The seemingly imminent arrival of Vojislav Stankovic would be the latest in a long line of Eastern European imports for Lazio, explains Alasdair Mackenzie.
While any regular follower of Lazio will know to never assume a transfer deal has been made until the player is holding up a shirt, it seems highly likely that Partizan Belgrade defender Vojislav Stankovic is on his way to Rome.
Deals were secured early on this summer for Filip Djordjevic, Marco Parolo, Dusan Basta and the remaining 50 per cent of Antonio Candreva, leaving most of Lazio’s mercato dedicated to the pursuit of defensive reinforcements. The impressive capture of Netherlands international Stefan de Vrij helped to eradicate some of the anger that fans felt after Davide Astori’s move to Roma, but there is still unanimous agreement that a partner for De Vrij must be signed.
Stankovic is unlikely to be the player who will slot straight into that role as the club continue to court the likes of Ron Vlaar, Gabriel Paletta, Younes Kaboul and Angelo Ogbonna, but the Serb could well play an important role for a club that has an excellent history of shaping Slavic superstars.
The former Yugoslav nations have provided the Biancocelesti with some of their most celebrated players ever and these names will provide much inspiration to the young defender if he arrives at the club.
From Stankovic’s native Serbia, his namesake Dejan and Sinisa Mihajlovic are the biggest names to have worn the famous blue shirt. Both were integral parts of the club’s golden period in the late 1990s that resulted in a Scudetto, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Coppa Italia. Dejan Stankovic arrived directly from Red Star Belgrade as a promising 19-year-old whereas Mihajlovic had come from the same club, albeit via Roma and Sampdoria.
Then there is Alen Boksic, the prolific Croatian striker who is widely considered one of his country’s greatest ever players, as well as the more recent examples of Aleksander Kolarov, Goran Pandev and Senad Lulic. The rise of Kolarov will perhaps give particular encouragement to the incoming centre-back, as Kolarov arrived in Rome from OFK Belgrade with not much expectation surrounding him, only to explode on to the Serie A scene with the kind of blistering form that earned him a move to double Premier League winners Manchester City.
Look a little further north to the Czech Republic and thoughts of the dazzling Karel Poborsky and incomparable Pavel Nedved come to mind, while further east in Romania is where current fan favourite Stefan Radu was schooled.
With this illustrious list of success stories from similar footballing backgrounds, the 26-year-old Stankovic will know that he could be at a club and in a League that has proven fruitful to his compatriots and neighbours in the past. The onus will not be on the Serbian to immediately make an impact, but the fans will be hoping that their club have quietly captured the next Sinisa Mihajlovic. In fact, if he turns out to be even half the player Mihajlovic was, his signing will be considered a huge success.