Babalj stands tall


Eli Babalj is making it his mission to be known for his talent, not just his potential.

Eli Babalj is by far the youngest player in the top 15 goalscorers in the Hyundai A-League, but having left his teenage years behind him, he wants to be known for his talent rather than his potential.

Babalj reached a milestone last Tuesday, his 20th birthday, but it was the goal he scored against the Central Coast Mariners on Sunday – his sixth of the season – which is of greater significance

It is the second match in row Babalj has scored the winner and his heroics have helped Heart back to winning form and into fifth spot on the table with four matches left.

No-one has been more important in Babalj’s recent development than John van’t Schip and while the Heart coach is happy to see him scoring goals, he also sees areas for improvement, in particularly getting him more involved in the play.

“He has to do more. I told him at half time,” Van ‘t Schip said after the win over the Mariners.

“Eli is a very talented player. But starting a game is different than coming into the game. He showed in the second half, on the right moment to be there.”

He has used his height and long legs to good effect in front of goals this year, but van ‘t Schip sees him as just as crucial in defence, especially in marking defenders who like to get forward, especially at set pieces.

“Defensively, and that’s the most important thing in the game plan, he did very well. We told him to make sure to avoid that Patrick Zwaanswijk to build up and he did that extremely well.”

His coach’s assessment aside, Babalj is a born striker. He possesses a fantastic attacking instinct and crucially, a body which enables him to make the most of his chances.

His two scores in the past two matches against Gold Coast and Central Coast came in contrasting circumstances. Against Gold Coast, he got on the end of fantastic piece of play where Fred crossed for Matt Thompson to cut back and Babalj was there to fire home.

On Sunday, he was forced to scramble for the ball in the box and got his foot to the ball at the right moment, to get it into the net for the winner.

Babalj doesn’t care how he gets them, as long as they go in.

“I want to score more goals,” he said recently. “I’m never happy with the tally I have and I have to work on that and take the chances as they come.”

But while individual achievement is important, the performance of the team, which he recently re-committed to for another year, is paramount.

“If I can score my goals and help the team into the playoffs would be great, but if we get there without scoring goals, that’s more important.”

But Babalj scoring and the Heart winning seem to go hand in hand. He has scored five goals since the start of December, and all five of them have come in matches which the club has claimed three points.

The first of that run came against the Roar in Brisbane on December 9. On that occasion, Babalj was on the end of an inspired combination from Jonatan Germano and Mate Dugandzic which enabled him to volley home.

It was the inspired moment of the Heart’s best ever win in their history, knocking off the defending champions on home soil.

They face the same ask on Friday.

The Roar have won four straight, but Heart have their best side back on the park, which is sure to feature the lanky Bosnian-born striker.

He has the potential to prove the game winner again, but Babalj is not interested in potential. He only wants results.