What’s it like to be a big-money flop? Five players who've been there tell FourFourTwo...
Bosko Balaban (Dinamo Zagreb to Aston Villa, 2001)
Fee: £5.8m (iIn today’s money: £10.6m)
“I had other offers but I chose to join Villa because they offered me twice as much as anybody else,” Bosko Balaban tells FFT some decade-and-a-half after John Gregory signed him. “I thought they must have really wanted me if they were prepared to pay that kind of money.”
The Croatian striker arrived at Villa Park to much fanfare, with compatriot Davor Suker among those tipping him to be a huge success – although there was some cause for concern. Villa’s last big-money import had been Colombian Juan Pablo Angel, who at that stage was struggling to justify his own £9.5m price tag. Still, this time they were determined to be patient. For a while, at least.
“John Gregory told me his plan was to slowly introduce me to Premier League football, step by step. I was fine with that because I was only 22 and there were three other strikers in the squad, so I knew I couldn’t expect to get a lot of playing time right away. Then Mr Gregory left after only a few months, and it all went down the drain quickly after that. The new boss, Graham Taylor, gathered several players and told us that we would no longer be needed.”
With four-and-a-half years left on his contract, Balaban felt he was being forced out having barely been given a chance to show his worth.
“I know I regularly get named on those lists of the worst signings or transfer flops of all time,” Balaban grumbles, “but let me ask you this: whose flop was it, really? Was it mine, or was it Aston Villa’s? I think it was the club’s transfer policy that flopped.
“If you’re a club that throws big money at signings and then doesn’t let them actually play, the jokes should really be at your expense.“
Balaban left Villa after a year, initially returning to Dinamo Zagreb on loan, before joining Club Brugge on a free transfer in 2003. At both clubs, he averaged roughly a goal every other game. Having played just 138 minutes of Premier League football over eight substitute appearances, it’s little wonder he didn’t do the same in England.
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