In amongst a turgid Anderlecht performance, which led to their 2-1 defeat in Nicosia to Cypriot champions AEL Limassol, was a rather curious sending off for the volatile Serb Milan Jovanovic. Having earlier been the recipient of a laughably awarded first yellow for wasting time over a throw-in with which he was returning possession to AEL, he received his marching orders AFTER being substituted by coach John van den Brom.
Oleksandr Iakovanko was chosen to come on in Jova’s stead – a logical choice as the same change had yielded the winning goal last weekend against Mons. However, moments later, the Serbian referee Milorad Mazic was brandishing the red card to his compatriot for dissent. At first we thought it must have been something Jova had said, as the incident took place out of camera shot. It then emerged that he had reacted to the change by furiously kicking out à la David Nalbandian at Queen’s though fortunately it was only a few water bottles who were knocked aside. Nevertheless, the referee did not take kindly to Jovanovic’s repeated stupidity and deemed it the best course of action to remove him entirely from the fixture.
Van den Brom was clearly startled by what had unfolded, his assistant Besnik Hasi less so. Fortunately for Paarswit, the change had already been completed meaning that they could continue with their full quota of eleven players. During the game, Jovanovic had set up a chance for Marcin Wasilewski. As for the two chances that fell to the striker himself, he could be accused of taking too much time over both though the bounce was less than favourable for his first and he was one of the brighter spots albeit among a desperate showing all-round.
My fondness for Milan has been well-documented. Brought up on the mercurial ex-Rouche starring at Sclessin, I witnessed first-hand the hatred he now “enjoys” among the Standard fans when in the stands for the Clasico last spring. He divides opinion even among Anderlecht supporters, often infuriating with his inconsistency ; his €1.7m salary is also an easy stick to beat him with for he is the highest earner in the Jupiler Pro League (Liverpool do pay a contribution). Nevertheless, while the red card can appear harsh, it was a brainless display of petulance totally at odds with the professionalism Anderlecht are required to display if they are to entertain ever regaining their former status of a club consistently present and eventually competitive at the Champions League level.
Jovanovic fronted up to the media in the aftermath – or rather was jumped upon by reporters and had this to say for himself:
“With my experience, I know how to be honest and lucid. And I think that I was good this evening, more than good even. Especially in the second-half. I was annoyed. I didn’t expect this substitution because I was not bad…I am in excellent form. I had an excellent pre-season and I am superb in training. Why am I therefore consistently the first player to be replaced?”
Van den Brom explained his reasoning for the move, saying that Jova was responsible for losing the ball in the build-up to the second goal and he went on:
“He was just off. He accepted his substitution but what happened thereafter I don’t know. I saw a bottle flying across in front of the dugout and another one soon after. He can do that but then he lets both himself and the team down. Now we will have to do without him next week. We can always use a good Jovanovic. I am fed up of it. This should never happen to a man with his experience.”
As van den Brom alluded to, Jovanovic will be absent for the second leg, which Anderlecht must win to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2006-07 and with that earn over €15m. If Jova wants a new contract in Brussels, he has an awful lot of people to win around again. And he will also be praying les Mauves et Blancs win next week for even if his actions do not turn out to directly affect the outcome (though they could well miss him next week), he will be the easiest of scapegoats. And then perhaps we’ll see Anderlecht and Standard fans singing from the same hymn sheet.