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How Alen Halilovic went from the ‘Croatian Lionel Messi’ to European journeyman

Another case of football wunderkind turned journeyman before the age of 23

Not many youngsters are signed by Barcelona before they turn 17.

If the footballing wizards at the Camp Nou are determing to secure your services before your allowed to drive in most countries it normally preludes a long and glamorous career.

But it doesn’t always turn out like that, just ask Alen Halilovic.

Fine, he looks like Messi in a Barca kit

Fine, he looks like Messi in a Barca kit

The Croatian youngster was tipped to become the next Balkan superstar.

He was shuttled into the Dinamo Zagreb first team at 16 and instantly became a record breaker and national poster boy.

Making a debut in the ‘Eternal Derby’ between Zagreb and Hajduk Split he became the youngest debutant in Zagreb’s history.

The records continued to tumble as he became the league’s youngest ever scorer, Zagreb’s youngest Champions League player and the second youngest player in the history of the competition.

He also made his debut for the Croatia national team that year alongside Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in a friendly against Portugal.

The floor is being mugged by Halilovic

The floor is being mugged by Halilovic

All the big clubs were circling but Zagreb managed to hold onto their young diamond for another season before the lure of Barcelona eventually became too much.

His god-given talent to dribble, swerve and shoot ticked all the boxes for a shot at making it at the Camp Nou.

As for Halilovic himself, a chance to fulfil his potential as the ‘Croatian Lionel Messi’ at the Spanish church of football the Argentine calls home was a magnetic pull too strong to resist.

Far from the finished article at such a tender age, the move wasn’t supposed to be directly into the first team but to spend time under the tutelage of the vast minds in Catalunya.

In terms of polishing a gem, there aren’t many better finishing schools than Barcelona.

Halilovic appeared to have the world at his feet; 16 years old playing for Barcelona and already boasting a senior international cap.

The idea was to gradually progress from the Barcelona B team into the first team, unfortunately things didn’t quite work out like that.

After 30 appearances for the B team and just a solitary game for the senior side Halilovic realised he needed to look elswhere for regular first team football.

A loan move to Sporting Gijon allowed Halilovic time to breathe and focus on his exciting game –  he was at his most productive since leaving Zagreb at Gijon with five goals and five assists to help them avoid relegation.

But it wouldn’t be enough to convince those in Barcelona and he finally gave up his Camp Nou dream for a permanent switch to Hamburg in 2016.

Have you ever seen a club sponsor itself before?

Have you ever seen a club sponsor itself before?

The kid who had been tipped to take Messi’s crown was on his way out of Barclona just two years after arriving.

However, it was hoped that time in the Bundesliga with Hamburg would give him space away from the harsh lights of Barcelona to gain experience and fill out his boots.

Once again, the move looked like a false dawn for the young Croat.

Less than six months into his time in Germany Halilovic was desperate for a return to Spain and the club granted him a loan move to Las Palmas.

Having fallen out of the team at Hamburg it was yet another chance to prove what he could when he was given regular first team football.

Once again Halilovic flattered to deceive, clearly possessing all the talent to be a devastating impact on the pitch, he was unable to put it all together in the right order at the right time.

We bet you didn’t expect to see him in an AC Milan kit after all that

We bet you didn’t expect to see him in an AC Milan kit after all that

And so we come to the latest chapter in Halilovic’s magical mystery tour from revered wunderkind to European journeyman before the age of 23.

In July 2018 Halilovic joined AC Milan on a free transfer for a potential three years.

It was the summer Croatia reached the World Cup final and there are many who would have thought Halilovic would be a central cog of the national team by now, but his lack of progress at club level meant he missed out on the football carnival.

Suits you sir

Suits you sir

Worry not Alen you have a chance to cement your name as a star at the San Siro.

Anyone care to hazard a guess how it turned out for Halilovic in Italy?

With a loan move to Standard Liege in January this year of course.

Still only 22, there is still so much time for Halilovic to recapture the promise he showed early in his career and the reach the dizzying heights he was tipped to on his arrival at the Camp Nou.