From Socceroo to A-League trialist: The stuttering career of Eli Babalj

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Football can be a cruel game some times and Eli Babalj knows that all too well

In December 2012, Eli Babalj scored twice as the Socceroos steamrolled Guam 9-0 at the East Asian Cup.

His first goals for the green and gold in just his second appearance, Babalj looked set for a bright career - but seven years on and a number of hurdles later, the 27-year-old now finds himself trialling with Brisbane Roar after a short stint in India.

Having burst onto the scene with Melbourne Heart in 2011, scoring 11 goals across 35 appearances, the striker sealed a dream European move to Red Star Belgrade in June 2012.

At first, Babalj's dream seemed to be turning into tantalising reality. He made his club debut in a Europa League play-off against Bordeaux before scoring on his first league start.

But the sacking of coach Robert Prosinecki saw Babalj's dream quickly turn into a nightmare with Red Star failing to fully compensate Heart for his transfer and in turn allowing him to return to the A-League.

Back in Australia but with Europe firmly still in his sights, Babalj sealed a move to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar but never got the chance to play for the club with a lingering groin injury hampering his chances of selection.

Though getting some game time out on loan with PEC Zwolle, a return to the A-League was again necessary in 2015 with Adelaide United this time his destination.

After scoring on his club debut in the FFA Cup, Babalj was thrown another banana skin in January 2016 when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

Eli Babalj The season-ending injury saw him mutually terminate his contract with AZ and flee to Belgium where he paid for his own recovery at a renowned rehab clinic previously used by Luka Modric.

Over a year after suffering his injury, Babalj once again linked up with the Reds in February 2017 where he played eight games and scored one goal in the Asian Champions League.

His solid if not spectacular form for United saw Czech club Mlada Boleslav come calling in August 2017 and Babalj finally thought his career was back on track.

“My luck is going to change. I believe in that," Babalj told FTBL at the time. 

"I’ve been persistent. I’ve invested in my body so much. I’ve given everything I can to get back to where I should be.

“I think my luck is turning and I’m very fortunate to be where I am now with this contract.

"It has been a rollercoaster. I don’t like to talk about it. It’s been a long series of unfortunate circumstances but I’m here now."

Babalj's luck however hadn't turned as he made just three appearances off the bench for Mlada Boleslav before departing the club last year.

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From Europe, Babalj then found himself in India with Super League side ATK. Joining the squad as an injury-replacement, his chances were again limited as he played just 44 minutes of football before being released.

Now back in Australia and trialling with Brisbane Roar, the 27-year-old has only played 286 minutes of football over the past three years scoring one goal.

While a trial in Queensland is a long way from the European heights Babalj was dreaming of - hopefully it is the start of a career finally righting itself. 

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