Liverpool FC manager Roy Hodgson with signings Milan Jovanovic, Danny Wilson and Joe Cole
THERE aren't many players who turn Real Madrid away from their doorstep. But then, even on just the evidence of his first few weeks at Anfield, it's clear there are few players quite like Milan Jovanovic.
The Serbia international's arrival on a free transfer from Standard Liege has been in danger of slipping under the radar of many supporters, lost in the midst of a summer of upheaval both on and off the field.
Don't be surprised, though, if that situation soon changes, such is the steely determination and confidence that has proven the cornerstone of the 29-year-old's career and gives him the unshakeable belief he can make a success of his time at Liverpool.
Of course, if Real had their way, matters would have been different. The Spaniards approached Jovanovic 18 months ago, only for the player to walk away from negotiations.
It's a decision that has been handsomely rewarded with another league title at Liege, the raft of Player of the Year awards in Belgium and ultimately a move to Anfield.
Jovanovic is expected to make his competitive debut for his new club this evening as Roy Hodgson begins his tenure as Liverpool manager in earnest with a Europa League third round qualifying round tie against FK Rabotnicki here in the Macedonian capital Skopje.
And the Serbian believes he is exactly where he wants to be; on his own terms, and at the right time.
“ I've no regrets about rejecting Real,” says Jovanovic. “Never. I will never go somewhere where I only play a small part. Why? It is better to be happy somewhere.
“It was 18 months ago, when Predrag Mijatovic was sporting director. 99% of people said they did not understand why, that if Real call, you have to go. But maybe I am special.
“I thought if I went it would be as ordinary player, but that if I stayed, I would be where I felt good, where I was a star in Belgium.
“It is only a small league, but we won two titles for Standard Liege and two Super Cups, and I won two personal awards, one from coaches and players and the second from journalists. So I was very happy.
“Real offered me just a one-year deal with an option for two years. I said four, they said no, and so I turned them down. Maybe they are the biggest club in the world, but I knew other big clubs would come.”
Sure enough, Liverpool came calling and earlier this year it was announced Jovanovic would arrive in the summer, a transfer the player reveals was never in doubt despite the departure of Rafael Benitez, the man who had sanctioned his signing.
The striker cut an affable figure during the recent training camp in Switzerland, not least after his first appearance in Saturday's 1-0 friendly defeat at Kaiserslautern when, fielding questions from journalists, he took to drawing out imaginary letters with his fingers to help spell the names of his children.
“My English is not so good,” he smiles. “I am having lessons twice a week. I have to ask Carra to speak very slowly, because the Liverpool accent is very special. My English is better with the foreign players, because our English is the same.”
Jovanovic has already made his mark on Merseyside, appearing against Liverpool in the Champions League qualifier against Standard two years ago and the netting to help the Belgians dump Everton out of the UEFA Cup.
Nevertheless, the Anfield faithful would have kept a close eye on his progress during the recent World Cup in which he provided a major highlight by scoring the goal that earned Serbia a famous victory over eventual semi-finalists Germany.
“The game with Germany was one of the most famous games for our fans and for our country,” says Jovanovic. “I scored, of course, and it was a historical goal because it was our first win against Germany in 37 years.
“But it was not the best game of my career, but it is the most famous. It was not my typical performance.”
Also not typical was Jovanovic's goal celebration, the striker rushing towards the travelling Serbian fans only to find his way blocked by a moat surrounding the pitch, which he subsequently fell into.
“Can I explain it? Definitely not,” he says. “After the goal, it was a very special feeling, and you have to enjoy it, so you cannot explain it. I do not know what I wanted to do. Maybe I wanted to celebrate with the fans but I did not manage it. I only saw the hole very late, and too late to change my decision, so all I could do was jump down.”
Will Jovanovic do the same when he scores for his new club? “I hope I score many goals for Liverpool, but it will not be easy, because there are so many players, so many good players competing for a place, but this is good,” he says. “It is a motivation to be better in each training session, to learn, to grow up.”
Clearly, the Serbian – who can operate both as a forward or on the left of midfield – is not afraid of the hard graft that comes with appearing in the Premier League.
“I hope I can work hard here and help Liverpool,” says Jovanovic. “That is my aim. I will learn every day. I'm 29 and that's a good age to come here.
“When I was 26, two clubs tried to sign me.
“They were two excellent clubs. Every year I have had a possibility to go to bigger clubs but I stayed at Standard Liege. But I never cried. I was very strong. I knew that if I was lucky and not injured, I'd join a big club eventually.”
English football came recommended to Jovanovic from two sources – Everton midfiedler Marouane Fellaini, his former colleague at Standard, and fellow countryman Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United.
“Fellaini told me that training was hard in the Premier League,” he says. “He just said that all he does is train, play and sleep. That's all he does. Very simple. So I am preparing for hard work and a simple life.
“Vidic has much respect for Liverpool. He paid Liverpool a big compliment. I'm sure we will fight on the field, but after the game we are big friends.”
Certainly, it's easy to envisage Jovanovic making a few more during his time at Anfield.
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