The Serbia forward has been threatened with jail time after breaking quarantine to return to his homeland amid a forgettable first season in Spain
Despite the lack of football, Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic has been in the news this week after being accused of breaking quarantine protocol during the coronavirus crisis.
Sadly for the Serbia striker it is one of the few times he has been able to capture the public’s attention this season.
He arrived in June 2019 as something of a coup, with Madrid swiftly and efficiently sealing his signing to beat an array of suitors after a fine season with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Jovic helped the Bundesliga side to the Europa League semi-finals, scoring 27 goals in all competitions and attracting many suitors before Madrid tied him down with a six-year deal.
Madrid paid €65 million (£58m/$73m) before add-ons, making him their most expensive acquisition since James Rodriguez from Monaco in 2014, although they later brought in Eden Hazard from Chelsea for €100m (£88m/$112m).
Jovic knew he would be battling with Karim Benzema for a starting spot, and despite the Frenchman’s elite form in the second half of last season, many in Germany believed he would go on to thrive at Madrid.
“I would say he’s like Luis Suarez, but with a lot more quality,” Jovic’s former Frankfurt team-mate Omar Mascarell told AS last season. “You can compare (Jovic to Benzema), they hold up the ball well, but I see Jovic as being stronger in the air, he’s very good with his head. He’s practically two-footed, he’s quick, strong. Every ball he gets in the air is a danger for opponents.”
Jovic has not been able to show any of those abilities since arriving in the Spanish capital, however.
Coach Zinedine Zidane does not appear to trust the Serb, leaving him out of the squad for El Clasico at the start of March, with Mariano Diaz on the bench instead. Mariano scored after coming on as a substitute.
Jovic has only played 770 minutes this season, with two goals to his name, and Wolves’ Raul Jimenez has already been linked as a potential replacement. Napoli have enquired after Jovic, while Chelsea have been mentioned as a potential destination too, with few expecting him to succeed at Madrid.
The current indefinite stoppage in Spanish football because of the coronavirus health crisis could, though, help Jovic find himself. It might mean he can master the language, via online classes, or find the right mindset; something to take him back to the confident, bullish forward that terrorised defences last season. Maybe he will feel less pressure with global attention fixed on more important things.
It took the 22-year-old 10 games to get his first Madrid goal, the fifth in a 5-0 rout of Leganes. He hoped that it would serve as a springboard.
“It was not easy because so much was expected of me, it was difficult,” Jovic told Serbian sports newspaper Sportski zurnal after that game. “I suffered under great pressure, but I was aware of my quality and I knew it was a matter of time (until scoring).
“I was motivated above all by the desire to show the leaders of the biggest club in the world that they were not wrong to bring me here. And also by the support of the people closest to me, who are with me every day. The goal was a great relief.”
Unfortunately it only provided brief respite. Jovic continued to struggle, looking a fish out of water, with his only other goal coming 13 games later, in a 4-1 win at Osasuna. Like against Leganes, it came after the 90 minutes was up.
His lowest ebb at Madrid came in the 4-0 Copa del Rey win at Zaragoza on January 29. Despite being handed a rare start for his team’s emphatic victory, he was disconnected from his team-mates with only 14 touches in the game. He was replaced after 73 minutes, frustrated.
“Jovic knows he has to work, he has to adapt, these difficult moments will make him come good,” said Zidane, but the Frenchman’s actions speak louder than his words.
Jovic is not in the good books in Serbia either, and not just because he has been threatened with a potential jail spell for coming to his homeland from coronavirus hotspot Madrid and allegedly being pictured out and about.
Serbia national team manager, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, hit out at the forward in January. “Luka Jovic’s problem is Luka Jovic,” he told Blic Sport having not called up the striker into his squad after falling out with him in September.
Encouragingly, Jovic has recognised he has a problem, which is the first step to remedying it.
“Honestly, I’m not happy with the season because I know I can improve. Sometimes I watch videos of my games last year and I think: ‘What’s gone wrong?’” he told YouTube channel ‘Sports Afternoon with Kristina’ in February.
“But we all know that Real Madrid is a huge club and difficult even for experienced players to get used to. Even more so for a 21-year-old they paid €65m for. The pressure is massive, I’m battling at the moment but without success.”
Few would disagree. When the season resumes Jovic likely has 11 league games left to prove himself a useful piece of the puzzle for Zidane or he may be shuffled on as quickly as he arrived.