Hull City keeper Eldin Jakupovic seizing chance to shine after a gloomy 2012
WHEN 2012 is condemned to the archives following Hull City’s date with Leeds United, Eldin Jakupovic will be happy to shut the vault door.
For the hapless goalkeeper, unremitting gloom has hung low over the last 12 months.
After an acrimonious split from financially-stricken Greek side Aris Thessaloniki in January left him without employment until July, Jakupovic’s move to the KC Stadium has desperately struggled to deliver the fresh start it had promised.
According to manager Steve Bruce, Jakupovic has spent much of his five months with the Tigers in “a dark place,” struggling to even make the bench for long periods of the campaign.
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Reserve team football was depressingly as good as it got.
All until eight days ago that is, when light finally crept into the darkest of calendar years.
Fulham’s recall of on-loan keeper David Stockdale in the final week before Christmas left a void for the Tigers trip to Derby and Jakupovic duly jumped at his chance with a debut Bruce glowingly described as “terrific” after a spirited 2-1 win.
A clean-sheet in the 0-0 draw with Leicester duly followed and now, as 2013 looms, Jakupovic is at last seeing 12 months of patience rewarded.
“For me, 2012 hasn’t been a great year,” said Jakupovic.
“It was difficult in Greece. Everything was tough. Everyone knows that Greece is now finished and then I came here and the first three or four months were not so easy.
“But my chance is now here so I want to prove myself, starting with Leeds.”
It has been a long time coming.
Jakupovic was training with City as far back as March when he impressed former boss Nick Barmby during a trial period in East Yorkshire.
A deal was agreed in principle but Barmby’s sacking in May left the 28-year-old back in limbo.
The influence of goalkeeping coach Gary Walsh persuaded Bruce to revive the deal two months later and make Jakupovic his first signing, but still the luck failed to turn.
A financial dispute saw his former employers initially refuse to give up Jakupovic’s international clearance in time for the start of the season.
Four weeks out with a hamstring injury then delayed any hope of a debut further still. By the time he was available, Ben Amos had established himself as number one with Mark Oxley warming the bench.
Oxley’s exit to Burton on loan and subsequent broken finger moved Jakupovic up the pecking order in late October, but when Amos’ form dipped, a loan move for Fulham keeper Stockdale was preferred.
If lady luck was playing tricks on Jakupovic, the game was up when Stockdale headed back to Craven Cottage 10 days ago, leaving the door ajar for an eighth goalkeeper in 27 months to stake a claim at the KC.
“My time in England has been very difficult, especially the last couple of months,” said Jakupovic,
“But the manager was talking to me and saying to keep going in training. He said I had to be ready for my chance. And when it comes, I had to take it. It was difficult to stay patient. But Gary Walsh was very good.
“He speaks to me a lot and is very encouraging. He told me to stay calm and that I would take my chance when it did come along.”
Jakupovic has heeded the advice of Walsh and will need to maintain high standards if he is to stand any chance of making 2013 his year in the sun.
Bruce has made no secret of his desire to see Stockdale return – on loan or in a permanent deal – to suggest belief in the current number one still needs work.
But then Jakupovic is no stranger to adversity. He was just four when his family fled their hometown of Kozarac in the former Yugoslavia in 1988 to escape the rising troubles.
Switzerland became home for Jakupovic and helped him into professional football with Grasshoppers Zurich and FC Thun. The latter would even announce him to become a rising star of the Champions League in 2005.
Further football has come in the Russian and Greek leagues but a lack of experience in the English game has so far counted against him this year.
However, Jakupovic points to former Lokomotiv Moscow team-mate Branislav Ivanovic, now a Premier League star with Chelsea, as his inspiration.
“The game is faster here and more physical,” he explained. “Maybe that was a problem in the beginning. I know a lot of players who have played in Russia and now come here to England at Chelsea or somewhere.
“At the beginning, they didn’t play but now they are one of the three main players at Chelsea. I was quiet and a bit nervous at first.
“Everyone told me to hold my form and be ready. So that is what I did.
“Now I have played two games and am already looking to my third one. I need to again prove what I can do.”
Jakupovic’s inclusion in the side has coincided with City’s move up to second in the Championship at the halfway mark of the season.
Only a victory over Leeds this lunchtime will guarantee the Tigers head into 2013 in the automatic promotion places and the expectant goalkeeper knows his first Yorkshire derby will not be for the faint-hearted.
He added: “It is a derby, and I know what they are like from my time in Greece. We must be prepared and everyone will need to be 100 per cent to win against Leeds.
“I have played in derbies and the best ones were in Greece. In Russia, they were also special. But I believe derby games are harder here. They will be more physical. You have to be ready for 95 minutes in England derby games and not just 90.
“It will be tough but, hopefully, we can get a good result.”