Watching a Juventus game these days is akin to stepping into a time machine, as an elegant blond pulls the strings in midfield, winning over the home support with bursts of pace, astute passing and an eye for goal. But instead of witnessing an unlikely comeback from former European Footballer of the Year Pavel Nedved, the Bianconeri faithful are cheering a new hero who moved to Serie A from Russian football: Milos Krasic, a recent signing from CSKA Moscow.
For a player whose mazy dribbles and powerful long-range shots have recently earned him admirers from Turin to Trieste, the timing could not be better: tonight, his adopted nation will be watching in its entirety as he swaps the Juve shirt for that of Serbia, who will face Group C leaders Italy in a highly-anticipated UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier. If recent form is anything to go by, the 25-year-old has the potential to pose some significant problems for club colleague Giorgio Chiellini and Co.
The comparison that has been drawn between Krasic and Czech legend Nedved is clearly not something the former finds displeasing. “Nedved was a great player, a footballer who left a real imprint at Juventus and on the world of football as a whole," he explained. "Just the fact that I’m being mentioned in the same sentence as him gives me a great sense of pride. I don’t know if it stems from the physical resemblance or from the way I play the game, but it’s very flattering.
He can turn a game all by himself. I’d rather have Krasic on my side than have to play against him.
Since his arrival at La Vecchia Signora, the right-sided playmaker has put in a series of convincing performances, to the point that coach Luigi Del Neri was recently quoted as describing how much the team has begun to rely on him. And the facts back up this supposition: statistically, Krasic is currently the club’s best passer of the ball, and his hat-trick against Cagliari in late September showed that he is equally capable of weighing in with important goals.
“I settled in very quickly in Turin - I felt at home right from the first day,” he said. “I must thank the fans, because they’ve really helped me. I hope to keep paying them back on the park.”
But success has not always come naturally to the Kosovska Mitrovica native. A product of the Vojvodina youth set-up, he went on to feature just 77 times for the club between 1999 and 2004, scoring seven times. Krasic’s undoubted potential did not go unnoticed, however, and CSKA Moscow signed him up prior to the start of the 2004/05 season, initially as a squad player. He improved gradually, eventually establishing himself in the team, but it would be five years before fans would truly be able to appreciate the full extent of his talent.
2009 saw everything come together for the Serbia international. His 13 goals in 40 appearances were only eclipsed by his overall influence on the side’s play, be it in the Russian top flight or the UEFA Champions League. Consequently, he also grew in stature within his national team, becoming a key player in the side that so impressively earned their ticket for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. His ever-increasing profile led to interest from some of Europe’s top clubs, among them Juventus, who secured Krasic's signature in August.
His team-mates in Turin, some of whom will become one-off opponents in Genoa tonight, have been effusive in their praise for their new colleague. “I wasn’t expecting him to be as good as he is," said Leonardo Bonucci, who is likely to line up for Italy against Serbia.
"He can turn a game all by himself, but we’ll be trying our hardest to stop him having the same kind of effect for Serbia. You can’t give him any space, because he’ll punish you. I’d rather have Krasic on my side than have to play against him."
They seem to be a little afraid of us. They know that we’re a strong unit, and that we have some great players.
Chiellini, his fellow defender for club and country, was equally complimentary: “I was aware of his talents, but I didn’t think he would settle so quickly. In the matches our club has played this season, he’s provided a real spark just when we needed it.”
And although Chiellini has stated, tongue firmly in cheek, that he would not be distraught should Krasic “happen to catch a cold” before the international, Krasic’s reply is measured and focused: “I’m ready for the match and very happy with my current form.
"There’s no reason for us to fear Italy. In fact, it is they who seem to be a little afraid of us. They know that we’re a strong unit, and that we have some great players.” Chiellini added: “In terms of winning the group, it should come down to either us or Serbia."
The Balkan side’s surprising 3-1 defeat by Estonia on Friday has left them in fourth place in the section, while Cesare Prandelli’s men consolidated top spot with a goalless draw in Northern Ireland. A win for either team would represent a formidable leap in the direction of Poland/Ukraine 2012. The question is: will Juve’s Italian contingent or solitary Serb be the happier at the end of 90 minutes at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris?