Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott)
Having joined Manchester City from Partizan Belgrade at the young age of 20, Stefan Savic was not expected to set the world alight in his first season at the club. He wasn’t signed to start in the big games straight away, the plan was that he would be eased in gently, first appearing in cup games and then a few of the less challenging league games. For a while, this plan looked to be running smoothly, making his debut as a substitute during a 4-0 home win over Swansea, in August 2011. He then scored his first goal for the club against Blackburn Rovers, once again appearing in a 4-0 victory as a substitute. Savic made his first start for the club in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with the Montenegrin putting in a confident performance from right-back. So where did it all go wrong for Savic in Manchester?
As mentioned earlier, great things were not expected of Savic to begin with, but almost single-handedly costing City the league was certainly not on the agenda. The City fans are a fairly forgiving fan base; if a player looks to be putting in 100% effort, they are generally forgiven for a poor game every now and then. Therefore it is a measure of just how terribly Savic performed, that he quickly became the most maligned name on the City squad sheet during his first season with the club.
There are two particularly poor performances which epitomize Savic’s time in England, the first being the 3-2 win over Spurs at the Etihad in December 2011. After sitting in a comfortable position mid-way through the second half, Savic helped City to squander a two goal lead, as his dreadful attempt at a clearance allowed Jermaine Defoe to pull one back for Spurs, before Gareth Bale equalised. In what was a clash of title challengers at the time, Savic nearly lost the game for City, with his shockingly poor pass leading to a two-on-one chance for Spurs. Had Jermaine Defoe’s legs been a couple of inches longer, Savic may well have had to hire private bodyguards to ensure his safety.
Things went from bad to worse for Savic, as his worst performance in a City shirt came in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield. City, already trailing 1-0 from the first leg, needed a brave and confident performance in order to win at one of England’s toughest grounds. Unfortunately, Savic turned in a performance of the exact opposite of what was needed. After giving away a penalty in the first leg, he endured a torrid 45 minutes at the hands of Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt, before being substituted in what Phil McNulty described as a ‘merciful release’. It was the final nail in the coffin of a very short City career for Savic; there was to be no coming back from this, in the mind of the manager, and the minds of the fans. After a confident start in England, it does beg the question: What went wrong?
Savic may have been excused for a disappointing first season, purely on the basis that the transition into English football is an incredibly tough one. It should not be expected for a 20 year old, playing in the relatively easy Serbian League, to adapt well to the relentless and unforgiving nature of the English Premier League. Savic however, had a much deeper problem affecting his game. What many people don’t know, City fans included, is that Savic had suffered a personal tragedy just before his move to Manchester. His father, Dragan, who was the president of the municipal assembly in Mojkovac, committed suicide in April of 2011. This would have been heartbreaking for a person of any age, never mind a 20 year old who was attempting to adjust to life in a strange, new country. A friend told The Sun back in 2011 that Savic ‘will never get over it (the death of his father)’. Factor this into his already exceptionally tough transition and all of a sudden, the explanation for Savic’s dreadful first season becomes abundantly clear. Savic was never a bad footballer, he was just a victim of devastating circumstance, and his form suffered as a result.
Savic clearly needed a change of scenery, a fresh start, before his career was irreversibly damaged. Fiorentina came to his rescue, with La Viola completing the Montenegrin’s transfer as part of a deal which saw fellow Balkan, Matija Nastasic, join Manchester City. It would have been easy for Savic to never recover from his time in England, but the way in which he has revived his career since 2012 shows that he possesses a brave and strong character. During his three seasons at Fiorentina, Savic averaged a very respectable WhoScored rating of 7.26, with the football stats site featuring him in their 2012/2013 ‘Under 21 Team of the Season’ XI, alongside current stars of the game such as Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Götze and David Alaba. It was a fantastic revival by Savic, becoming a player unrecognizable to the nervy and error prone centre-half who departed Manchester in 2012.
Savic’s great spell in Italy brought him to the attention of Atletico Madrid manager, Diego Simeone. Had Savic only been linked with Simeone’s Atletí once, it still would have been a great validation of his fantastic defensive ability, as Simeone certainly knows a great defender when he sees one. So for Atletico to sign him in the summer of 2015 showed just how far he had come since he left Manchester. Despite arriving as one of the most promising defenders in Europe, Savic was not a regular in his first season in La Liga. After spending most of the season as understudy to Jose Maria Gimenez, he was thrown in at the deep end against Real Madrid in the Champions League Final and managed to make his mark. Savic, who could not take his opportunity at City when thrown into the deep end after Vincent Kompany got injured, did not let his new manager down. Savic performed excellently, making the most blocks out of any player on the pitch, with no mainstream media journalist rating him less than 7/10 in their final player ratings. Despite losing the game on penalties, it was a coming of age for Savic, making the transition from an erratic youngster with potential, into an experienced, calm head – something which was inconceivable four years ago.
So where does Savic go from here? The next step is to become a regular in the Atletico starting eleven, and he will have done his chances no harm with his performances towards the end of the season. Perhaps the Montenegro captaincy could also be on the cards, if compatriot, Stevan Jovetic continues to falter at Inter. Jovetic should really be taking a leaf out of Savic’s book on how to get his career back on track. Regardless of what happens with Jovetic, if Savic continues to apply himself in the way in which he has over the past four years, the future is certainly bright for both him, and Atletí.