He plays for AS Roma, he's a striker, and his talent speaks louder than when he scores and runs around with his shorts on his head. He can dribble, knows where the goal but is always ready to sacrifice for his team. A couple of weeks ago he consigned Rafa Benitez to his first Serie A defeat and his stock is ever rising. So who is this prolific marksman? No, it's not Francesco Totti. I'm describing the man looking to upset the applecart and spring a surprise on Capello's England - Mirko Vucinic.
“But, if he is so strong, why we haven’t heard of him before?” you may ask. Good question, but the answer is not that hard. Vucinic is quite a peculiar forward. Nobody can doubt his talent, but at the same time, nobody can predict which version of him will trot out onto the pitch. One day he'll score a world-class goal, and the next week you'll see him miss a sitter that would make even Emile Heskey wince. But that's not even the half of it.
Vucinic left Montenegro in 2000 when he was just 17. He signed for Lecce, a small club in Southern Italy where Pantaleo Corvino was working. Corvino is probably the greatest talent-scout of the country and is the man who unearthed Stevan Jovetic (another Montenegro starlet who embarrassed Benitez's Liverpool last year with Fiorentina - luckily for Capello he's injured).
For his first three years at Lecce, Vucinic was a regular on the subs bench, and when he was only 20 he suffered a serious knee-injury, keeping him out until the 04/05 season when Zdenek Zeman - the master of the 4-3-3 formation - became Lecce coach. Zemen unleashed Vucinic who went on to score a personal record of 19 goals in 28 matches, and it wasn't long before the big clubs were sniffing around, with Roma eventually snaring him the following season.
It was then that Mirko Vucinic became the forward he is today. Although inexplicable to some considering his potency in front of goal, Luciano Spalletti shunted him from up-front to the left flank. The simple reason for this was that Totti - Roma's prodigal son - was the striker and the coach needed someone to help be the link between defence and attack.
"One day he'll score a world-class goal, and the next week you can see him miss a sitter that would make even Emile Heskey wince."
Although Vucinic accepted his new role, the position became a problem as he was forced to sacrifice his own goal tally for others. Vucinic's inability to gel in Spalletti's system was yet another symbol of Roma's inability to succeed, a team that finished second four times in five years without claiming the Serie A title.
This has now shaped Vucinic into an enigma on the pitch. He'll score amazing goals, but will never be a top scorer (37 goals in 123 Roma matches). He'll shine one day and stink the next. And most importantly it's clear he craves the role of an out-and-out striker but is consistently frustrated by Totti’s presence. A perfect example of this is last September, when Claudio Ranieri took off the captain for Vucinic. the Montenegrian scoring the decisive goal against Inter Milan. Cue a monumental strop from Totti as he fled the Olympic stadium in protest.
Vucinic will never be a striker in Rome. But he will always be a striker in Montenegro. Last Friday he scored his second decisive goal in the Euro Qualifiers, beating Switzerland and celebrating with a strip-tease. Usually, the hardest thing for him is to repeat. But anything is possible when you’re this unpredictable…
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