It was in March that Luka Jovic received a phone call that would radically change the direction of his career.
His agent had met with officials representing Real Madrid while in the Spanish capital, and they confirmed there was interest in signing the forward during the upcoming summer transfer window.
As Jovic listened to the news, it should not have come as a surprise. By that stage of Eintracht Frankfurt's campaign, he had bagged 22 goals across the German domestic league and the UEFA Europa League. With Sebastian Haller, he had formed one of the most formidable strike partnerships on the continent.
Yet Barcelona had been most commonly linked with a move for the Serbian striker, so Jovic and his crew took time to digest the news. It was an incredible moment.
Sources told B/R Football how there had been knowledge of Barca scouts regularly watching Jovic throughout the 2018/19 season, but Madrid's interest had been little more than rumour before that meeting at the end of March.
Suddenly, the whole landscape changed.
Madrid accelerated their interest from that day and went on to seal a transfer worth an initial €65 million at the beginning of June. Jovic, 22, signed a six-year contract, and it looked like an exciting deal.
Yet the start to life in Madrid has not been easy. He has featured in nine matches, completing 90 minutes just once, and has failed to score a goal. Already there are doubts over his long-term future.
A report in Spanish tabloid Marca in August really set alarm bells ringing, as it suggested Madrid were already preparing to let Jovic leave the club on loan in January.
It seemed harsh, and it was probably a bit premature. It has definitely not been an ideal start, but there is no need for alarm.
"Madrid are not actively looking to move him on," an insider explained. "If a suitable club comes in with a loan offer that suits all parties, then maybe something will become possible in January, but we are not at the stage where Madrid or the player actually want that to happen."
B/R understands Manchester United and Bayern Munich are two of the clubs who will be kept up-to-date on his status and the potential of a loan, but the player has time to prove himself. Madrid never expected Jovic to arrive as the complete package.
They actually saw his transfer as a pretty low-risk deal. In the club's terms, €65 million is not a lot of money. The player is young and obviously talented, yet he did not come in with huge expectations attached—unlike Eden Hazard, who was expected to be a superstar right away.
Jovic is working on his Spanish, which is improving steadily, and he was not fully fit at the beginning of the season. He knows the next two months will be key in determining how his time in Madrid plays out.
Sources in Madrid are convinced that the club will make a big push to sign Kylian Mbappe in the summer, and that only increases Jovic's need to start scoring soon.
But there is an acceptance from some Madrid experts who cover the team regularly that Zinedine Zidane needs to work on finding him a better-suited role than the ones he has tried so far.
Confidence has become a slight problem for Jovic at the moment—largely down to the fact that he has only been given short stints to impress or has been wedged into the front line as support for Karim Benzema, rather than as the main striker.
He hasn't had much luck, either. When he scored against Osasuna—the only time he played a full 90 minutes—it was ruled out by the video assistant referee, judged offside by the tightest of margins.
In Serbia, Jovic is highly respected, although he's not yet close to the hero status of sports personalities like tennis star Novak Djokovic or basketball player Nikola Jokic.
Serbian football expert Ivan Igov gave B/R his view of the landscape.
"I don't think the situation at Real is ideal for him, at least as of now, for a variety of reasons," he explained. "I thought Benzema would be the undisputed first choice but that Zidane would play them both more frequently than he has—I suppose the injuries at the club haven't helped.
"I don't think there's much cause for concern at the moment. There's bound to be an adaptation and bedding-in period to new surroundings—as you can see with Hazard, even. [Jovic has] got the ability and ceiling to make it at Real. I think opening his goal account as soon as possible is key as it'll release a massive weight off of his shoulders and do wonders for his confidence."
Milos Dusanovic runs the Serbian Football Twitter page and is also confident Jovic will turn this situation around.
He said: "It's a new league and he's a young player, it will take him time to adapt to a new system, style of play, language. It also doesn't help that Madrid isn't playing that well to start the season, so that makes it even harder for him to get comfortable. Also, the pressure of the price tag could be a factor.
"I think he works best playing alongside or just behind a classic No. 9. He was excellent playing with Haller at Eintracht and has done good things alongside [Aleksandar] Mitrovic in the national team as well. His speed and movement is a great complement to someone with strength and power—although he does have those traits as well.
"I think he will give it a full season before making a change. He's a patient, hardworking guy."
Jovic expects to be given chances in the coming weeks, with sources suggesting at least one start will come against either Leganes on Wednesday or, perhaps more likely, against Real Betis at the weekend.
Jovic needs that one opportunity to prove himself. He needs that goal that elevates his standing—maybe he needs a moment like Christian Pulisic had for Chelsea against Burnley, when he scored a hat-trick that helped emphasise his talent and convince some doubters that he can make the grade at one of Europe's elite clubs.
He's got all the tools, now he just needs to show he can do the job.
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