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Luka Jovic and the Resurrection of a Real Madrid Career

The Serbian has demonstrated his quality on the pitch, proving the naysayers wrong and earning a second lease on life in the Spanish capital.

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Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Where once there were groans and mockery, there is now nodding approval – “Luka Jovic tiene cositas”. That remark has come from more than one on-looker at the Santiago Bernabeu; it’s a subtle way for Madrileños to say that Luka Jovic can bring something to the table. After a turbulent two and half years, Real Madrid fans are starting to recognize the qualities the soon to be 24-year-old Serbian can provide to the 13-time European Champions.

Describing Jovic’s time at Madrid as turbulent, feels like an injustice. It’s glosses over the up’s, and many down’s, that have hardened the boy from Batar. From being heralded as one of the best U21 strikers of his generation, and thus earning a €60 million move, to disciplinary issues (breaking COVID protocols), bizarre injuries – like dropping a weight on his foot, contracting coronavirus when Karim Benzema had fallen to injury, to a 6-month return to Frankfurt, and finally to near permanent transfers to AC Milan, Manchester United, and even West Ham – Luka Jovic has been through the gauntlet. But as the old African proverb goes, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”.

When all hope seemed lost, and the waves seemed too large to conquer, a lifeline was found in the stormy Basque region of San Sebastian. A goal and an assist vs Real Sociedad, in the biggest game of Jovic’s Real Madrid career, and arguably the most pivotal match of the 2021/2022 season for Carlo Ancelotti’s team, resituated a seemingly lost player. Suddenly hope appeared, the hope that the player signed from Eintracht Frankfurt may be able to hone his attributes and provide a relevant role for a Carlo Ancelotti led Real Madrid side.

As much as his goals at Eintracht Frankfurt attracted the casual observer, it was a more robust and well rounded set of skills that attracted the eye of Zinedine Zidane. “He [Zidane] is the one who wanted me at Real Madrid,” Jovic revealed to TV program, Lično Nezvanično in December 2019. “The negotiations were very complicated between my club and Real Madrid, they almost broke down, but it was Zidane who insisted for me to wear this jersey.”

What Zidane saw and what the Bernabeu is beginning to see is that Jovic is more than a predator in the box, he’s an elite hold-up player and a quality playmaker. His quick, sharp touches in congested central channels – both in the final third and in building out of the back – draw in defenders and free space for others, allowing him to switch the point of attack or keep a move flowing.

Jovic ranks in the 94th percentile for dribbles completed among other center forwards. Cositas, eh? Now with the time and faith to play his game, this skillset can flourish.

A data point that Statsbomb is yet to measure is an attribute that Yaya Toure can attest to as being vital at the highest level of the sport: using one’s body to gain an edge, or rather one’s bum. Jovic is one of the best in the business at holding off central defenders, forcing them to try and wiggle around his stocky frame, and then exploiting the weak space they leave opposite of the side they attempted to win the ball from.

Jovic’s ability to use his strength and hold up the ball, gives time to the likes of Vinicius, Asensio, or Rodrygo to build up a head of steam and vacate the space left behind the defender hounding Jovic. Or, it creates another option, leaving that central space open — free of any runners — attracts an additonal defender to converge centrally and provide Jovic the ability to link play out wide. Case in point, the second goal vs Atletico Madrid showcased in the clip above. Jovic created separation between himself and Kondogbia, forcing the Frenchman to his more protected right side and then physically shrugging him off for an easy pass in transition to Vinicius. The more Jovic can attract and draw defenders out of shape, the more open spaces will appear for the likes of Vinicius — the player for whom Ancelotti is building the offense around.

There is no hiding from the elephant in the room, Jovic’s goal return for Real Madrid is poor, but Jovic has always been more than goals. Fans, media, coaches, and opposition are now beginning to see the real threat Jovic can provide. Patience has always been preached, but it is rarely granted. Though, the dividends of patience can be handsomely rewarding, just look at Kiyan’s view of the evolution of Vinicius Junior. Jovic knew as much himself, “I have talked to Modric about my situation and he reassured me, it’s the same as when he signed, patience is key and I have that.”

Competing with Karim Benzema, and potentially Kylian Mbappe and/or Erling Haaland in the near future, means Luka Jovic may never have a starring role at Real Madrid. He may not have a long and storied career at the club, but he nor any fan or pundit should doubt that he has the ability or talent to play for a club like Real Madrid. It’s always been there and now the Bernabeu can enjoy the subtle bits and pieces Jovic brings to sway a game in Los Blancos favor.

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