George Mihajlovic tries not to get carried away.

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The Montreal midfielder is in the best shape of his career. His seven goals are almost double his previous single-season record of four, and after 13 games in Major League Soccer, Montreal is firmly in the playoffs. Personal praise also goes towards him. Interest from European clubs is heating up, as is talk of Mihajlovic becoming the league’s most valuable player. He has also been called up to the US men’s national team training camp and hopes to play internationally for the first time since December 2020.

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Part of Mihajlovic wants the good times to continue, all the better so he can play with the joy that is present when he performs at his best. He’s also pleased to have gone through some tough times, including an ACL tear in 2017, but now he’s also wary of the heights his career has recently reached.

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“In my opinion, good times can actually be more detrimental to someone’s mental aspect than bad ones,” Mihajlovic told Sportzshala. “I think a lot of players, when you start to be successful, get too ahead of themselves, too high and overloaded with things. You expect much more from yourself because you are doing a lot of good things. things. So it’s much easier to go astray when things go too high.”

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Mihailović joked that he blamed his teammate Alistair Johnston for the MVP chatter, claiming “he started the whole snowball”. Now the midfielder has become the butt of jokes in the Montreal locker room.

“I try to keep a steady state and not try to think too much about all these conversations,” he said. “I have to do it within 34 games, not just the first one. [13]so that’s what I’m thinking about.”

Starting Sunday, Mihajlovic’s thoughts will be on the US and trying to make the final push to get into the World Cup squad. It’s not uncommon for a player who hasn’t qualified to make it to the World Cup squad, whether it’s Pablo Mastroni in 2002 or Hercules Gomez in 2010 or Julian Green in 2014. Mihailović hopes he can follow suit. these steps, even if the mountain he has to climb is steep.

“It’s exciting what I’ve been working on,” he said of the challenge. “On the pitch, that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, doing my best to get called back, and I’d like to make the most of that opportunity.”

Mihajlovic had long attracted the attention of American coach Gregg Berhalter, who admired the player’s ability to play “between the lines”, be good in technique and be critical in attack. Berhalter calls Mihailović a “pioneer” as one of the invitees to his first camp in the US. The player is actually the answer to a trivial question, scoring the first goal of the Berhalter era in a 3-0 victory over Panama in January 2019. Berhalter and the national team staff expected Mihailović to start further, but due to struggles at club level, he was only called up in spurts.

“There were glimpses of it, but there was no consistency,” Berhalter said. Now that Mihajlovic is playing in Montreal in an advanced attacking position that suits him, Berhalter liked what he saw this season, although questions remain.

He said of Mihajlovic: “If he’s a winger, can he press with the intensity we need, with the speed and quickness we need to cause losses? work speed to win back the ball and have that kind of defensive work speed to do it?”

We will see in the coming weeks how much Mihajlovic can close that gap. He certainly has a few players to jump over if he wants to even sniff the World Cup, but he knows his recent performance has sent him back into the reckoning. His dream can be visualized again, thanks to some guidance from Montreal manager Wilfrid Nancy.

Mihajlovic was already finishing off an impressive 2021 season in which his 16 assists finished second in the league behind New England’s Carles Gil. But Nancy wanted his protégé to be more scoring and focused on what was going on in the midfielder’s mind, which was more “emotional control.”

“In past, [Mihailovic] rushed all the time with internal decision making in the final third,” Nancy told Sportzshala. “This year when he throws, it’s better because in the past he wanted to score, but he wanted to score from 50 yards, you know what I mean?

“Now he can recognize when to place the ball, hit the ball hard or pass. It’s a big, big, big improvement for me.”

The numbers confirm this, apart from the number of goals scored by Mihailovic. According to Sportzshala’s statistics and information, Mihajlovic hit a target with 63.6% of his shots, the best in the league among players with at least 15 shots on goal in a season. This is more than double the figure of the previous season (25.4%).

Mihajlovic noted that his race times have improved, but he also plays with the freedom given to him by Nancy, which allows him to break the box when the time is right. The increase in goals is also due to the accumulation of experience gained in his sixth professional season. The more he is in certain situations in front of the gate, the steeper he is.

“When you get into those moments, you have a lot more time than you think,” he said. “It’s no different than when I get the ball in midfield and I can pass. I’ve always been in this situation for the last six years. I always get the ball in midfield. and just repeat this action. The same thing when I am at the gate and near them, with a calm head and perform.

This makes the $1 million Montreal sent to the Chicago Fire look like money well spent, even if the move seemed risky at the time. Growing up in Lemont, a suburb of Chicago, Mihajlovic felt comfortable with friends, family, and the club he had been with since his academy days. But after the 2020 season, there was also a feeling that it was time to move on. Mihajlovic wanted to be in player, but Fire didn’t want to give him the keys to attack.

“I just think, ‘I play at the club where I grew up’ and I hope you become an important player for this team in the future,” Mihajlovic said. “When suddenly it’s your time to go, it’s hard.”

It was then that the sports director of Montreal, Olivier Renard, attacked. Mihailović has been the focus of Renard’s attention for many years, from his time at the Standard Liege. At Montreal, he was looking for a player to replace Bojan Krkic as one of the team’s attacking midfielders.

“I thought that George could be an important player for us and that’s why we give a lot of money to Chicago,” Renard said. “He’s a guy who also works mentally every day, pre-workout fitness, post-workout fitness. He’s not a difficult guy. He has a special character.”

The move also caused Mihailović to mature. There was no family with him. All he had was football. This focus has led to more consistency and more talk about moving to Europe.

Renard chuckles when asked about requests from abroad, noting that when a player receives 16 assists, as Mihajlovic did last season, such calls are inevitable.

“For me, the most important thing is the mind of the player, and to know that George is very happy,” said Renard. “He never called me to tell me [he wanted to leave]. We never talked about it, but if he tells me he wants to go to [Europe]we will find a solution every time.”

Mihailović said that his desire for the World Cup would not affect his decision whether to go to Europe. He noted that the World Cup, although he dreams, is held every four years. The club is a longer term solution.

“I have to remember that the World Cup will take place at the end of the year and I have to make sure that I am at the club where I play and play as long as I am happy,” he said. “I can’t just leave Montreal because I think it will help me get to the World Cup. I do not think so. So if I leave Montreal, I have to make sure it’s the best option for my career.”

It seems that Mihajlovic feels ready. He spent some of the last off-season training with Serie A side and Montreal’s sister club Bologna, and his growth is clear when compared to another training session with Nuremberg in 2019. game speed and physical strength.

At Bologna, he said, he felt “comfortable”, although he had a lot to learn, especially in terms of how the players deal with pressure from the fans and the club.

“It was always nice to see how the players on these teams behave,” he said.

Of course, a stay in Montreal could be Mihajlovic’s best in the short term. He constantly goes on the field and contributes. And Montreal appreciates it.

“They didn’t really overshadow me. They didn’t lock me up in any way,” he said of Montreal. “They let me express my emotions and I am a player who plays with a lot of emotion. I think this is one of my biggest strengths in the sport. So they let me play freely and do what I can.” make.”