FEATURE | Uroš Đurđević – Sporting’s Serbian striker leading the way in Segunda

Gijón is an oxymoronic sort of city, both brutal and beautiful in equal measures. The stunning coastline of Spain’s north swoops inwards into the maritime city of Gijón, where you will find some of Asturias’ finest sights, such as the city’s golden beaches, the famous Asturian cider and cuisine and the charismatic Cimadevilla old town, which trickles out into the sea from the city’s main hub.

It has become a city full of energy in recent years, but it is a city built on industry and handwork and a city whose streets still seem battered and bruised from the wind which hammers away at it. Asturias is a region synonymous with toughness and steeliness, traits the Asturians themselves wear heartily and proudly on their sleeves.

This mix of beauty and hardwork may be the reason why Uroš ‘Djuka’ Đurđević is very much at home in Spain’s rugged north. Djuka is a child of Belgrade, a city that befits the term ‘rugged’ and definitely beauty in many parts, so I’m sure the Serb would have no problem adapting to the city’s character. This past season he has looked more at home than ever in Gijón. The name ‘Uroš’ derives from the old Slavic word for ‘lords’ or ‘master’ and Sporting’s Uroš is very much ruling over the league at the moment in regards to goals.

Much like their great rivals further south in Oviedo, it is almost obligatory that a Sporting player works hard for the home fans. In previous decades, a large portion of the Sportinguistas would spend their weeks churning through their arduous working days in the port or in the Asturian mines synonymous with the region. Hardwork was and still is the backbone to the locals’ daily lives and the highlight of their week would be their weekend trip to El Molinón to watch Sporting. Losing, they could understand, but the idea of not working hard was an alien one to them. You could never accuse Djuka of a lack of effort. It is sad really that the home fans are not there to truly appreciate Djuka this season, as he undergoes the best season of his three at the club.

For the voracious atmosphere they create, mixed with their maritime links, Sporting fans are dubbed the La Mareona – ‘the tidal wave’. Like a 1990s WWF Wrestling monitor, Djuka would fit this ’tidal wave’ tag too, as he crashes his way through Segunda defences. It is fair to say that Djuka is ‘feisty’ – so much so that last season he finished with more yellow cards than goals, but the goals have certainly outweighed the cards this season as he has already contributed 16 goals to the Sporting cause, which sees him currently lead the way in the league’s Pichichi standings.

Djuka worked his way through the youth setup at Belgrade-based FK Rad, where he played alongside current Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojević. Having become the top goalscorer in the history of the Serbian U21 national team, he soon moved to Northern Europe, playing for Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie and then Palermo in Serie A. It was at Vitesse where Djuka showed he’s not just a bruising centre forward. In the land of Cruyff and Gullit, Djuka was compared to Dennis Bergkamp – for one goal at least, as he flicked a ball around Ajax’s defence to score then run on and finish his own flick himself in something akin to Bergkamp’s famous goal for Arsenal against Newcastle United.

Djuka’s goalscoring stats were good without being great and he then found himself departing the Netherlands and heading home to Belgrade, this time to play at Partizan Belgrade, where he delivered the best goalscoring return of his career. This earned him the Top Goalscorer award and the league’s Player of the Season award.

That season led to him moving to Champions League-bound Olympiakos in 2017, but after a short hit and miss spell in Greece, Djuka would swap the red and white of Olympiakos for the Rojiblancos of Sporting. There have been many notable Serbian players in Spanish football over the years with many making a major mark on the Spanish game: there was Miroslav Djukic in Deportivo’s ’Super Depor’; Radomir Antic, who managed at Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid; and Darko Kovacevic at Real Sociedad, whose goalscoring feats almost took La Real to title glory in 2003.

As Djuka’s Sporting career got underway, there were few signs that he would join the list of great LaLiga Serbs, but slowly and steadily his goalscoring stats have improved each season up to this season where he has been truly lethal.

At the time of writing, Djuka has 16 goals this season in the Segunda División – a whopping 61% of Sporting’s entire goal haul so far this season. In a recent game against Málaga, the away team generally kept Djuka quiet throughout the whole game and marshalled him well. Still, he found that one pocket of space in the 48th minute and with his one shot on goal in the whole 90 minutes, he found a goal and, more crucially, the winning goal.

Mallorca and Espanyol appear to be very much the front runners for the automatic spots with various candidates battling below for the play-off spots. If Sporting could find some goals from elsewhere in their team, then maybe a late chase for the top two could be on. However, it looks more likely that they will sling it out in the play-offs as they seek a route back to Primera, a league they vacated in 2017. If they don’t climb back into the big league, then one would imagine that there’ll be plenty of doors open for Djuka to head there. For now, the defences of Segunda will continue to have to deal with his presence.

Matt Harrison

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