Jovetic return remains a mystery

Posted by David Mooney

To quote Princess Leia from "Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back," "Something's wrong here. No one has seen or knows anything about 3PO. He's been gone too long to have gotten lost." OK, so she was talking about a 6-foot-tall golden robot, rather than 6-foot-tall Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic, but the principle is still the same.

His last appearance in a Manchester City shirt came at the end of October, when he left the action through injury after just 10 minutes in the 2-0 (aet) win at Newcastle in the Capital One Cup. Since then, he's been such a regular topic in Manuel Pellegrini's news conferences that the Chilean should probably just address it as he sits down, rather than wait for one of the waiting journalists to pose the question of how he is.

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For the record, in his prematch news conference for Wednesday's FA Cup replay with Blackburn, the manager said the striker may be fit to make his return next week. However, he's been on the verge of making his return for so long now the cynic in me is beginning to think, "I'll believe it when I see it."

The trouble is that on the scale of how serious an injury is, I'm worried that Jovetic's skews toward the top end. If the bottom end is a slight, nagging injury that will clear up in a couple of days, the top isn't necessarily all those scary injuries that end seasons -- or even careers -- like broken legs or cruciate ligament damage. No, the top end is what Nicky Weaver described when his knee kept failing -- when the physio looks a player in the eye and says, "We just don't know what's wrong."

What if Jovetic is struggling with something similar? Not a knee injury specifically, but what if he's just not been able to recover from a series of strains and tweaks?

The news coming from the club over the past three months hasn't been particularly encouraging, given its vagueness. It's difficult to say what's been the problem with Jovetic because what's been reported is that he's had a succession of injuries. This has caused speculation that he's homesick -- entirely possible and understandable, if concerning for the club -- or that his issue has been more psychological than physical.

Even online resources have been reporting him as "ill" rather than suffering from any specific injury since the turn of the new year.

In fact, in typical Manchester City-style humour, the fans have been wondering exactly what's wrong with the striker with a series of Photoshopped images suggesting possible reasons why he has not featured for the Blues in three months. You can see some of the best (and worst) efforts by searching the #WheresJovetic hashtag on Twitter. My favourite had him as one of the chasers on the ITV1 quiz show.

However, on a more serious note, that hashtag demonstrates the exact worry: City have spent 22 million pounds on a striker who's managed just 187 minutes of competitive football this season. While the fans expected the season to include some rotation of the front men, the club have been virtually competing with three centre-forwards instead of their registered four.

Even the injury-plagued Valeri Bojinov managed 296 minutes of competitive football for the Blues during his time with the club from 2007 to '09, though Jovetic has beaten the Bulgarian's goals tally for the club. Bojinov managed one -- an equaliser at White Hart Lane in 2009 -- while the Montenegrin has two -- both against Wigan in the Capital One Cup.

It had been hoped that the Montenegrin would have been able to make his return while Sergio Aguero had been sidelined, but the Argentine has been able to recover from his calf problem before Jovetic has got back to fitness. And with John Guidetti moving on loan to Stoke for the rest of the season, Pellegrini really is putting his faith in his four first-team options being fit for the run-in, especially if he wants to keep things fresh and continue to fight on four fronts.

It's been a waiting game to see when Jovetic will be available to return to first-team action, but he's still a bit of an unknown quantity for Blues fans, who have seen so little of him in the Premier League -- three matches, spanning about 87 minutes.

And if he isn't fit to make his return next week … or the week after … or the week after that … then how long is the club prepared to wait? Right now, Pellegrini has said he believes Jovetic when he says he's got a muscle problem and that it's not psychological. However, he added: "At the end of the season, maybe I change my opinion. But at the moment, I continue trusting him."

There is one thing for sure, though -- the fans would love to see him in the team.

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