Aleksandar Mitrović: Fulham’s man on fire

After a sparkling turnaround in form, Aleksandar Mitrović will be staying at Fulham. A figure who divided opinion at Newcastle United has appeared to find his feet at the London club, with a €22 million fee agreed.

But before his London turnaround, Mitrović seemed to have hit a roadblock in his career after showing much initial promise.

Having started his professional career well with Partizan in 2011, it was clear the young goal scorer was going places. Since it became a standard for the good ones to leave, Mitrović didn’t spend too long playing for the Black and Whites in the Serbian Superliga, as he was sold off to Anderlecht the following year, where he spent two seasons breaking Belgian records.

It was a decent time for the Serbian striker, but it didn’t seem to be challenging enough in the long run. Fuelled by a desire to showcase his talents on a bigger stage, Mitrović wanted to go a step further, to the country that often makes or breaks a footballer’s career – England.

The Premier League represents one of the most challenging football leagues of the world. A melting pot for playing and coaching talents from far and wide, the league already featured Serbian stars such as Nemanja Vidić and Branislav Ivanović in its rich history. This meant the standards were set high for yet another Serb. Another last name ending in -ić that commentators had to learn, but would he be worth the effort?

In July 2015, Mitrović signed for Newcastle, a club that would give him enough room to grow. The pressure at St. James’ Park would be enough to get him motivated, not paralyzed. However, his signing showcased another dimension of his game – his temperament. Mitrović was getting booked fast; the first time was only 22 seconds into his debut with Newcastle. Over time, cards were piling up, but so were the goals in that first season.

During this time, Mitrović scored beauties against Man City, Tottenham, and QPR. But his final match of the season against Tottenham derailed preparation for his next. He was shown a straight red card, meaning he would not start life in the Championship for the Magpies.

His second season in England was further marked by injuries and a shorter time on the field. Despite the inconsistent form and an ever more questioning public eye, he wanted to play.

In order not to spend his time on the bench, the 23 year-old agreed with the team’s directors that a loan would be for the best. In February of this year, after a bit of Serbian convincing from Fulham’s new coach and fellow countryman Slaviša Jokanović, the deal was done. It felt like half of Serbia was uniting in Fulham – and it was awesome.

Mitrovic’s biggest career highs are now forever bound to Fulham; a pairing that was unexpected and yet fateful. Three weeks into the deal, Mitro scored his first goal for Fulham; a team that was going towards a full-on renaissance, returning to the Premier League this year, with the striker proving himself worthy in front of both fans and experts.

Fans in Serbia tend to name moves or situations after a player, and Mitrović’s most beautiful goals are simply known as Mitrogoals. Having scored 12 goals during his half season in Fulham, the term Mitrogoal is now used in all seriousness, with no irony that used to be present, during Aleksandar’s underperforming times.

Mitar, as he is known in Serbia through a short form of his last name, is capable of holding up the ball, bringing teammates into play; while using the available angles to his advantage. Aside from his strong finishes, he is an excellent passer with over 70 per cent of completion. This overview of the game what gives that Mitrogoal effect.

He is able to lift his team mates into scoring that extra goal, while the crowd and an occasional Serbian reporter in the stadium sing: Mitro’s on fire. His stay at Fulham will keep that flame lit, providing him with the continuity necessary for keeping up both his shape and confidence.

Despite the obvious paradox, the young man who spent most of the past two years facing criticism was called up to the Serbian national team, playing on the world’s biggest stage.

Not always being in stellar shape made him relatable, while falling back into good graces through hard work made his efforts all the more inspiring. The sheer enthusiasm he exudes when playing is enough to make you root for him. Now’s the time for him to show his critics his initial praise was justified. Maybe even start singing Mitro’s on fire. Your defence is terrified.

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