An opportunity missed, Sir Alex Ferguson might well have reflected when watching Stevan Jovetic tear Liverpool's back four asunder. It is unclear how close Ferguson came to signing Jovetic when the striker, then 17 years old, was helping himself to what would be a tally of 25 goals in 76 appearances for Partizan Belgrade. United did watch the Montenegrin closely but opted instead to sign Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic from the Serbian club instead.
Jovetic, still a teenager until November, has long earned mentions in lists of the world's 20 top young talents, after moving from the local Mladost team in the Montenegro city of Podgorica and signing to Partizan as a youth player in 2003. And neither was Ferguson alone in showing interest – there was also talk of interest from Sven Goran Eriksson, while managing Manchester City, and from Arsenal. But Jovetic apparently was not judged to be a player destined for the dizziest heights of the European game. Instead he headed to the second bracket, signing for £7m last year to Fiorentina, a side still rebuilding after their bankruptcy of 2002.
That may now have changed for good. Having scored the goals on Tuesday night that will have Rafa Benitez reassessing his side's defensive merits, Jovetic is said to have already been offered a fresh contract by the Viola, extending his deal there by a year to take him into 2014.
Jovetic is, as well as a finisher, a busy operator on the edges of the box, which is why he acquired the moniker the "Montenegrin Messi" in Florence but he has had to bide his time. Typically of Serie A sides, Fiorentina have backed their older striker, with Jovetic playing understudy to Alberto Gilardino.
The signs have been there this season, during which Jovetic has already scored against Palermo and Serie A pacesetters Sampdoria, and also converted the penalty that sealed the Tuscan derby win over Livorno.
More priceless was the goal in the Viola's eye-catching Champions League qualifying-round defeat of Sporting Lisbon, which secured them a place in Group E.
The fledgling Montenegro national side does not have many standard bearers. Jovetic is the cream of them. Captain of the under-21s at the age of 17 before graduating to make his full international bow he now captains that side.
His two goals in a friendly against Hungary in August 2008 offered more evidence of the fearlessness on display in Tuesday evening, when he rolled his first goal calmly past Pepe Reina.
"Jo-Jo", as he is known, has said he likes Fiorentina's progressive style of play. "They play with a smile on their face," he said of the team in one recent interview. He has also disclosed a penchant for the local jam tart dish, while fans have drawn amusement from his tonsorial similarity with Brian May.
"We knew about him. We were watching some of his games," Benitez said in the aftermath of the 2-0 defeat. But it was impossible to disguise the fact that Liverpool underestimated the threat. This season he has scored three times from four Serie A starts, and also found the net once in his two World Cup qualifiers. He can be sure there will be more attention for the return fixture at Anfield on 9 December – and indeed wherever else he plays.
Value of fee in pounds paid by Fiorentina to bring in Jovetic from Partizan Belgrade.Reuse content