Wolverhampton Wanderers Club Focus – The curious case of Nenad Milijas

When Wolverhampton Wanderers signed Nenad Milijas in the summer of 2009 – beating off competition from a number of European clubs to do so – hopes were high that the goal scoring midfielder could replicate the form that had seen break into the Serbian national team.

Milijas scored 16 goals in just over 30 games in his final season at Red Star Belgrade as he won the Serbian Superliga Player of the Year award. Indeed, the early signs were extremely promising – Milijas excelled in Wolves’ opening day home defeat to West Ham United, coming close to notching his first goal for the club on a number of occasions. However, concerns over fitness and form soon saw Milijas lose his place in the starting XI to Segundo Castillo as Wolves slipped to 19th in the table. Furthermore, his manager spoke publicly about Milijas’ need to develop the more defensive side of his game, suggesting that the Serbian’s all-round midfield game was insufficient to deal with the physical demands of the Premier League. While Milijas did win his place back over the festive period – scoring twice and making one more as Wolves took nine points out of a possible 12 – he was soon overlooked once more in favour of a resurgent David Jones, as he finished the campaign on the bench.

That would be how he would start the following season – the understudy to Jones and Dave Edwards, seemingly destined to go the way of Jelle van Damme in bringing a difficult spell at Molineux to a premature end. However, a run of increasingly poor results saw Mick McCarthy revert to a 4-5-1 formation, one which saw Milijas replace the out-of-favour front man Steven Fletcher as an auxiliary midfielder. An impressive performance in a valiant defeat at Chelsea suggested Milijas had taken his manager’s criticism on board, as he starred at both ends in a shock defeat of Manchester City, both scoring the equaliser and defending with a tenacity he had failed to exhibit 12 months previous.

Milijas played a key part in Wolves’ mini-revival, ousting Jones from the team and providing much of the creativity as McCarthy persevered with Kevin Doyle as a lone striker. Yet the arrival of Jamie O’Hara on an initial sixth month loan deal soon saw Milijas lose his place once more. While initially deployed as part of a three man midfield, the Serb was hauled off after just 30 minutes in a heavy defeat at Newcastle United, after which he failed to start another game. Thus, Milijas finished the second campaign exactly where he had the first – firmly on the bench.

Speculation has been rife linking Milijas with a summer departure from Wolves as it became increasingly apparent that McCarthy was planning to start the season with an all-British spine. As expected, Milijas was an unused substitute in the victory at Blackburn Rovers – this despite fellow midfielders Adlene Guedioura and Edwards being side-lined with medium-term injuries. Manager McCarthy laid down a very public gauntlet to the out-of-favour Serbian on Thursday, saying that new signing O’Hara is the first choice partner for Karl Henry and that: “Ned knows he has to be at his best to get in the team.

One would imagine that Milijas would be justifiably frustrated with his omission from the Wolves starting line-u, and fans have commented upon McCarthy’s apparent reticence to persevere with the Serbian at the heart of his midfield. With just two years left on his contract, one gets the impression that this season will define Milijas’ Wolves career. With McCarthy reportedly still in the market for a powerful central midfielder, the former Red Star Belgrade midfielder will have to make the most of his limited opportunities to convince his manager that he is more than a peripheral figure at Molineux.

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