There are few players as likely to adapt to the Premier League as Manchester City's potential new recruit
The first time I saw Stevan Jovetic was in the austere beigeness of the Hotel Podgorica. It was the day before Montenegro's first international as an independent country and there was an air of great ceremony about each stage of the process. This was the first pre-match press conference. Men in suits fussed about, the little flags on the press-conference desk were crisp and even the majority of journalists had put on collared shirts. Then, to the side of the stage Jovetic emerged, his Brian May mop lank with sweat, his red and yellow training kit marked with mud and grass stains. Grinning broadly, clearly bored of waiting, he started flicking a ball from foot to foot.
That was six years ago and Jovetic was only 17. The mass of curls has been trimmed now, but Jovetic retains something of that boyishness, the love of simply playing. The evident joy he still takes from football, though, should not disguise either the seriousness with which he takes the game or his ambition. He had signalled his intention to leave Fiorentina long before the end of last season and when a move to Juventus – probably his preferred destination given his love of Italian football – was closed off by their signings of Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez, he looked to England.
He said that his future would be resolved by the end of the week but it seems certain he will join Manchester City in the next couple of days. As such, Jovetic will become the third of the "three or four" top-class signings promised by Ferran Soriano in March. Although he is younger than either Fernandinho or Jesús Navas, Jovetic fits the Soriano profile perfectly: he is an improving player of clear ability who is yet to play at the very highest level and as such should add a hunger that City perhaps lacked at times last season.
Jovetic will also fulfil a useful squad role in that he can play either as an out-and-out centre-forward or behind a front man, or on either flank – assuming Manuel Pellegrini employs a 4-2-3-1, he can operate in all four forward positions. He says he prefers operating off a front man but he has been used most often as a striker by Fiorentina over the past two seasons, in which time he has averaged roughly a goal every other game. They are far from identical, but equally there is something, perhaps more in attitude than style, that makes it entirely unsurprising that Jovetic's idol as he was developing as a player was Andriy Shevchenko, who himself often played off Serhiy Rebrov at Dynamo Kyiv before being converted into a striker in Italy.
Nothing is ever guaranteed when players move, of course, but there are few people as likely to adapt to the Premier League as Jovetic. Partly that is a matter of physique, and he has bulked up since joining Fiorentina four years ago, putting in long hours on the gym and working on his heading technique which he admits was a weakness when he left Partizan. But there is also his mentality. The happy-go-lucky part of his personality should help him make friends, but probably more significant is the hard edge he developed by leaving Podgorica for Belgrade when he was 13. It was tough to leave behind his friends and his family, he said, but "it was the logical continuation of my career".
There is a matter-of-factness about Jovetic, a willingness to get things done. The only time he really doubted himself, he says, was after he first moved to Fiorentina when he was 18 and struggling for starts. It was not until his 25th appearance for Fiorentina that he registered his first goal, a penalty away to Atalanta, and five more games before he scored from open play, in a 2-0 win at Catania. Yet while he speaks of that first season as a trial, he still played well enough to start 19 games. He was a regular from the following season, though, two goals against Liverpool in a Champions League tie in September 2009 confirming his status as a star in the making.
Not that it has been entirely easy for Jovetic since. A knee injury sustained in pre-season training in 2010 caused him to miss the entire 2010-11 season but by the start of the following campaign he was back and playing with the same conviction he always did. A season later, and he was ready for a fresh challenge, ready to take a step further towards the top of the game. He has the talent for it and the sort of personality that gives his progress an air of inevitability. He seems unflappable, a winning combination of focused professional and big kid who loves playing football.