Liverpool sacked manager after beating Real Madrid to 'one of greatest soccer players in world'

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JULY 08: (THE SUN OUT) Milan Jovanovic poses for a picture after Liverpool F.C. completed his signing today at Mellwood Training Ground on July 08, 2010 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images))

History is littered with footballers whose careers were altered by their club changing managers and the new man having no need for them.

Players purchased by Brendan Rodgers – such as Joe Allen and Christian Benteke – were soon out of favour at Liverpool once Jurgen Klopp began implementing his brand of fast paced, counter pressing football.

But at least they had the opportunity to perform for the man who had shown faith by signing them. For some, the change of name on the manager’s office door occurred between them agreeing to join and then moving to the club.

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This arrangement worked out well enough for Djibril Cisse. His move to Anfield was organised by Gerard Houllier but he made his debut for Rafa Benitez at the start of the following season. As they won the Champions League and FA Cup together (with Cisse scoring in the final of the latter), the move proved to be a successful one.

Milan Jovanovic was not so fortunate, and the whole structure of the club changed during his early time in England. As the Hicks and Gillett ownership continued to spiral out of control in early 2010, it was confirmed that Jovanovic had joined Liverpool on a free transfer on this day 14 years ago.

The Standard Liege forward, who had played at Anfield for them in a Champions League qualifier in 2008, was a man in demand. Looking at his record, it’s easy to see why he would’ve attracted attention. Jovanovic was in Belgium’s top eight players for combined goals and assists for three successive years, and also in the top six for shots on target for four years running too (per FBRef). He was even approached by Real Madrid, presumably leaving them stunned when he turned down their offer.

“I've no regrets about rejecting Real,” he later said. “Never. I will never go somewhere where I only play a small part. Why? It is better to be happy somewhere.” It’s hard not to wonder if he regrets that decision now.

With his move to Liverpool agreed, the Serbian international headed to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He even scored his country's winner in the group stage victory over Germany, settling the match with a fine poacher’s finish.

But by the time he moved to Merseyside, Roy Hodgson was in charge of the Reds. While not the manager who had brought him to the club, Liverpool’s new gaffer did at least give Jovanovic a chance to make his mark.

The new number 14 started seven of the first eight matches in all competitions but struggled to make much of an impact. The whole team was playing poorly, in fairness to him, yet worse was soon to come.

When Jovanovic got his first goal for the club, in the ninth minute of a League Cup tie with Northampton Town, he barely celebrated. Why would he? This was obviously going to be a routine home win against League Two opposition.

Ahem. The visitors equalised, took the lead in extra-time, and though Liverpool drew level through David N’gog, Northampton won on penalties to dump the Reds out of the cup. It was Jovanovic’s eighth start for the club, but he would only be in the XI on a further five occasions.

The final instance occurred at Blackpool, in what was the first league fixture of caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish’s second stint in charge of Liverpool. Despite Jovanovic creating four chances, the most of any player on either side, the Reds fell to a 2-1 defeat. He then got a substitute appearance in a 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic but failed to even make the bench after February. With Liverpool having splashed out on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez that January, his Anfield days were clearly numbered.

And deservedly so based on his performances. In 10 Premier League appearances for the club, Jovanovic took just three shots and lined up seven chances for his team-mates, at times looking incapable of even controlling the ball.

He proved that the step up from one of Europe’s smaller leagues to one of the leading ones is not something every player can do successfully.

The Serbian forward moved back to Belgium with Anderlecht, and sure enough his form recovered to the point that he topped the Pro League assist chart in 2012/13. Yet at the end of that season, having only just turned 32, he retired.

The end of his time in England didn’t mark the end of his impact on popular culture in this country though. In October 2011, Jovanovic got a mention in the Australian soap Neighbours, with Andrew Robinson describing him as “one of the greatest soccer players in the world.”

Talk about displaying your football hipster credentials in style. Robinson must’ve devoured footage of Jovanovic playing in the Belgian League because he clearly couldn’t have formed that opinion based on his sorry spell with Liverpool.

A version of this article was first published in July 2021.