27th January 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
After a decent spell on loan at Sporting Gijon last season, where he produced plenty of glimpses of his extraordinary talent, Alen Halilovic returned to Barcelona hoping to kick on with the Catalan giants.
But despite Halilovic and his agent stating the player's intentions to stay with Barca and fight for a place in the squad, they quickly came to a realisation that with such fierce competition, from the likes of Lionel Messi, Arda Turan, Denis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and countryman Ivan Rakitic for a place, a move away would be best for his development.
Following plenty of consideration, Halilovic chose to join Hamburg for a transfer fee of €5.5 million that included a buyback clause of €10 million for Barca. Upon signing, the Croatian was full of excitement about the challenge that lay ahead, and even decided on taking the number 23, which was previously worn by former Hamburg star, Rafael van der Vaart. "I am delighted and proud to be here. HSV are a big club, Hamburg is a big city, and thus it's a big challenge for me to play here," Halilovic explained to the club's official website.
"I know the No. 23 has a special meaning here. Of course I know Rafael van der Vaart, an outstanding player who set the world on fire at Hamburg. It just feels right."
Unfortunately for the man dubbed the "Balkan Lionel Messi", things just haven't worked out for him at the struggling former giants, with many questioning his attitude, application and character.
Having only made one start, which came against Eintracht Frankfurt and ended in him being substituted at half time, and a further six appearances of the bench, he's found it hugely difficult to find his feet in Germany. Immediately following his early removal vs Frankfurt , to further compound his problems, he was then dropped by Markus Gisdol for the Red Shorts' cup game with third tier side, Halle.
Indeed, the fact he hasn't featured since his dreadful outing vs Frankfurt in October and only played a measly 164 minutes in total aptly evidences how woefully his time at the Volksparkstadion has gone.Â
Unsurprisingly, his agent had been desperately attempting to manufacture a move back to Spain for his wantaway client. Hamburg sporting director, Jens Todt, then added that a possible loan deal is definitely on the cards for the 20-year-old," stating: "Alen wants to play a lot more and he asked us for a change. A loan is feasible."
Halilovic then made some honest, controversial comments about his manager and his time in Hamburg. "I have had a hard time at the HSV. I think this is because the communication with the coach and his staff is very weak," he said.
"I can not run away from the fact of making mistakes. I've certainly had bad days."
There was certainly no shortage of interest in the former Dinamo Zagreb prodigy when news arose of his desire to leave, with the likes of Celta Vigo, Villarreal, Espanyol, Valencia, Leganes, Las Palmas and Sporting Gijon all reportedly interested.
Halilovic knew he'd have to select his next destination very carefully, however, for he couldn't afford to pick another club where his development would be stalled. Picking Quique Setien's expertly coached Las Palmas seems like a terrific move for him, a place where he should be given the attacking freedom to shine and show his capabilities.Â
Now, it's absolutely imperative he kicks on and gets his wavering career back on track during his 18 month loan with Los Amarillos, so he can not only restore some much needed confidence, but also begin to start fulfilling his tremendous potential.
Blessed with all the talent in the world, including a sublime dribbling ability, a brilliant understanding of space and impressive pace, his work with the ball at his feet, however, is undoubtedly the most scintillating aspect of his game. Furthermore, his close control and razor sharp agility, in combination with his crafty changes of pace and underrated strength, see him able to get beyond opponents in a variety of ways. Indeed, his aptitude in 1v1 situations, and the style in which he does so in, definitely resembles the spectacular Messi.
If he's to get anywhere near the level of the little master, though, he'll have to get his head down and work on getting everything from his mindset to his consistentcy to a markedly higher level at Las Palmas.
If he can do so, sooner rather than later, the football world should well and truly be his oyster.Â
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