Juninho Pernambucano left some big shoes to fill when he departed Olympique Lyonnais in the summer having won seven Ligue 1 titles in eight years, but in 19-year-old Miralem Pjanić the French club may have found the ideal replacement.
Pjanić scored the only goal in Lyon's Group E opener against ACF Fiorentina last Wednesday and also made a telling contribution in the previous round when his free-kick broke the deadlock against RSC Anderlecht, paving the way for a comfortable 5-1 first-leg win. "Of course I'm happy to have scored and played a decisive part," the Bosnian international told uefa.com. "I am playing more now, but it is only thanks to the team that I can make the difference. I have tried to do so since the beginning of the season, and it has worked well up to now."
Pjanić watches his words carefully when he speaks to the press, but on the pitch everything he does comes naturally. Against Fiorentina he was quickest to react on 78 minutes when Sébastien Frey could only parry Kim Källström's strike and stole in to fire in the rebound. Then again, Pjanić is used to doing things quickly on the football field. After the war had driven his family from Tuzla, they settled in Luxemburg and Miralem joined FC Metz.
Aged 14 he made an immediate impression at youth level and by 2007/08 had established himself in the first team. He made 27 appearances that season and caught the eye for his control on the ball, set-pieces and knack for delivering when it mattered most. Enough certainly for Lyon to think that paying €7.5m for his services in June 2008 was a sound investment. That is exactly what it has proven to be. Pjanić started just five league games in his first season at the Stade de Gerland – not unusual for an 18-year-old – but having found his feet he has thrived since being handed Juninho's old No8 shirt.
"I called Juni during our pre-season training camp and asked for permission to wear his number," Pjanić, capped ten times by Bosnia-Herzegovina, told L'Équipe. "He told me not to worry and not to put too much pressure on myself. Juni did some amazing things here. I appreciated him and I like this number as well. I expect to have a good season at OL, better than last year." Lyon expects the same. It could not have started better.
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