Aleksandar Mitrovic banned for eight games and fined £75,000 for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh during Fulham’s FA Cup defeat at Manchester United in March; Mitrovic regrets the incident and says he has learned from it; Fulham striker has 12 Premier League goals this term
Aleksandar Mitrovic will always question what could have been for him in Fulham’s outstanding Premier League season.
“It’s a feeling of happiness but makes me a little bit guilty because I knew if I hadn’t been banned I could score even more goals,” the striker exclusively tells Sky Sports.
The eight games Mitrovic missed for his moment of madness in pushing referee Chris Kavanagh during Fulham’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Manchester United halted what had been a statement campaign for the Serbian.
“I’ll never know what I could have scored,” he said. “It’s a pity to speak about that but I believe in myself and I believe if I was on the pitch I could have scored more goals.”
But the ugly incident in March which also came with a £75,000 fine has served as a valuable lesson for Mitrovic, even if he insists his passion on the pitch won’t change.
Aleksandar Mitrovic was banned for eight games after pushing referee Chris Kavanagh during Fulham’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Manchester United
“I made a mistake, it’s clear, I should not react like this,” he said. “It was important that I spoke to the referee after a few days and he knew it was nothing personal to him. It was a reaction, he understood, anything can happen in the heat of the moment.
“It’s the way I play the game, I care so much for this club and winning that I play very emotionally. I didn’t control myself, made a mistake and accepted the punishment and fine. I’ve learned from it.
“The way I play is not going to change much. I’m not going to attack the referee. I’m a winner, no matter if I play video games or against someone on the pitch, I try to win.
“I had a lot of conversations with the manager. He told me not to change, to control myself better, of course, but this is who I am. If you ask any referee, I shake their hand after the game. It’s something I’ve learned from and it was tough for me. It’s behind me now.”
‘Scoring is like a drug’
Mitrovic was forced to spend Saturday afternoons maintaining his fitness at Fulham’s training ground while his team-mates closed in on a top-half finish and the club’s record Premier League points tally – which they will surpass with a victory from their final two matches.
He had been providing all the answers to those who doubted whether he could finally step up to the Premier League after netting a record 43 goals in 44 Championship appearances last season. Mitrovic always backed himself.
“I know in the past I’ve scored goals in any league I’ve played in: Belgium, the Championship, Champions League, Europa League, in Anderlecht, with the national team,” he said. “I knew my ability to score goals and my abilities in the box if I have good service, I know I’m really dangerous against any opponent. I always play with that confidence.”
And like all top strikers, he is desperate to score them however they come.
“It’s like a drug. If you score one, you want two straight away, you don’t think about the first goal. Give me the ball, give me the cross. You get upset!” he said.
“Every training I try to score goals, I compete with myself to score more than yesterday. If I didn’t have a good training session I stay afterwards and put a few balls in the net just to keep that feeling going. When you score goals you feel good. You can win by three or four and it feels nice but if you don’t score a goal you miss something.
‘I celebrated a tap-in like a 25-yard free-kick’
“I like tap-ins [the most], it’s the right place, right time, you predict the game well and tap in. For a striker, the most important thing is to stay focused and predict what’s going to happen. Scoring a tap-in makes you feel really good because you don’t have to run 30 yards or dribble, you’re right there and just put the ball in the net. Every goal is important and special in a different way but they’re like my babies.
“Last year in the Championship I scored one with my knee and I was celebrating like it was a 25-yard free-kick. A goal is a goal, for me, it just needs to go over the line!”
And on his return at Southampton last Saturday, Mitrovic finally had that feeling again when he netted his 12th Premier League goal of the season during his 26-minute cameo.
“It felt really special from the first moment I entered the pitch in the warm-up, our crowd went crazy and even when I play in the national team I don’t see this many Serbian flags.
“It was really amazing moment. When I entered the pitch during the game, the crowd went more crazy than when we score. It was a really special and important moment for me. The amount of support I had was amazing and made it easier to go through all of this.”