Mitrovic Determined to Impress: Serbia Striker Sets Sights on England Checkmate

Mitrovic Determined to Impress: Serbia Striker Sets Sights on England Checkmate

Aleksandar Mitrovic once revealed a secret to Mail Sport. He is an avid chess player, inspired by his father, who was a Serbian champion.

You need patience and subtlety to excel at that game. On Sunday, here in Gelsenkirchen, Mitrovic will be both in a hurry and as subtle as the brick he once threw, as a boy, through a train window. He has a point to prove and just 90 minutes to do so.

He goes up against John Stones, a six-time Premier League winner, and Marc Guehi, one of the division’s emerging talents — company with whom Mitrovic was deemed not good enough to compete. From 129 Premier League appearances for Newcastle and Fulham, there were just 38 goals.

That his best season in England was in the Championship — 43 goals from 44 games in 2022 —fuelled the notion of him being too good for one league but not quite at the level for the other. He rejects that opinion fiercely, but there is no debating his potency for Serbia, where he is the country’s record goalscorer, with 58 from 91 games. He quit Fulham for Saudi Arabia last summer in a £50million deal.

‘People forget I have a good record in the Premier League — 21 goals over two seasons in teams that were relegated is not easy,’ he said. ‘There will always be people with negativity. I don’t listen. I have my goals, that is how I will prove myself. It’s why I play football.

Aleksandar Mitrovic is an avid chess player – but there will be no time for a careful or considered approach against England 

The former Newcastle man doesn't listen to his critics and syas goals are his 'obsession'

The former Newcastle man doesn’t listen to his critics and syas goals are his ‘obsession’

‘I don’t enjoy passing, running, fighting . . . goals are my obsession. Only strikers understand that.’

Mitrovic is right in that he played for struggling teams and, in Rafa Benitez at Newcastle, he had a manager who did not trust him, be that to stay on the pitch or impact as he would like while on it.

In the summer of 2015, just as Mitrovic was signing for Newcastle from Anderlecht, I went to Brussels to get a feel for the striker, then 20 years old. The subsequent report labelled him ‘the Serbian Balotelli’ and, as one Belgian journalist put it, ‘a five-year-old trapped in a monster’s body’.

Newcastle were furious with the headlines. Then, 16 minutes into his full home debut against Arsenal, he was sent off for raking his studs down the shin of Francis Coquelin. 

He bookended his season with red cards when he was dismissed on the final day for what Alan Shearer called a ‘leg-breaker’ on Tottenham defender Kyle Walker, whom he will face this evening.

He insists he has matured from his Newcastle days, where he was sent off 16 minutes into his full home debut

He insists he has matured from his Newcastle days, where he was sent off 16 minutes into his full home debut 

Mitrovic insists he has matured — chess being one of the calming factors — but here in Germany’s industrial heartland there is sure to be extra fire in his furnace. 

Mitrovic will be at the heart of the action and will be wearing his heart on his sleeve. Unlike chess, there will be no considered and careful approach.

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