There have been many transfers that have gone wrong, but Bosko Balaban’s transfer to Aston Villa in 2001 must surely go down as one of the worst ever. To examine the extent of this failure we must delve into the Croatian’s career to see how such a tragedy could happen.
Balaban started life with hometown team NK Rijeka and for five years learned his trade there. As a developing talent he scored 31 goals in 97 games overall, but most came in the 1999–2000 season, when he was the top scorer of his team with 15 goals. Inevitability this attracted the attention of some bigger teams in Croatia.
In 2000 he signed for Dinamo Zagreb and continued the goalscoring form that earned him the move. During his first season, became the league’s top scorer with 14 goals in 25 games. Such form attracted clubs from all over Europe, but it was Aston Villa who were the lucky recipients of his signature.
He signed for £5.8 million in 2001, earning £20,000-a-week. He was meant to be the goal scorer that would propel Villa up the Premier League. Expectations were high, but were they fulfilled? Of course not. In what was a disastrous spell at Aston Villa, Balaban managed a magnificent tally of 11 appearances in all competitions, 9 of which were as a substitute. His goalscoring record at Villa is second to none, or in his case just none, that’s right, zero goals in his English football career.
Loaned back to Dinamo Zagreb for the 2002–03 season, he scored 15 times in 24 appearances. But this was not enough to convince his owners to keep him at the club and he was subsequently released from his Villa duties in December 2003, then signing with Club Brugges in Belgium on a free transfer.
The goals came back to Bosko, in 87 games he was back in form with 47 goals. Something of a legend in Bruges he left in 2007 to once again join DInamo Zagreb. He now plays for Panionios in Greece where any memories of his Villa form are long gone as he continues to hit the back of the net on a regular basis.
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