Babalj: I've Got A Lot To Prove

When Melbourne Heart FC recorded its first win of the season over the Newcastle Jets last month, one man was hailed as the catalyst for a Red and White revival.

When Melbourne Heart FC recorded its first win of the season over the Newcastle Jets last month, one man was hailed as the catalyst for a Red and White revival.

Introduced off the bench, teenage striker Eli Babalj made a significant impression as he provided an assist for the opening match of the contest before providing a key focal point for the Heart attack as the team claimed a 3-0 triumph to kick-start its season.

An Australian Institute of Sport graduate, Babalj has long been earmarked as a future leading light, representing the Joeys and Young Socceroos before making his senior debut last season, where he netted twice before succumbing to injury.

Having now overcome his injury woes, Babalj is fast emerging as a crucial piece of the Heart puzzle, with his height, strength and technical ability making him a difficult proposition for any defence.

However, despite his potential, Babalj remains modest, emphasising he remains at the beginning of his football journey, shirking obvious comparisons to Socceroo legend Mark Viduka.

“My idol is Ronaldo, I grew up watching him, but I try to look at players such as (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic and (Dimitar) Berbatov who have the height and technique I aspire to be like one day, but I-m far from that,” he said.

“Obviously back in the day, Viduka was personally the best Socceroo, but at my age, he was already scoring 20 goals a season.”

Much like his football heroes, Babalj-s strengths lie in his technical ability, with the 19-year-old the living embodiment of the eternal football cliché, ‘good feet for a big man-.

Capable of uncovering space and forging his own scoring opportunities by virtue of his composure under pressure, Babalj is the archetype of the modern striker.

Despite his obvious physical prowess though, Babalj has identified a facet of his game he feels is in need of improving, stating he needs to swiftly improve his strength in the air.

But guided by Heart Assistant Coach and former Socceroo striker Ante Milicic, Babalj has sought to improve his aerial ability, paying early dividends when he scored with his head against the Central Coast Mariners in Gosford.

“To be honest (playing in the air) is my weakest point I guess. I-ve been practicing a lot with Ante (Milicic). Before the Central Coast game, I couldn-t do much shooting because of tightness, I was doing a lot of heading, and it paid off,” he said.

“I feel my strongest points are with the ball, my technical ability and scoring goals. I still have a lot to prove in this league.”

Earmarked as a critical member of the Heart squad by van ‘t Schip earlier in the season, Babalj made his starting debut last weekend, the culmination of a difficult period in his young career as he suffered an injury which saw him sidelined for months.

However, having overcome the setback, Babalj now has his sights on consolidating his place in the Heart squad.

And while he-s targeting a regular berth in the starting eleven, Babalj is grateful for any opportunity he-s given to show his wares.

“Obviously you want to play from the beginning, and you-re able to get into the game when you start,” he said.

“I just want to do well this week and it-s good to be out on the park. If I play 10 minutes, I have to give it my all, if I play from the first minute, it doesn-t change. I-m going to do my main thing and score some goals.

“I know my qualities and what I can do, it-s just a matter of playing longer and getting that match fitness, which I-ve lacked. I-ve played not even 10 games in the space of a year, so it-s just playing as much as I can, and I know if I do, I-ll end up showing (what I-m capable of).”