Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic has returned to Eintracht Frankfurt on loan until the end of the season, looking to rediscover his form. But he's not the only Bundesliga striker to have struggled after leaving Germany.
Stood on the touchline at a deserted Waldstadion, Luka Jovic announced his return to Eintracht Frankfurt with three simple words: "Ich bin zurück" – I am back.
The Serbian striker scored 36 goals in 75 appearances in his previous spell in Frankfurt, helping the Eagles win the German Cup in 2018 and reach the Europa League semifinal in 2019– attracting the attention of Europe's biggest clubs in the process.
The very biggest, Real Madrid, paid over €63m ($76m) for his services, but Jovic failed to replicate his form in La Liga, managing only two goals in 32 games.
Now, the 23-year-old is hoping to rediscover his mojo on the ground where he once scored five in a single game against Fortuna Düsseldorf, when he led Frankfurt's so-called "buffalo herd" alongside Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic.
"Luka hasn't had an easy time in Madrid recently, so it's important for him that he gets back on track," said Eintracht sporting director Fredi Bobic, who has been on the lookout for a striker to partner André Silva since Bas Dost left for Club Bruges.
"Luka can use the next few months to get back to his best in a familiar environment. Real Madrid know that he'll be well looked after here and can continue his development – and we now have another excellent option in attack."
Having already suffered from a coronavirus infection in November, German authorities have confirmed that Jovic is exempt from quarantine regulations and is free to play against Schalke on Sunday – although he's not expected to start.
Local paper Frankfurter Rundschau report that Jovic has returned in a "decidedly good physical state" – despite him also sustaining a hamstring injury in the wake of his coronavirus infection.
But he'd already struggled for game time before that. Brought in to help fill the gaping Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped hole in Zinedine Zidane's side, Jovic was unable to provide adequate competition for Karim Benzema in his favored central striking role, and even found himself behind youth product Mariano Diaz in the pecking order.
Away from the pitch, Jovic reportedly failed to learn Spanish in the way he learned German, and was considered something of an outsider in the Spanish capital. Add to that the pressure of a humungous price tag and a picture begins to develop of a situation which is far from ideal for a footballer who hadn't even turned 23.
And yet, Jovic isn't the only Bundesliga striker to have struggled after leaving Germany. For every Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Christian Pulisic, there are more who fail to live up to the expectations and price tags.
Sebastian Haller, the second buffalo in the Eintracht herd, joined Ajax this month after a less-than-successful €50m ($60.6m) move from Frankfurt to West Ham United. The third buffalo, Ante Rebic, has fared better at AC Milan.
Brazilian forward Joelinton also secured a €44m move from Hoffenheim to Newcastle United in 2019 but has managed just three league goals for the Magpies since. And although it's still early days, Timo Werner has hardly hit the ground running at Chelsea following his €53m transfer from RB Leipzig.
If eyebrows are raised, it can partly be put down to the huge transfer fees, about which the players themselves can do nothing, but which Bundesliga clubs will readily demand the moment a Premier League club – or Real Madrid – picks up the phone. The figures shoot up, and so do the expectations.
But there is another explanation too. Jovic, Haller, Joelinton and Werner all blossomed within very specific systems in Germany, where Bundesliga clubs largely play high-pressing games with a reliance on quick counter attacks – perhaps too much for their own good.
Werner is the best example; a player who thrived on executing transitions [turnovers of the ball from defense to attack] and counter-attacks for the most counter-attacking team in the league.
Data collated by The Athletic recently shows that the German international made 78% of his appearances for RB Leipzig in a central striking role, lurking on the shoulder of the last defender to capitalize on RB's average of 8.5 transitional moments per game. Since moving to Chelsea, however, only 25% of his appearances have come in that favored role, with Frank Lampard's team preferring more possession-based build-up.
One of the challenges for Werner and his other ex-Bundesliga colleagues is to adapt and add more strings to their bows.
Jovic failed to rise to that challenge in Madrid but has made a sensible decision to take a step back and regroup in more familiar surroundings.
He allegedly turned down more lucrative offers, including from Premier League sides, and accepted a wage decrease to return to Frankfurt, where he could have introduced himself with another three words: "Ich bin zuhause" – I am home.