, the snap of his anterior cruciate ligament was heard by team-mates standing as far as 10 metres away.
So severe was the damage that doctors decided upon two separate operations and informed the Fiorentina forward that he would require at least six months of rehabilitation after the second procedure, which they pencilled in for October.
A determined Jovetic spoke optimistically in March of this year of being just over a month away from a return to first-team action and yet even May came too soon for the former Partizan Belgrade starlet.
Unsurprisingly, the delay led many Fiorentina fans to fear the worst and there were unsubstantiated rumours that Jovetic’s career was in jeopardy, and that even if he did return he might never be the same player again.
Either scenario would have been a tragedy in sporting terms.
Jo-Jo | Conquered Liverpool, almost downed Bayern. Next up: England
Indeed, Jovetic has seemed destined for greatness ever since he made his debut for Partizan Belgrade as a 16-year-old in April 2006. Within two seasons the slender teenager with an uncanny resemblance to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (albeit without the dodgy moustache) was club captain and attracting the interest of Europe’s elite. Manchester United monitored his development particularly closely and yet when it came to doing business with Paritzan, the Red Devils instead moved for Jovetic’s team-mates Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic. How Sir Alex Ferguson must regret those deals.
United’s loss was Fiorentina’s gain, the Italians swooping in the summer of 2008 to sign one of the most coveted youngsters on the European scene for a relative snip at €8 million.
Jovetic arrived in Florence touted as ‘the Montenegrin Messi’ but because of his silky dribbling skills, deceptive pace, sublime touch, genuine two-footedness and mop of curly hair, it wasn’t long before the locals began drawing comparisons with one of their former idols, Roberto Baggio.
|JOVETIC | CAREER STATS
‘Jo-Jo’, as he had now been nicknamed by an adoring Florentine faithful, scored the equalising goal in the 1-1 draw with Sporting Lisbon at the Artemio Franchi which secured qualification for the Champions League proper before announcing himself to English audiences by bagging a brace in a 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the pool stages.
Jovetic produced a second scintillating display against a European heavyweight in the knockout stages, but his two goals in the last-16 second leg clash with Bayern Munich were not enough to prevent Fiorentina from controversially bowing out on the away goals rule.
The Champions League exit came as a massive disappointment to Jovetic, as did their eventual failure to claim a European place at the end of the season. However, nothing compared to the feeling of desolation ‘Jo-Jo’ experienced in the run-up to the following campaign.
Indeed, Jovetic has described the moment his right knee buckled under his own weight as the worst of his life, admitting that he was reduced to tears as he lay prostrate in the dressing rooms at Fiorentina’s training base, fearing the worst.
However, after months spent feeling sorry for himself, Jovetic embraced the power of positive thinking after discovering ‘The Secret’, a self-help book written by Rhonda Byrne which famously became a best seller after being endorsed by none other than Oprah Winfrey. It led a reinvigorated Jovetic to boldly declare in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of his comeback: “I will return stronger than before.”
Certainly, the early signs are encouraging. There was a goal in his first outing of 2011-12, for Montenegro in their 2-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff at the start of the month, while he struck twice in a 3-0 win over Parma a fortnight ago.
Doubts remain after some ineffective performances of late, most recently against Lazio on Sunday. But, what is certain is that those doubts will have little effect on a player whose resolve now seems as great as his talent.
As he mused earlier this month: “I can see the bright side of my injury: when I arrived in Florence I was little more than a child, now I have become a man."