David Milinkovic has bounced around more than a few clubs over the course of his career, his resumé reads as if he'd be on the wrong end of 30 thanks to stops in four different leagues across three countries.
Yet he's only 25 years old — and looking for a chance to relaunch his career. On Monday, the Vancouver Whitecaps provided him with that opportunity.
The winger arrives in Vancouver on loan from Hull City, where he failed to earn regular playing time over a year and a half with the Championship club, in which he failed to make a league start. He had made stops at Hearts in Scotland as well as a handful of clubs in Italy between Serie C and Serie B prior to his disappointing sojourn in England.
“Yes, of course it hasn’t worked out for him at Hull," Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster told MLSsoccer.com. "But that is something that even world-class players have in their profile. Yes, everybody was disappointed, yes maybe he lacked a little bit of concentration over the last year but otherwise there would never have been the chance to get him.
"In all of our conversations, he was really settled down," Schuster continued. "He said ‘yes I made the wrong decision and now I fall back in my career. I have to convince the people that I’m better than what I showed with Hull over the last year and a half. I want to restart myself and rebuild myself.’ We said 'you’re exactly in the right place.'"
Work-rate is something Schuster referred to a few times when describing Milinkovic, noting that the Whitecaps aim to play an up-tempo 4-3-3 in 2020. But, for a player desperate for a fresh start, that commodity will be a necessity off the field as well.
Milinkovic joined Hull City in 2018 following a promising run with Hearts, where he had six goals and five assists in 22 league appearances. Full of confidence, he arrived in England joining a club aiming for promotion to the Premier League. He hoped it would become a reality, but instead, Milinkovic had to settle for a total of just 300 first team minutes sprinkled across 12 appearances in all competitions.
"He was really excited to come here," Schuster said. "He said ‘please give me a chance, I’ll show you that was not me what you saw over the last one and a half years.’ ... He’s 25, he’s still a young guy. Everybody makes mistakes. I’m good with giving somebody a new chance if he really wants to fight for his chance and show what he promised to us. Now it’s up to him to show that. We gave him a chance, he knows that. If he can rebuild himself, we’ll have a very good player."
If the Whitecaps' bet turns out to be correct, Schuster is excited about Milkinovic's profile.
"We were not looking for a winger that showed up and just wanted to show us brilliant moves then when he loses the ball that expects others to defend for him," Schuster said. "No. We were looking for a guy who works his ass off.”
In addition to Milinkovic's engine, Schuster confident his ability on the ball can benefit the Whitecaps' club-record signing Lucas Cavallini.
“He’s good at 1v1s and has the quality to make a difference," Schuster explained. "He has a very good cross and can provide a lot for Lucas Cavallini or whoever plays as a No. 9. We have to feed our new No. 9. We’re building out a 4-3-3 with two wingers, it was very important for us to have two classic wingers. He can play both wings, he’s versatile.”
Milinkovic represents the club's eighth addition of the summer, plus the permanent acquisition of center back Erik Godoy.
"We’re still working one or two missing pieces," Schuster said. "If we get that together, then this was a very good transfer period. At the end we can say we put together all the right pieces for what we want to be, then it’s preparation to teach the team the principles of our game, how we want to defend and play offense.”
Schuster inherits a squad that finished bottom of the Western Conference in 2019. Although he isn't setting the bar of expectations through the ceiling in 2020, he's determined that the supporters see the club is trending upward.
“We are totally realistic, we don’t expect that we can turn the ranking of last year around, we want to show we’re working to the right direction, that we’re on the road where everybody sees where we want to be," Schuster said. "We don’t expect to be the perfect team, right now we’re expecting to show the phase of a team that plays a playing style that the people of Vancouver like, that they get to trust we’re doing the right things and the trust that in some more time the team will develop in the right way.”