The writing on the wall has been there for a while for young Australian striker Eli Babalj in terms of his future at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. Despite an impressive scoring record for Jong AZ, Alkmaar’s reserve team, where he’s even bagged four in a match, Babalj still was unable to earn a shot in the first team.
That writing became a flashing neon sign when during the winter break of the Eredivisie, AZ went to a training camp in Portugal without the healthy Babalj. Soon after the club’s Technical Director Earnie Stewart confirmed to Dutch media that the towering striker was free to find a new club.
“We signed Eli in 2013 because we saw certain qualities in him,” said Stewart.
“But these have not materialised. The difference between the Australian football league and Eredivisie must still be big.”
Approaching his 23rd birthday it is essential for the former Melbourne Heart striker to be establishing himself at a club in a competitive league if he is to fulfill any national team ambitions. Never before has the striking position for the Socceroos been so up for grabs for any forward putting away the goals at a decent level. The problem we face at the moment is that we are suffering from a dearth of in form and healthy strikers so the future of Eli Babalj becomes one of national interest.
So what does he do? I’m sure there would be clubs in Australia who would take a chance on a proven performer at A-League level. There is his hometown club Perth Glory who are performing well in the league. When asked if they were in talks to sign the player, Perth’s media team replied: “We are in discussions with a number of players at the moment.”
Even his old club the newly re-branded Melbourne City could use Babalj for a third time, especially with David Williams set to depart. The Brisbane Roar are in the hunt for a new striker too after paying out import Mensur Kurtiši from his contract.
Another option would be to do what Mark Schwarzer recently suggested and tough it out in Europe. Socceroos midfielder James Holland found himself in an identical situation at AZ until he left for the Austrian league to join FK Austria Wien. He got consistent football, played in the Champions League, won a league title, and was regularly called up to the national team. Given the scarcity of strikers for the Socceroos this would work even more in Babalj’s favour.
The other option could be a move to an Asian league where he could make more money than in Australia with a similar standard of football. The problem here is that it might not improve his chances of national team selection and could be received negatively by the public unless the transfer was to a team in a stronger league, such as K-League or J.League.
Whichever option he chooses it is going to be a big move for a striker that promised so much early on and had Australian fans and media alike pinning their hopes on Babalj as the answer to the Australian striker drought. Now at a pivotal career crossroads, the next eleven days will be telling in the journey of Eli Babalj.