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Vladimir Petrovic (Arsenal F.C. 1982-83)

Vladimir Petrovic

Petrovic scoring against Aston Villa in The FA Cup

Vladimir Petrovic in Statto's Corner

Vladimir Petrovic : Too good for the Arsenal?

In December 1982 Terry Neill, the incumbent manager, paid £400,000 for a Yugoslavian International. He appeared in only 22 games for the Club but all the fans who saw him knew immediately that his sublime distribution and near-perfect control was a class above anyone else on the pitch wearing the famous red and white. His skill was sometimes breathtaking, he was an obvious midfield general but was stuck out on the right wing for most of his short stay. Granted communications would have presented a problem but this fails to explain anything as his English was picking up at the time he left. Tim Barton's article which originally appeared in Issue 53 of The Gooner (1994) entitled 'The Mysterious Disappearance of Vladimir Petrovic' tried to figure out why:-

Vladimir Petrovic was the type of gifted, technically excellent midfielder that the Central Europeans produce with the kind of regularity that we produce Carlton Palmers and David Battys. He arrived, from Red Star Belgrade, at the end of 1982. At the time, Arsenal were still desperately trying to cope in the absence of Liam Brady, and Petrovic was part of a rebuilding that had seen the purchases of Tony Woodcock and Lee Chapman earlier in the season. He could and should have been exactly the midfield general that we were looking for. So what went wrong? Why did he only stay for half a season, playing just 19 games (plus 3 as sub)? Well, I have no idea, but read on for some wild speculation and rumour.

Since it was obvious from the first sight that Petrovic was a class act, it was difficult to understand why Terry Neill had been interested in him. Neill had long since given up any ideas of Arsenal playing a passing game. With Lee Chapman in the side it seemed that a midfielders role, when not winning the ball, was to gaze upwards as it curved forward in the general direction of our gifted striker. Anyway, Neill and Howe were evidently confused and shunted Petrovic out to the right wing where he could do as little damage as possible.


Petrovic 3 times Yugolsavian Player of the Year

Petrovic, when playing, continued on the wing until Rix was injured towards the end of the season. He was then moved to a central position for a couple of games. This was when he really showed his worth. Woodcock, who had previously spent his time at Arsenal trying to get on the end of the long, high balls that were strangely hit at him (any long balls to feet invariably ended up bouncing off of Chapmans), must have thought it was Christmas every game. Petrovic was able to push through the sort of twenty yard balls along the ground that were ideal for Woodcock to run on to.

The big clue to the reluctance to use Petrovic as he should have been is the fact that it was not until Rix was injured that he was moved to the centre. Don Howe was Graham Rix's biggest fan and was obviously convinced that he could fill the role left by Bradys departure. Rix was never really up to the task, at least not up to the Brady level. It is interesting that when he played for England in the '82 World Cup, where he did not have the responsibility of creating the play and could relax more on the left wing, he looked a very good player.

So, was Petrovic marginalised purely to protect Rix? It seems strange that a coach of Howes standing would feel the need to resort to this sort of thing. Would Neill have allowed him to get away with it anyway? It also seems hard to believe that Neill/Howe simply didn't think that Petrovic was good enough or would not be able to adapt to the rigours of the English game. He was easily good enough and, despite not being the size of Brian Deane, never seemed to be hustled out of games. Maybe Don couldn't understand what he was saying and thought he was taking the piss (the word for "good morning Don" in Serbo-Croat is "yoraslapead"). Maybe he just thought that Petrovic couldn't kick the ball far or high enough.

There is another possibility that I heard recently. When Petrovic arrived, Arsenal were short of cash - the days of three consecutive Cup Finals were fast becoming a memory. This theory alleges that the whole deal was a tax scam. Petrovic was bought on a sale or return basis, whereby, if Arsenal didn't rate him he would be returned to his club and the transfer fee refunded. This meant that by shelling out in one tax year and receiving the cash back in the next, Arsenal would be able to defer paying tax on the money for a year. If the second year was a bad year, the money could then be used to offset losses and there could actually be no tax at all to pay on it. Interesting eh?

The most likely reason, however, is that Petrovic was so incensed by his nickname of Vlazza that he went home in a huff. The other players were not bothered. "He was crap at golf anyway" the genial O'Leary was heard to say.

Tim Barton 1993

© Tim Barton / Brian Dawes    2000

Vladimir Petrovic in Statto's Corner

Vladimir Petrovic

Born in Belgrade Yugoslavia on July 1 1955

Signed from Red Star Belgrade for £400,000 in December 1982

Debut v Swansea League (Home) January 1 1983 won 2-1

Debut goal v Stoke City League (Home) won 3-0

Played for Yugolsavia 42 times including 1974 and 1982 World Cup Finals

League played 10 + 3 13 goals 2
FA Cup 6 goal 1
League Cup 3
Arsenal Total 19 + 3 22 goals 3

Sold to Lokeren Antwerp (Belgium) Summer 1983

3 times Yugoslavian Footballer of the Year

4 Yugoslav Championship Medals 1972-3 1976-7 1979-80 1980-81

Yugoslav Cup Winner 1981-82

EUFA Cup Finalist 1978-79



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