Alen Halilovic has been trying his hand at the second English division at Birmingham City since the end of November. From a gifted man who seemed to have the world at his feet.
Alen Halilovic was already so good at 14 that the biggest clubs in Europe were scrambling for his commitment. When he was only 16, he played with Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League and for Croatia’s senior team – and almost moved to Spain back then.
His father Sejad, who once played international matches for Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and played for Real Valladolid in LaLiga, had already arranged everything for his offspring to move to Atletico Madrid. “They were on their way there,” recalls Dinamos’ then CEO Zdravko Mamic aloud Guardian.
He intervened, preventing the transfer in the Spanish capital at the last second. “I stopped the family right in front of the customs office on the Croatian border and persuaded them to stay.”
So Halilovic was allowed to stay a little longer in his homeland and develop a little more calmly in Zagreb. The expectations, but they have always felt overwhelming. “I know how arrogant that sounds: but if there ever was a Messi-type player, it is him,” said Zagreb sporting director Zoran Mamic in 2012 Canal+ – and certainly also had in mind to push the fee for his jewel as high as possible.
Halilovic: Once he was the “Croatian Messi”
A good eight years later, Halilovic can’t buy anything for all the laurels from back then. When he finally made the move to a top club in 2014 at the age of 18 and signed with FC Barcelona, there was hardly an article in which he was not named “Croatian Messi” or “Next Messi”.
The first two or three years after moving to Camp Nou in particular were “really difficult,” Halilovic was quoted by the Birmingham Mail in early December. Two weeks earlier he had signed with the English second division club Birmingham City after some time without a club. There the now 24-year-old playmaker finally wants to take the umpteenth chance to get his career going.
“Barcelona had an extremely strong team back then,” Halilovic tries today to explain his failure at Barca. “Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi – it was really tough to get chances. They won everything in my first year there.”
Alen Halilovic: HSV “my biggest mistake”
An appearance in the cup in his first season should remain his only one for Barcelona’s first team to this day. It is well known that Halilovic embarked on an ongoing odyssey in 2015. His “biggest mistake” was the move to Hamburger SV in summer 2016.
Bruno Labbadia, who brought him to the Elbe, was released after a few weeks, and Halilovic no longer played a role in his successor, Markus Gisdol. “He told me that he had no use for me,” recalls the ten-time Croatian international.
Things then went well at Las Palmas, at least at times, but neither there nor at AC Milan, at Standard Liège or in Heerenveen was it enough for a final breakthrough. However, Halilovic never gave up hope of a great career – and a year ago he took Luka Modric, a famous compatriot, as a role model. “He didn’t leave Dinamo Zagreb until he was 23 and had difficulties at Tottenham at first. I think I can still be as good as him.”
In Birmingham he now wants to finally take the first step in this direction. “I made mistakes,” he admits. “When you’re young, you aren’t that patient and you get mad if you don’t play a game or two. But I think I’ve learned a lot over the last year.”
Alen Halilovic wants to know again at Birmingham City
Although his contract initially only runs until the end of the season, Halilovic wants to settle in the metropolis in the heart of England, at least in the medium term, to bring constancy into his career. “I don’t want to keep moving,” he emphasizes. “First of all, I want to prove to myself that I can play good football at the top level. And then I want to show it to all the people who didn’t believe in me or who don’t believe in me now.”
Some experts see the fact that Birmingham has a Spanish coach in Aitor Karanka as a positive indication that Halilovic could actually be in good hands with the championship club. So far he has only been on four short assignments – but hope is alive.