Professionals | 17/05/2019

Cult hero

Happy Birthday, Novagol!

Be it Novagol, Nova or Mischo – there was no doubt that Milivoje Novakovic was, and remains, one of the most well-admired foreign players to ever pull on red and white. The silky Slovenian produced some incredibly memorable moments for FC fans and, as he turns 40, it’s a perfect time to look back on his career.

Humble beginnings

Novakovic took his first footballing steps in his home town of Ljubljana. It was with Olimpija Ljubljana where his mother, Anka and father, Mitar began collecting the newspaper cuttings of his son’s exploits. Novakovic was born into a sporting family. His sister, Slavica was a talented handball player and only injury prevented her from furthering her career to national team level.

After 19 years in his homeland, it was time to make the move abroad. The striker made the near two-hour journey north to DSG Klopeinersee. The tranquil surroundings were the back drop to Novakovic learning German, and how to find the back of the net. That wasn’t to be the case for Klopeinersee, however, as Novakovic managed to find his way around to five clubs in his six years in Austria.

Off to Austria

Spells with SAK Klagenfurt and ASK Voitsberg then followed. That was good timing, as Novakovic began to find his feet. With Voitsberg, he was top goalscorer in the league while Klagenfurt were relegated. He remained there until Christmas before he ended up on loan at SV Mattersburg for six months. He got his first experience in the Bundesliga, and managed two goals in six games.

That attracted the attention of LASK, who brought Novakovic his first regular experience at a reasonable level. The second division of Austrian football saw Novagol score eight times in 21 games, which was enough to bring Litex Lovetch knocking. 19 goals helped the Bulgarian side to third place in the league and a UEFA Cup spot. After that, it was time to make the move to Müngersdorf.

FC adventure begins

What would be Novakovic’s most successful period in his career didn’t start out like that – in fact, it was anything but. FC had been relegated at the time and, after Lovetch were dumped out of the UEFA Cup in the first round, the delegation of Claus Horstmann, Jürgen Glowacz and Wolfgang Overath had got their man for a €1,5m fee. Two goals in his first 14 games brought about unwelcome headlines, but come March – that was all to be forgotten.

Novakovic ended the season with seven goals in 11 games and three assists, in what proved to be a small taster of what was to come. 20 goals and eight assists were just what FC needed to make their return to the Bundesliga, as Christoph Daum aptly put things: “The boy could close his eyes and still score.” The Bundesliga lay in wait, but would Novakovic be able to find the form that he did before?

Slovenian success

Of course. His first season in the Bundesliga saw him score an impressive 16 times, and continue his road towards becoming a fan favourite. In between times, 2008 saw Novakovic named Slovenian Footballer of the Year. He was able to team up with Miso Brecko throughout the year with both club and country, and would have more to look forward to in the future when it came to Slovenia.

Novakovic was a key part of the Slovenian side that managed to make it to the 2010 World Cup. He scored five goals in the qualifiers and started both of the playoff games as Slovenia beat Russia on away goals. Things started well in South Africa and Slovenia were top of the group after two games. However, a combination of a loss to England and Landon Donovan’s 91st-minute heart-breaking winner meant that Novakovic had to bid goodbye at the first hurdle.

Beating Bayern, partner Poldi

From 2009 onwards, FC managed to compliment Novakovic with a certain Lukas Podolski for the next three years. While the 2009-10 season didn’t go quite to plan for Nova, 2010-11 saw him back doing what he does best. That season included the memorable turnaround against Bayern Munich. From 2:0 down at half-time, FC managed to turn the game on its head and secure a 3:2 win with Novakovic grabbing a brace – Christian Clemens got the other.

Poldi also contributed with 13 goals that season, and things looked like it would only get better from there. However, that wasn’t to be the case. An adductor problem meant that Novakovic missed nine straight games and, given the timing, went three-and-a-half months without playing a game. Despite Podolski keeping things afloat as best he could with 18 goals, the season would end in relegation.

Novagol takes on Japan

That meant that Novakovic’s time in Köln was over. Relegation and the structure of the squad saw what was a notable group of players broken up. Novakovic ended up in Japan following the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. He first ended up at Omiya Ardija on loan before eventually heading to Shimizu S-Pulse and then Nagoya Grampus.

Following his time in the Middle East, of which he spoke very highly of, it was time to make one last stop: his homeland. NK Maribor signed Novakovic, where he spent the final two years of his career. There, he claimed the Slovenian Cup in 2016 and the league title a year later. A fitting end.

There’s a high probability that Novakovic is the only player in history to have been topscorer in Bulgaria, 2. Bundesliga, Regionalliga Mitte in Austria and have played at a World Cup. For that alone, he will forever be a cult hero.

Happy Birthday, Novagol!

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