Talented strikers from the former Yugoslavia are a valuable commodity in the Bundesliga this season. A wave of Yugo-nostalgia has spread across the German league and is following a trend of Soviet Chic in Germany.
Matchday 19 highlighted the dependence many Bundesliga squads have on their striking stalwarts from nations that once belong to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia are all represented. Considered one-time compatriots, the Slovenian Milivoje Novakovic indulged himself in two goals playing alongside Serbia’s Nemanja Vucicevic. With his prim haircut and gangling gait, Novakovic eased his way to 12 Bundesliga goals in a 2-2 draw away to Eintracht Frankfurt. Meanwhile in Wolfsburg, Bosnian duo Zvjezdan Misimovic and Edin Dzeko combined to consign Bochum to a two-goal defeat. The opener was created by Misimovic, a nimble pass allowing an increasingly impressive Dzeko to strike from inside the area. Dzeko showed superb awareness for his second goal, this time craftily glancing a wayward Schäfer shot into the far corner.
The credibility of players from the region has certainly increased this season. The top scorer list is currently headed by Bosnian Vedad Ibiševic with 18 goals. His absence for the rest of the season due to a knee injury may well cost Hoffenheim their fairytale title – though they do boast another attacking Bosnian player in Sejad Salihovic. Serbia’s Marko Pantelic is also fronting Hertha Berlin’s unlikely title challenge, having stayed with the club during a frosty transfer window. His two goals at the start of the Rückrunde were dedicated to his pregnant spouse, Pantelic playing his part in furthering an already impressive Serbian contingent in the German capital including Gojko Kacar.
Success for these players may simply be for pragmatic footballing reasons: Ibisevic, Dzeko and Novakovic are all well over 6 feet tall, relatively slim and with assured yet graceless touches. Too slight for the Premiership, too awkward for La Liga and Serie A. There are also a breed of innovative ‘Number 10’ types such as Misimovic, whilst not forgetting Croatian-born Mladen Petric or Ivan Rakitic. The classiest exports from the region are already filtering through to England: Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Zoran Tosic have all found themselves at Premier League clubs. Germany may however offer more cultural affinity to the region than other leading European football leagues – often acting as a port of call for eastern European migrants. Even Die Mannschaft’s preferred forward line at the last two major tournaments featured a striker born in Poland and the other who appears to have split loyalties with his lineage.
Should this trend continue, the Bundesliga might expect to see a swell of strikers from the newly-formed Montenegro national team. It certainly seems as if the particular set of identities in this region of South-East Europe fits the Bundesliga. However, Romanians and Bulgarians have not taken Germany by storm, suggesting a cultural rather than geographic distance. Whatever the reason, there’s enough evidence to show the way forward for Europe’s most exciting league.