From the “New Viduka” to released from Thailand’s 2nd division, the downfall of Eli Babalj.

By Sha Nen

It seems like almost every few years in world football a player is being dubbed “the next Messi” or “the next Ronaldo” and Australia has been no different, labeling players as “The next Kewell” regularly. 

But you rarely find players being compared to Mark Viduka. 

A big player in more than one way, Viduka was a presence on the field and in the box, who knew his way to goal and had a successful career in Europe and for the Socceroos , captaining his country at the 2006 world cup. 

With over 200 goals in an illustrious career, many football fans and pundits tongues were wagging when Eli Babalj broke on to the scene, tipped to be the next Viduka. 

At the start of his career, it looked to be promising for Babalj who broke into Melbourne hearts first team at 17 and had two great seasons before moving to Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade. 

Eli Babalj after scoring on his debut for Red star Belgrade

The move looked to have paid off at first, with Babalj scoring on debut, And breaking into the Socceroos squad for the 2013 EAFF Cup, scoring 2 goals in 2 games. 

But sadly Babalj’s bright start in football turned to a career full of broken promises and injuries. 

After Red Star decided to not pay the rest of the fee (Rumoured to be around 750,000 AUD) that they had agreed with Melbourne Heart, Babalj returned to the A League side in 2013, but failed to re capture his previous form, scoring just once in nine appearances. 

In 2014 Dutch side AZ Alkmaar took a gamble and signed Bablj for a fee believed to be around 200,000 AUD, But his Alkmaar 

career was almost dead before it had started, when he suffered a serious back injury, which made him unavailable for over 30 matches for the Dutch side. 

After an unsuccessful loan move to fellow Dutch side PEC Zwolle, the talented striker became Gui Amor’s first signing for A League side Adelaide United. 

Babalj with Adelaide United

After a strong start, including a goal on debut in the FFA Cup, Eli Babalj suffered another serious injury, rupturing his ACL, which kept him out of the game for 6 months. 

Since then, Babalj has struggled to find both form and fitness, bouncing around with short and unsuccessful stints in Australia, Czech Republic and India, before his most recent failed stint in the Thai second division for Chainat Hornbill, where he managed just one goal in nine appearances for the club. 

It’s been nearly two years since Babalj has had a professional contract, and with just 4 goals since 2013, The career of the man who was once dubbed “the new Viduka” looks a far cry from the career of the former Australian Captain’s. 

There is no doubt about Babalj’s potential and at still only 28 years old, a move to an NPL club could be just the move that kicks his career back into life in 2021, and beyond.

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