Had Stevan Jovetic been born in a different era, when Yugoslavia was still one nation, maybe the pressure would not have been the same. Maybe he would have been just another promising boy from the Montenegro region. But when you make your debut at the age of 16 people want to know more. And when they discover you are from a tiny nation that is on the verge of gaining its independence and aflame with nationalist passion, they will inevitably compare you to great Montenegrins of the past. And, because you're a footballer, there can be only one Montenegrin benchmark: Dejan Savicevic, the man known as "The Genius", who as an AC Milan player in 1994 almost single-handedly destroyed Johan Cruyff's Barcelona "Dream Team" in a now-legendary Champions' League final.
Like Jovetic, Savicevic also made his debut at 16, also had an uncanny familiarity with the football, also saw things others did not. And, of course, he too sported that improbably curly and unkempt hair. And, while Jovetic remains skittish about the comparisons - "I haven't achieved much, he's a legend, I have to improve and I have a lot to learn" - Savicevic actually encourages them. "He is utterly fearless and I don't see a limit to his potential," says Savicevic, now manager of Montenegro. "Is he the new Savicevic? No, he can be even better. He reminds me of Cruyff."
Without question, his time at Partizan Belgrade, where he spent two years as a regular (before his 18th birthday) established him as one of the most sought-after talents in Europe. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus all tabled bids, but it was Fiorentina who grabbed him, for ?8million (Dh95m). The Viola fans were expecting a junior version of Savicevic (not least because the local press had hyped him up to no end). They were surprised when what they got was, above all, an athlete.
At 6ft 2in and a solid a 79kilograms, Jovetic is no shrinking violet, no wispy free spirit in the Savicevic (or even Baggio) mould. Married to the strength is a workrate and an energy which rarely gets associated with a player of his talent. In that sense, he's the modern, contemporary version of "The Genius". But, of course, he still retains the magic. Whether it's chipping the goalkeeper on a penalty kick, like he did against Atalanta last season to score his first Serie A goal or beating three opponents before unleashing a vicious shot from a seemingly unthinkable angle to force a world-class save from Gigi Buffon as he did against Juventus this year, Jovetic has lived up to the billing.
Fiorentina fans know they have something truly special, but they also know that Jovetic has just turned 20 and he needs to develop at his own pace. "Jo-Jo", as he's universally known, may be a cult hero (Jovetic wigs are big sellers at home games), but if he wants to become a real hero he needs to be given time to grow. There are areas of his game where he can improve. He's not the quickest, he needs to know how to use guile and trickery to make up for lack of pace. His workrate is phenomenal, but, sometimes it means he's not as fresh when he does get on the ball. And, with his size, he could be better in the air.
But these are things which can be learned. And, as Savicevic will tell you, Jovetic is still a babe. "He's not even fully familiar with his body yet, let alone his potential," he says. "When I was his age, I was playing for Budocnost Titograd in front of several hundred people. He's playing against - and beating - Liverpool in the Champions' League." firstname.lastname@example.org Fiorentina v AC Milan, 11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +1