Chance for redemption for Ljubo Milicevic

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Ljubo Milicevic ‘s move to Hajduk Split might not do much for his tarnished off-field reputation, but does give him the opportunity to let his football do the talking for once.

Alongside little-known Gold Coast midfielder Steve Lustica, Milicevic was unveiled on a two-year deal and joins his boyhood club in their centenary season.

It has been an ignominious exit from the Australian game for Ljubo.

After beginning to establish himself as one of the premier defenders in the A-League at Newcastle, earning the captain’s armband, he quit the Jets midway through season six.

In typical Ljubo fashion, his antics while supposedly sidelined with an ankle injury ensured he left in controversial circumstances, leaving to pursue one of the “three or four offers” he had received in Europe.

The January deadline came and went, and Ljubo returned to play with South Melbourne, continuing tell an increasingly-disinterested football public of his European plans – while making his voice heard on plenty of other issues.

Few on here would forget his ‘rant’ and subsequent comments little over a month ago, where he accused Australian football of an anti-ethnic bias.

While he had some valid points, his sweeping generalisations and the manner in which he delivered them left a bad taste.

It was an understatement to suggest that alienated himself from the Australian public, and after a mediocre five-game stint at South Melbourne the majority sniggered as Ljubo continued to remind us all that he was going to play in Europe.

So it was highly surprising to see him wheeled out at a press conference on Wednesday in Croatia’s second-biggest city, Split.

In joining Hajduk, who finished runners-up to Dinamo Zagreb last season, Milcevic has the chance to go from semi-professional state league football in Victoria to playing in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.

It would be an extraordinary turnaround in three months.

No mean feat either, and it would be wrong to suggest that Ljubo is going to walk into first-team football, in fact, it will require him to perform at his best, and even it might not be good enough.

But in a way, the planets have aligned for him; right club, right country, at the right age.

It is his once-in-a-career opportunity, and Ljubo’s time to walk the walk is now.

One of Ljubo’s favourite retorts is that he has captained FC Thun in the Champions League against Arsenal, and while these momentarily flashes have certainly been bright, they have also been fleeting.

His achievements in Europe, and other highlights such as captaining his country should make him as one of the best defenders of his generation.

Instead he risks ending a career unfulfilled, remembered for his outspoken ways off the field rather than as a quality player on it.

Regardless of the outcome, he will most likely never be welcomed back with open arms into this country, but at 30, he has more than enough time on his side to resurrect his European career.

It would be a shame to see one of Australia’s better talents of the past decade go to waste.

Time to put up or shut up, Ljubo.

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