|By KIERAN FRANCIS
Australia international striker Eli Babalj has sealed a return to Melbourne Heart, signing until the end of the 2013-2014 A-League season.
The 20-year-old signed for Red Star Belgrade in June, having finished top-scorer for Heart last A-League season with nine goals.
But he struggled for first-team opportunities and the Serbian giants have failed to pay the whole transfer fee agreed, allowing Heart to recall centre-forward.
Babalj signed for Heart in their inaugural season as a 17-year-old and coach John Aloisi was excited to have the talented youngster back on board.
"It's great to have Eli back; his contribution last season was outstanding and his hunger to do well and succeed is second to none," Aloisi said.
"He might be available for this Saturday's match against the [Western Sydney] Wanderers, but if not, he will still give us a huge boost for the rest of the season."
Heart chief executive officer Scott Munn praised Red Star for their conduct and echoed Aloisi's sentiments.
"The club thanks Red Star for its cooperation in this matter," he said.
"While it is unfortunate that Eli's foray into professional football in Serbia did not work out, we look forward to seeing him back in the red and white of Melbourne Heart again."
Babalj requires an international clearance to be processed before playing for Heart and the club will hope it will be granted before their clash against the Wanderers.
Munn also announced Heart will be fielding a team in Football Federation Victoria's State League Division Two North-West competition.
Using Epping Stadium as their base, the Heart side will be subject to promotion and relegation and will predominantly draw on players from their youth team squad.
"Our admission into FFV competition reinforces the club's pledge to invest in creating genuine opportunities for talented young players to break into the A-League," Munn said.
"Continuity is of paramount importance in player development. This initiative affords the club's coaches the opportunity to train and develop players for 12 months of the year based on the same principles.
"The club has opted to enter at a lower level to ensure it earns the right to compete at the top level in the state. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meaningfully engage with the heart and soul of grassroots football in Victoria where it means the most - on the playing field."