Vucinic starts anew at Juventus

Publish date:

TURIN, Italy -- Mirko Vucinic is a brilliant goal-scoring forward, capable of terrorizing the world's best defenses. His strike-rate for club and country makes for impressive reading and, at 27 years of age, he is just on the cusp of his peak years as a professional.

Mirko Vucinic is a tough player to manage, a difficult character and one who -- when not feeling appreciated and respected -- is capable of lashing out at coaches and club management or simply disappearing during matches.

Establishing which of these two players signed a four-year contract following a €15 million ($21M) transfer from Roma to Juventus earlier this week is a question that will only be answered once the season gets under way -- but one that will ultimately only be decided by the man himself.

Much like last season in the Italian capital, Vucinic may not be an automatic choice for a starting role. This will have been clear to him when entering negotiations with Juventus last week, as any squad boasting the likes of Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella, Alessandro Del Piero and Milos Krasic is in no position to give guarantees to anyone regarding playing time.

Despite Vucinic's obvious talent, there is a widely held belief that he could do so much more, that he could be even better. Lazy is a word often used to describe him which, particularly when Roma hs struggled -- both in individual games and during more lengthy barren spells -- has been clearly evident. He has a languid look and running style, not wholly dissimilar to that of Dimitar Berbatov, which makes him somewhat of an easy target when a scapegoat is needed.

As clichéd as it may be to say, Vucinic is very much a confidence player, one who quickly retreats within himself at the first sign of what he perceives as a slight on his ability. He seems to become upset very easily and needs to feel both positive about himself and to have that feeling reciprocated from those in the stands. It is a point not lost on Roma's Sporting Director Walter Sabatini.

"Vucinic is a champion with the kind of skills that only five or six players in Europe can boast," said Sabatini in an interview on TeleRadioStereo. "He is always unpredictable and in terms of technique is almost supernatural. However, the affection of the fans is needed by all players, especially someone like Mirko. I pointed out to him that some of this is down to his attitude. Fans must understand the psychology of a player, but it goes both ways."

Another factor the Niksic-born attacker will be acutely aware of is new Juve coach Antonio Conte's personality. Having played against Conte during the latter part of his Serie A career and, given their shared Lecce past, Conte's no-nonsense attitude will need no explanation. Any repeat of the petulance shown by Vucinic toward Claudio Ranieri will be given short-shrift by Conte, a man whose coaching career to date has shown he has lost none of the desire and passion that so drove him as a player.

So just what are Juve getting for their money?

If Conte can ensure the real Mirko Vucinic pulls on the famous black and white stripes, the Bianconeri have done well to not only beat off competition from Tottenham Hotspur but to also seal the deal before Manchester United's bid became serious. Juventus was made well aware of the Old Trafford club's interest in recent weeks. "We [were] very close to Manchester United," said Alessandro Lucci, Vucinic's agent, to "The meeting yesterday included no formal offers, but the English club made it clear they appreciate Mirko very much. We will know more in the next few days."

After being spotted by the Balkan-loving Panteleo Corvino, Vucinic made his Lecce debut aged just 17 back in 2000. Under the tutelage of Zdenek Zeman -- and his gloriously reckless brand of soccer -- Vucinic scored 19 goals in 28 games during 2004-05, including the first ever Serie A hat-trick by a Lecce player (against Lazio). By the time he headed north a year later he had netted 29 goals in 83 appearances for the Salentini as well as spending a season in the second tier following the clubs relegation.

But it was with Serie A giants Roma that the world was introduced to a forward of undoubted talent. With great speed, excellent technique and good physical strength, his technical qualities allowed him to offer positive contributions in every phase of the sides attacking play both as a winger or a more orthodox striker. As well as being particularly adept at providing assists he has -- throughout his career -- scored many decisive goals, earning himself the moniker "Big Game Mirko." He has also added 29 assists over the five seasons spent in Rome, making him one of the more potent attacking threats in Serie A.

It is no surprise that Arturo Vidal aside, Juve's director general Beppe Marotta has chosen proven Serie A performers like Vucinic, Andrea Pirlo, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Reto Zeigler this summer. Perhaps this is one factor that weighed in favor of Vucinic when Juve was also negotiating with Villarreal for Giuseppe Rossi who, for all his obvious ability has played just 19 times in Italy's top division.

Once it became clear that the Spanish club was resolute in its demands for a fee in excess of €30 million ($42M) for Rossi, it was intelligent business -- and sound footballing logic -- to pick up Vucinic for half that sum.

Vucinic's ability will improve Juve, as it has everywhere he's played, but what always seems to hold him back is neither his technical or tactical failings. It is his mindset and temperament, something that Juve must hope is jolted sufficiently by the move.

"I am very happy and excited to be here. I came to Juve to improve myself," said Vucinic to the Juventus Channel. "Roma is now a closed chapter, but nevertheless they remain in my heart. Let's say that I can play three roles: first or second striker and left wing. I put myself at the disposal of the coach, even if he finds a fourth position for me."

Now captain of the Montenegro national team, he has netted 11 times in 21 appearances, a hugely impressive 0.52 goals per game ratio that shows just how much of an impact he can have when deployed as a true striker. His average drops to 0.304 for Roma, indicative of the amount of time he plays further from goal as a wide player under Luciano Spalletti, Ranieri and Vincenzo Montella.

Scorer of the historic first goal (against Hungary) after Montenegro won its independence in 2007, he now becomes the first of his countrymen to play for Juventus. After eleven years wearing only red and yellow for Lecce, Roma and his national side, he will need to prove he can change his colors as well as attitude in order to thrive in black and white.

Adam Digby is a Turin-based freelance writer covering Italian soccer. He can also be followed on Twitter at @adz77.