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Jović faces battle against history to become a Real success

 • by Matt Gault
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It suddenly feels like 2009 again.

Barcelona are the leading force in Spanish football but Real Madrid are tearing up the transfer market.

With Brazilian wonderkid Rodrygo Goes already set to arrive, Los Blancos have tied up deals for Porto’s Éder Militão and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Luka Jović.

With Eden Hazard and Ferland Mendy expected to follow, it’s safe to say Zinedine Zidane is filling up his Infinity Gauntlet nicely.

There is particular interest around Jović, of course, the Serbian sharpshooter who shot to prominence after a goal-laden season in Frankfurt.

On a surface level, he was always likely to generate excitement ahead of next season, as a prolific goalscorer who, with Hazard, can return Real to the top of the European game.

However, looking through Real’s recent transfer history, Jović’s arrival is particularly interesting.

Believe it or not, the former Red Star Belgrade youngster is the first striker not previously associated with Real to join them since 2009.

In the Cristiano Ronaldo era, the Spanish giants signed only two out-and-out strikers: Álvaro Morata from Juventus in 2016 and Karim Benzema, who arrived days after the Portuguese superstar. After CR7 left for Juventus, the club paid Lyon just over £20million for Mariano Díaz.

Mariano and Morata were both Real youth academy graduates, so the club knew what they were getting. It wasn’t a step into the unknown. But Jović, like Benzema in 2009, is a remarkably hot commodity, a player capable of building an immense career at the Bernabéu over the next decade.

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Only time will tell if the Serb can get anywhere near the Frenchman’s haul of 222 goals (and counting), but history suggests he’ll be up against it.

Although he’s had his injury problems, Mariano didn’t set La Liga alight when he was on the pitch last year, scoring three times in 13 appearances.

Morata, now at rivals Atlético, didn’t struggle. He struck 20 times in all competitions as Real tasted La Liga and Champions League success under Zidane in 2017.

However, Spaniard failed to elevate himself above playing second-fiddle to Benzema, though, and eventually joined Chelsea.

Evidence of the suffocating pressures of being a Real Madrid striker runs much deeper in history, of course. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar lasted just half a season after his arrival from Ajax in January 2009. Javier Saviola never established him during two unsuccessful years. Antonio Cassano was a flop and Michael Owen didn’t work out. Going a little further back, Nicolas Anelka was the most exciting young forward in the world when he signed in 1999, but the Frenchman left after one season to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Like Jović, they were players who moved to Madrid for a reason. Huntelaar struck 36 goals in both the 2006/07 and 2007/08 campaigns to cement his status as one of the world’s leading forwards. Saviola had twice hit the 20-goal mark for Barcelona and Owen had been one of Europe’s most coveted finishers since breaking through as a scintillating destroyer of defences at Liverpool in 1997.

And Cassano was perhaps always a wildcard, but the unpredictable Italian was a two-time recipient of the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award.

Jović obviously has a lot going for him, though. He’s a gifted finisher, is on an upward curve and, assuming Hazard’s deal goes through, will have one of the world’s best playmakers operating just behind him.

He has that killer instinct inside the box. In 2018/19, he scored as many with his left foot as he did with his right and also netted five headers. All 27 of his goals were scored inside the box.

Last season, his emergence was unmissable. In October, he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score five goals in a match, one of which was a viral-worthy bicycle kick. He also netted ten times in the Europa League to help Eintracht to the Europa League semi-finals.

Overall, his return of 0.68 goals per 90 minutes was the best of any player under the age of 25 in Europe’s big five leagues. It is worth noting, however, that just three of his Bundesliga strikes in 2018/19 came after January 2.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee success, especially not at Real. He arrives at a time of uncertainty for the 13-time European champions, before a season which promises to be as much about rebuilding as dominating.

It’s a huge move for a player of his age. He is not necessarily wet behind the ears; having debuted at just 16 for Red Star, he’s now played in three different leagues, but he’s yet to know what it feels like to play against the intense expectations of the home fans inside the Bernabéu, and to play with a £60million price-tag on his head.

As good as Jović is, never underestimate Real Madrid’s ability to chew up and spit out young goalscorers who seem destined for the top.

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