Loka Jovic has failed to fire at Real Madrid. Now, 18 months after arriving at one of the world's biggest clubs, he's on his way back to where he came from.
Despite the setback there is still plenty of reason to believe that Jovic has buckets of talent, and that in the right situation he can become a scorer at the highest levels of the European game. Here are three reasons to still be optimistic about Luka Jovic.
1. He's only 23 years old
Development can be a bumpy road. When players become breakout stars at a young age it's tempting to assume that they're on a rocket ship bound for the stars and nothing will stand in their way. But that's seldom the case. Sure Kylian Mbappe might just keep getting better, and the same for Erling Haaland, but for most mere mortals there are setbacks along the way. Raheem Sterling exploded onto the scene at 17 but then struggled to maintain his superstar form at Liverpool for two seasons before hitting new heights at Manchester City. Jack Grealish had already failed once as a teenage Premier Leaguer before building himself back up in the Championship and didn't finally hit his fully terrifying form until this year. He's two years older than Jovic.
Many players, even great ones, don't get their first bite of the big-time apple until they're older than Jovic is now. Luis Suarez was older than Jovic when he transferred to Liverpool. Robert Lewandowski, who has dominated the Bundesliga for a decade first with Borussia Dortmund and then with Bayern Munich, first became a regular starter when he was the same age Jovic is now. All of which is to say that a year and a half of mostly sitting on the bench at Real Madrid doesn't erase the fact that Jovic has had immense success at a very young age, and that that success remains the best predictor of future success.
2. Jovic's underlying numbers are fine
Before Jovic left Frankfurt his numbers were really good. Really, really good. They were the kind of numbers that, well, earn you a giant transfer fee to move to Real Madrid. The year before his transfer he scored 17 goals which tied him for third in the Bundesliga and he scored at a rate of 0.68 goals per 90 minutes -- the third fastest rate of anybody who played over 900 minutes. His expected goals were similarly impressive. At 0.60 xG per 90 he ranked eighth in the Bundesliga, at 21 years of age. And the truly scary thing is that those numbers were actually slightly worse than the season before when the rang up the third highest xG per 90 in the league with 0.79, behind only megastars Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Lewandowski. But, because as a youngster he only played a little over 900 minutes his raw totals of eight goals and expected goals flew under the radar.
At Madrid he's barely played, but in the roughly 750 minutes he's been on the field between La Liga and the Champions League his underlying numbers have actually been quite solid. He's still averaging 0.49 xG per 90 minutes, roughly half a goal per 90 minutes. What has changed is that he's struggled horribly to convert those chances, scoring at roughly half that rate, 0.24 per 90. Now it's possible, of course, that in going from Germany to Spain, Jovic suddenly forgot how to score goals. Stranger things have happened. But it's much more likely that he's just in a 750-minute slump, the kind of thing that happens to strikers across the globe all the time. But, when you're young and at Real Madrid and Karim Benzema is a world class superstar who happens to play your position, you don't have the luxury of slumping in front of net. It's certainly understandable that he's not playing, but that doesn't mean he's performed in a way that should make you worry about the path of his career.
3. Less Luxury at Real Madrid
When you have one of the best strikers in the world, having a 23 year-old backing him up is a luxury. It would be one thing if Benzema were starting to decline with age, but the last few seasons have been some of the best of his career. It would be another if you had a young striker in Jovic who was demonstrating that he was clearly not good enough for this level. That's not this situation either. Instead Madrid find themselves in the middle. Jovic still looks, for all intents and purposes, like a young striker who could turn into a superstar. He's also not going to be playing anytime soon. He also also is moved for a huge transfer fee and the associated fat wage package.
Meanwhile Madrid, like the rest of the world are mired in the financial no man's land of playing a season with fans in the stands, with an uncertain financial path ahead of them. They're also in the process of attempting to renew the contracts of Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos while pursuing soon-to-be-free agent David Alaba. Sometimes you need to cut back on the luxury items. Loaning Jovic out makes sense. He needs to play lest his temporary dip in form becomes permanent. It may even eventually make sense for Madrid to sell him and let him achieve the heights his early career suggest he's capable of somewhere else. But all of that doesn't make Jovic's potential any less real. He looked for all the world like a great prospect before Madrid bought, and in the since, not much has really changed.