Five Times Better

It was on May 28, 2014. The 30th and final match-day of a tight and thrilling season in the Serbian Super Liga has arrived. As usual, the two dominant Belgrade forces, Red Star and Partizan, produced a hard-fought battle for the title – but this was Crvena Zvezda’s year, as they secured the title 3 days prior to that.

As a result, some of Red Star’s main players have left for their respective international duties. Coach Slavisa Stojanovic has fielded a weaker side than usual for a quiet away day in Novi Sad vs the local FK Vojvodina. Sitting on the bench, for the first time, was 16-year-old Luka Jovic. Down 3-2 at the 73rd minute, Stojanovic decided to give the youngster a chance to prove himself. After only 3 minutes, the teenager has already scored. Following a short celebration, he grabbed the ball towards midfield for the game to be restarted quickly.

Clearly, Jovic was wasting no time in announcing himself to Serbian football. And what better way to do it, than becoming the youngest goalscorer in a competitive match in Red Star’s history – eclipsing the record of another team and national legend, Dejan Stankovic. After 5 months, he then became the youngest player to play in the Eternal Derby, vs Partizan. These were the first steps of Jovic’s career, from Belgrade to becoming one of the youngest players to mark their name in the Bundesliga history.

 Luka Jovic, from Crvena Zvezda to the biggest stages in the world (MN Press)

Luka Jovic, from Crvena Zvezda to the biggest stages in the world (MN Press)

Jovic was born in the Bosnian village of Batar, which is located very close to the Serbian border, and 25 kilometers from the city of Bijeljina. The Jovic family comes from a poor background, and father Milan has made big sacrifices for his son in help of his attempt pursuing a footballing career. As a kid, Luka was sought by both Red Star and Partizan, and has ultimately joined the Red and Whites with the advice of a close family friend and fellow Bijeljina born – Savo Milosevic.

Milosevic is one of Serbia’s greatest ever strikers and is ranked second in the national team’s top goal-scoring list. Ironically, he is also identified with the Black and Whites from Partizan, but has convinced Luka to go with his heart and wishes – which were always red. To help his son to commute and train properly with his new team, Milan used to drive Luka to Belgrade for training sessions, and afterwards the two stayed to sleep in the old car during freezing nights, thus to avoid the long drive back home.

The hard work has eventually paid off, and Jovic was a main figure in Red Star for a season and a half, before being snapped up by Portuguese giants Benfica Lisbon in February 2016. Staying in red uniforms, Jovic joined a club that is famous for constantly upbringing big football talents to fruition, while also creating a warm home for Serbians in recent years: Nemanja Matic, Lazar Markovic and Ljubomir Fejsa, to name a few, have all played dominant roles for Benfica in the last decade.

 Luke Jovic while signing for Benfica, his first chance abroad (SL Benfica)

Luke Jovic while signing for Benfica, his first chance abroad (SL Benfica)

Joining such a big European club can be a great place to develop for a youngster, but with all the talented and experienced names filling the squad, playing time is not always guaranteed in the first team. Jovic can attest that himself, as in his first year and a half he played 40 minutes in 6 different matches for the senior side. However, he has received more chances for Benfica’s B side who play in the second tier of Portuguese football. Over there, the Serb was in very good company, playing along names such as Goncalo Guedes and Nelson Semedo. Additionally, history has shown Benfica has produced top level stars that have played even fewer senior games for the team than Jovic: Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo, for instance. Not a bad list to be a part of, for now.

Jovic will most likely receive a chance to represent the Lisbon giants in the future, but for now he is part of yet another red (and black) team, Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, for whom he is playing in his second season on loan from Portugal. The striker has adapted very well to life in Germany and has enjoyed local and international success: Last season, under coach Niko Kovac, the team has won the DFB Pokal, after shocking Bayern Munich in the finals. Jovic himself scored the semi final winner against Schalke 04, while also participating and scoring in the Europa League, added to 8 league goals. The reward? Debuting for the Serbian national team, who play in red of course, and coming on as a substitute vs Brazil in the World Cup.

Serbia has disappointed once again in the big stage, but Jovic has just increased his appetite – as he opened the 2018-2019 season in storm: 7 goals in 6 league matches, while still not featuring regularly in the starting eleven. His 5 goals against Fortuna Düsseldorf was a record, as he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to do so, aged 20, while also being only the third foreigner to ever achieve the feat.

It is remained to be seen what fortunes are hidden for Jovic, but if luck will continue to shine on him, it is not impossible to imagine a scenario where he breaks the national goal-scoring record of his idol Milosevic, while also moving forward in his club career. After all, many big teams proudly wear the red color in the world of football.

 Luka Jovic against Fortuna Düsseldorf, one step further in his way to the top (Guliver/Getty Images/Alex Grimm )

Luka Jovic against Fortuna Düsseldorf, one step further in his way to the top (Guliver/Getty Images/Alex Grimm )