An opportunity missed: when Dejan Stefanović and Darko Kovačević came to Sheffield Wednesday

It was another example of David Pleat’s attempt to push Sheffield Wednesday into modernity.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 8:25 pm

As the ageing legs of Sheffield Wednesday’s famed early 90s teams began to seize up around him, Pleat looked to lesser-explored foreign shores to get ahead of the game in the transfer market.

Back in 1995 you couldn’t get much less explored than Eastern Europe and to Red Star Belgrade, but in the end, it proved to be merely another example of ill-thought-out transfer business by the club.

Dejan Stefanović left on a free transfer after the three years having not played the requisite number of games to be awarded a new work permit. Darko Kovačević left after just a few months.

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David Pleat later said: “Mick Mills [former England international and Pleat’s chief scout] came back from watching them one day and said we should sign them up. He told me they were very good players.

“We bought them a flat, bought them a car, then pretty much left them to it. But they found it difficult. They were only kids and I don’t think we did enough for them.

“You’ve got to look after them night and day, make sure they’re happy, make sure they’ve got everything they need, make sure they’re learning the language.

“We could have done much more for them.”

Dejan Stefanovic and Darko Kovacevic were not great successes at Sheffield Wednesday.

Kovačević, of course, is seen to many Wednesday fans of one of the ones that got away. His hurried departure after scoring four goals in 16 matches took him to Real Sociedad, where he quickly set about building a reputation as one of Europe’s most feared target men.

A £12m move to Juventus followed in which Wednesday were set for a windfall for a sell-on clause they placed in an initial cut-price deal. It is not known whether that fee – believed to be more than £2m – was ever recovered by the club.

“I have fond mem­ories of everywhere I have played,” he says. “I did not stay in Sheffield very long, but I enjoyed myself and I hope people remember me as a good man.

“The same applies to my other clubs, but I think I probably per­formed best at Real Sociedad.”

And as for Stefanović, who enjoyed a longer and largely happier Sheffield stint but sent much of his time pushed out to left-back by the talents of Des Walker and Emerson Thome, he returned via Holland to re-build a successful four-season stint at Portsmouth.

“I don't feel Serbian at all,” he admitted in 2006, describing the role his time at Wednesday played in his outlook.

“I'm totally different. You know what? I came here at a good time, 10 years ago. I didn't speak English so I wanted to learn. I had a teacher come to my house all the time.

“I picked up, very quickly, along with my wife, all the good things that people like in England. The mentality and so on. Everything here is done. I like the rules, the behaviour.

“I like the way of life - which is not always the case for foreigners who come here.”