Melbourne Heart recently announced that Eli Babalj was returning to the Red and White for the remainder of this season and 2013-14. But is re-joining the Heart the right move for the twenty-year-old?
Babalj’s return is obviously a massive addition for the Heart.
Babalj brings plenty to the table for coach John Aloisi. Standing at 1.94cm his presence on the pitch alone would give the opposition cause for concern.
Before signing for Red Star Belgrade in June, the striker had a fairly successful 2011-12 season under John van‘t Schip scoring nine goals in twenty-two games indicating that the former Perth Glory youngster has been successful at A-League level.
When Heart knew there was a chance Babalj could re-join it was a no-brainer to pursue his signature.
The AIS graduate gives Aloisi another much needed option as Dylan Macallister has struggled off the bench, while Mate Dugandzic will miss the rest of the season with a foot fracture.
Croatian Josip Tadic has been great form with three goals in his past four games, however, if Heart’s leading goalscorer was to get injured then they must rely on Macallister.
The signing of Babalj is an excellent move for the Heart, it gives Aloisi and Heart another option and adds depth.
But is returning to the Heart the right move for the recently capped Socceroo? There are potentially pros and cons.
Returning home to the Heart should mean that Babalj would get regular game time, unlike at Red Star, which is obviously a plus.
Babalj only played six times in Serbia, scoring once, but fell out of favour after Aleksandar Jankovic replaced the coach that signed Babalj, Robert Prosinecki, two months after the 20-year-old signed for the Serbian giants.
Jankovic also brought in Serbian striker Ognjen Mudrinski on a free-transfer and is currently Red Star’s top goalscorer with ten goals from thirteen games including a hat-trick on debut.
Additionally Babalj was involved in an altercation with Ghanaian Nathaniel Asamoah where both were fined and banished from training with the first-team squad for a week, not doing Babalj’s chances under Jankovic any good.
But is Babalj match fit? With only six matches being played since June and with Babalj’s past with injuries, the answer is most likely no. Since Tadic is in form, it’s likely Babalj might make his return via the bench.
Babalj made his Socceroos debut in the friendly against South Korea in November, before making his second appearance in the East Asian Cup scoring twice against Guam.
But with Babalj back in the A-League his Socceroos chances might increase or decrease.
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck has shown that he is willing to select Australian based players like Victory’s Archie Thompson. With Babalj back right in front of Osieck’s eyes and potentially back to playing regular first team football the striker has a great chance to be selected in upcoming squads if Osieck decides to do so.
Socceroo Mark Milligan permanently returned to the A-League with the Melbourne Victory and fronted the media recently explaining that he moved back home so Osieck could see him play each week, which Babalj might benefit also from.
“Originally last year when I came on a loan deal, back to Melbourne, the plan was for Holger to see me playing again.
“The league here is very strong again and being seen every week makes a big difference. Over there (Japan) you can sort of get a bit lost and people can forgot about you a little bit, especially in the positions that I play, I’m not scoring goals every week and making headlines.
“It’s nice to have Holger watching every week and you sort of get picked on merit now because he’s able to see you every game.”
But on the other hand, Osieck has encouraged players in the past to remain in Asia and Europe (i.e. Jade North) and Babalj only made his international debut after moving there. Is that a coincidence?
Even though he didn’t play often in the Serbian capital, Osieck still picked the then Red Star striker because Babalj was training at a higher level in Europe. With Babalj back in Australia, Osieck may decide on not selecting the Heart striker.
We can’t really predict Babalj’s international future as it relies on him performing and Osieck picking A-League players, which could go either way for the 20-year-old.
The move back to Melbourne won’t be a great move for Babalj’s European ambitions, but sometimes in football and life one needs to take one step back to take two steps forward. He is only twenty and has plenty of time on his side so if he hits the form he was in before moving to Serbia then there will be chances to return to Europe.
We’ve seen this season the A-League has improved and keeps on improving season by season, so the option for Australians to move back home to the A-League is becoming a great alternative to have if overseas ventures don’t work out.
For Babalj, though, it can be a great move or the wrong move.
What do you think, Roarers?