This weekend, Viola forward Stevan Jovetic gave an interview to Gazzetta dello Sport, in which he stated he was ready for a move to a bigger club and implied that club would be Italian champions Juventus. Fiorentina are none too pleased with this interview and intend to fine the Montenegrin for speaking without authorization.
But a fine won't stop the damage done. JoJo revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in football: he wants away from Florence. Somehow the club convinced him to stay last season, but after Fiorentina missed out on the chance for Champions League football, Jovetic is convinced his ambitions better suit another club.
Although just 23 years old, Jovetic is likely entitled to hold himself in high esteem. At Partizan, where he came up through the ranks of the youth system, he made his senior debut at the tender age of 16. He then became Partizan's youngest captain ever when he accepted the armband at age 18. Fiorentina bought him mere months later.
Jovetic made a quick impression in his new shirt, scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Sporting to put Fiorentina through to the Champions League group stages, then went on to score a brace against Liverpool in a 2-0 win. Despite starting the season in the Champions League but finishing it in 11th, it seemed the Viola had hope in the form of their young new hero.
But then JoJo tore his cruciate ligament in pre-season training. The knee injury required surgery and kept him on the sidelines the entire 2010-2011 season. Fiorentina saw little change in their fortunes, finishing 9th that season.
The forward returned to form in 2011-2012, scoring 14 goals in 27 league games. However, even Jovetic's fine performances couldn't lift his struggling side, who slipped to a 13th placed finish. But with no other Fiorentina players displaying even a fraction of the Montenegrin's quality, the club knew it was imperative to keep him around. So despite his desire to leave last summer, the Viola begged, pleaded, cajoled and who knows what else.
And Fiorentina kept their promises...almost. Vincenzo Montella took charge of the side, and an aggressive overhaul saw seventeen new players brought in -- plus an additional six in the January transfer window. It could have been an ugly mess in Florence, with the players having no idea how to work as a unit, but Montella had them playing both successfully and beautifully right from the start. Unfortunately, Fiorentina missed third place by a mere two points, leaving them playing Thursday night football next season.
So Jovetic must leave, because he feels he's done all he can at Fiorentina, and now he must conquer Europe. He's acknowledged he's ready for talks with Juventus, something that's been simmering for over a year now. But, even though he's said he prefers to remain in Italy, Jovetic also gave kudos to the Premier League, so the prospect of a move to Chelsea or Arsenal can't be disregarded -- particularly when it's what Fiorentina would prefer.
There's no crystal ball we can look into in order to determine which kit Jovetic will wear at the start of next season (although we can hope this saga is indeed finished well before the start of the season). But we can consider the question: why are some of the world's top clubs so interested in securing Jovetic's services?
Yes, he was Fiorentina's capocannoniere this season, with 13 goals. And he's often used as a symbol of the Viola, their best player and the one who encapsulates their hopes for the future. But paying €30m cash -- the only option the club will allow, with no haggling or throwing in players to knock down the price -- may also be a big risk. Jovetic has faced his share of injuries. Not only the severe knee injury that kept him out for the season, but a few minor knocks as well, including one that saw him miss a month in the first part of last season. He was again sidelined in March and April.
There's also the problem with Jovetic's inconsistency, which was especially evident this season. Although he started off brightly, scoring four goals in the first three matches and harassing opposing defenses even when unable to score, the forward petered out at the end of the season, going nine straight matches without a goal. Which might be acceptable, except Jovetic generally looked listless over the last two months, not only failing to score but failing to create much of anything in the way of chances.
It could, of course, be that Jovetic was merely preoccupied with his future, and with his thoughts removed from the Viola, could not be the player his side were able to rely upon. At least, that's what his new suitors are likely hoping. They're not looking for a traditional center-forward, the poacher who will score 20 goals per season. The clubs in line for Jovetic are seeking a player with a great eye for a pass and who will take a chance from distance, occasionally scoring an impressive goal. The Montenegrin is great with ball at his feet, both with his tricky dribbles and his quick back-and-forths with his teammates. He's a player that will never win score the most goals in the league, but clubs chasing him know that he'll irritate defenses, pull players out of position and create plenty of chances.
That's the sort of player that Juventus, Arsenal and Chelsea better be in the market for, because that's what they'll get from Jovetic. Although he played the majority of Fiorentina matches in the center of a three-man front line, he can also play out wide on the left, adding versatility to all three of those squads -- although you'd have to think he'd be spending time on the bench at Chelsea, unless Jose Mourinho really does start selling off certain Blues players.
As for Fiorentina, they seem resigned to life after their talisman. But after this season, Viola supporters shouldn't spend much time mourning their star's departure. Others, after all, came out to shine. Juan Cuadrado was brilliant on the right, frustrating even more defenders than Jovetic with his pace and trickery. And as Jovetic began to fade, Adem Ljajic's talent grew more evident, scoring eleven goals and notching eight assists for the season, the majority of those coming in the second half. And don't forget, they've got Giuseppe Rossi now, with everyone anxious to see how he fares after his long layoff with injury.
So Fiorentina will be fine. And, really, any club that secures the services of Stevan Jovetic will be improved, provided they can keep him fit and motivated. But perhaps, just perhaps, the ratio of transfer-drama-to-true-talent may be just a bit inflated.