It was obvious from the way he touched the ball this player has an extraordinary talent. When he moves, dictates the pass to his teammates, and trasmits pure technical ability, he leaves you with your mouth open. For me it’s like stopping in front of a Van Gogh painting and admiring it in silence. The art of soccer lives in his elegant motions.
When Beppe Marotta took over as Juventus Sporting Director, a new era was set to begin for the Bianconeri, distinct and separate from the oozing stench of incompetence left behind by the previous management. A two-phase plan was set in motion: first, build a solid base of players to firm up the rot forsaken by Alessio Secco. Then, in a second phase, add the recruits that would make the team jump in quality. Or in other words, get Juve a further step closer to their pre-Calciopoli levels.
Now well within Phase #2, Beppe Marotta is set to deliver on his promise to the Juventus nation. Discussing the club’s transfer plans for this Summer, there were two tags thrown around the Director General that kept resurfacing in the media. One was “Top Player“, the Italian pseudo-translation for “world-class player”. The other was “quality“. Two more than appropriate labels for the Bianconeri’s main transfer objectives of this Summer, Argentine wonderkid Sergio Agüero and Italian-American Giuseppe Rossi.
The two La Liga players were coming off terrific years for their clubs, with 20 and 18 goals respectively, and both carried the international prestige necessary to fit Juve’s “Top Player” bill, the big-name-purchase that would create both buzz in the changing room as well as among Juventini worldwide. Giuseppe Marotta, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, and the players’ agents all confirmed the negotiations, though Marotta kept relatively quiet, perhaps learning last year’s lesson from speaking too much about the mercato.
It’s understandable then, when fans heard both the Rossi and Agüero moves had fallen through, the general feeling was that of surprise and disappointment. Especially when rather than a young super-star talent, Juventus signed a 27 year-old from Roma coming off a disappointing year.
An Unexpected Transfer
When he signed over from Lecce in August 2006 (one-year loan contract), Mirko Vucinic had started off his Roma career well enough. Though two knee operations prevented the Montenegrin striker from seeing much playing time his first year, it was enough to convince the Giallorossi management. At the end of the year Roma paid €3.75m in order to buy 50% of Vucinic’s playing rights and make him a permanent replacement for departing Vincenzo Montella.
The 2007-08 season would be Vucinic’s break-out year in the Roman capital. The player featured in many of the club’s victorious outinings in the UEFA Champions League (scoring notably against Real Madrid in the Round of 16 which marked the Merengues’ elimination) as well as domestic competitions (such as the Coppa Italia final, which Roma won 2-1 vs. Inter Milan). Things were going well for Mirko at Trigoria, and at the end of the year the Sensi family finally bought the player outright from Lecce for €12m.
The following two years continued with steady goal-scoring performances, however injuries, Roma’s malaise, and Vucinic’s poor form eventually crept into the picture. In his final season with the Giallorossi, Vucinic missed a few shockers, open-net opportunities that drove fans to tear their hair out and question his commitment to the club. Mirko became tired of calcio, tired of the current season, tired of Roma, and was unquestionably relieved to see Summer vacation arrive.
Then on July 30th, 2011, deliverance:
Juventus Football Club S.p.A. announces that the agreement with A.S. Roma S.p.A. for the definitive acquisition of the registration rights of the player Mirko Vucinic has been finalized. The contract envisages the payment by Juventus of €15 million in three years. Juventus and the player have signed a 4-year contract of employment.
Welcome to Juventus
It’s important to remember that the failure to sign Agüero or Rossi (right or wrong) is not something to blame on Mirko Vucinic. As of this point, which player would’ve been the best signing is a question for Marotta, not a valid criticism of Vucinic.
There are plenty of questions regarding Vucinic: they are primarily character-related, and there’s also the rather worrying injury-record. Mirko blows hot or cold. One day, he will be the Maradona of the Balkans, the other, his misses will make Iaquinta look as efficient as Inzaghi. He is very much a player that has to “feel it” to deliver his brilliance, a lack of motivation resulting in a very average striker. Roma DS Walter Sabatini and the player himself both indicated he was unhappy in the Italian capital, given the pressure-cooker environment and the Luis Enrique revolution. So perhaps a breath of fresh northern air is all Vucinic needs to reset his mentality.
What the former Lecce striker brings to the table (that Agüero or Rossi perhaps wouldn’t have) is his versatility. Vucinic can play virtually anywhere in attack, up top as a finisher, a creative second striker, or even wide as a winger. He can play deep, setting up the attack, or leading the front. It’s been suggested that should Conte continue in implementing his preferred tactics, Vucinic could line up as a wide player in the 4-2-4 line-up, much as Franco Brienza did back at Siena.
A big question regarding Mirko Vucinic’s transfer is: was he really necessary? In many ways, Juventus were aiming for a top striker, something he doesn’t seem to fit. More importantly, if asked to find a similar player to Fabio Quagliarella, Mirko Vucinic is probably the best fit within the peninsula. Tactically versatile, capable of genius on occasion, and an all-around striker, Vucinic fits the “Quags” bill down to T. There are even rumors Vucinic’s signing has unsettled the ex-Napoli forward, and with Fiorentina’s interest and Fabio’s omission from the Real Betis match, one could speculate Vucinic was brought in to replace Fabio, not complement him.
Happiness at Last?
The first day I was at Juventus, I said I was happy because I’ve found a tranquility here that doesn’t exist at Roma. I arrived at a great team, and I’ve achieved an important objective in signing for a world-renowned team, so to feel happy is normal. As a child I watched Savicevic’s Milan and Zidane’s Juventus. For us Montenegrins, Savicevic represented everything about Calcio. We were crazy about him, he helped me a lot, he’s given me advice, I speak with him frequently when I’m with the national team. Do you know the last advice he gave me? When the first few news stories linking me to Juventus came out, he called me and said “If there’s a possibility, go to Juventus. Run there, don’t even think for a moment, it’s Juve!”.
The first signs from pre-season have been encouraging: Vucinic looks like a man reborn, the new environment in Torino leading to a personal revival. He’s linked up with former Roma teammates Luca Toni and Marco Motta (for better or worse) as well as his old Serbia & Montenegro U-21 teammate Milos Krasic (for whom, after Hasan Salihamidzic’s deparature, he acts as translator). He’s looked creative and threatening on goal, and his interviews have conveyed plenty of enthusiasm.
It’s been a long trip for Mirko Vucinic to move up the peninsula. A fresh-faced 17 year old when he first arrived to Lecce in the summer of 2000, he’s built up his career with a prolonged move to Roma, his Giallorosso tenures filled with brilliance and frustration. Now officially a Juventino, we hope the “Maradona of the Balkans” can display his class once again, this time in Bianconero.
So good luck, or rather puno sreće in Turin, Mirko!