We’ve seen a lot of players who’ve shown immense potential at the age of 20 or so. Others manage to impress even earlier, but there aren’t many that are capable of playing at the top at the age of 16.
Well, today’s article will be dedicated to a boy that fascinated the soccer world at exactly that age. Many experts and fans believed he would become one of the best strikers out there. This boy was Valeri Bojinov.
Some of the younger readers might have issues recognizing this name, as the Bulgarian reached his peak in the middle of the last decade. Bojinov has been in a steady decline ever since, switching clubs all the time.
At the age of 32, he recently signed with Botev Vratsa, an unknown club from the Bulgarian elite soccer league. Quite the downfall for a man who once was part of teams like Fiorentina, Juventus, and Manchester City.
But let’s take a deeper look at the story of Valeri Bojinov and try to figure out how such an incredible talent reached rock bottom.
Early Rise in Lecce
Soccer runs deep in Bojinov’s family, as his mother was part of the Bulgarian national women’s team, while his stepfather also represented the country in the 1990s.
The family of the boy moved to Malta when he was only 12. There, Bojinov started playing for one of the local teams. The youngster was way better than the boys at his age, which drew the attention of Lecce’s executive Pantaleo Corvino.
The Italian was extremely impressed by Valeri and instantly signed him. The lad moved to Lecce, where he became part of the club’s youth academy.
Despite his early age, Bojinov quickly earned quite the reputation.
Bojinov earned a spot in the senior team for the first time in 2002. Bojinov made his debut in the Italian Serie A in January at the age of 15 years and 11 months. This achievement made him the youngest non-Italian player to ever feature in the competition.
Another record was broken when Bojinov scored his first goal in the league about two years later. The Bulgarian became the youngest foreign scorer in the tournament.
It’s curious that the striker could’ve done that even earlier, but Lecce played in the Serie B during the previous campaign, where Bojinov also managed to find the net a couple of times.
His early rise instantly attracted the attention of various clubs from all over Europe, and it was only a matter of time before someone came knocking at Lecce’s door.
The exceptional start of the next campaign raised the stock of the Bulgarian prodigy even further. He managed to find the net 11 times in 20 appearances. His efficiency was remarkable at such a young age, but the variety of his goals was equally impressive.
Bojinov was capable of scoring all kinds of goals. He wasn’t shy about using his feet or his head, scoring from inside the box, or scoring with long-range efforts. Even forwards at their peak are rarely as complex as the Bulgarian.
I would say that his talents were comparable to another name from our list of ruined talents, the “Brazilian Emperor” Adriano. Both were almost unstoppable at their best.
The only natural path for Bojinov at this point was to go to a stronger team, and this is exactly what happened. Fiorentina signed the Bulgarian in the middle of the 2004-2005 campaign. The transfer fee of circa €13 million was a testimony to the quality of the youngster.
That might not be impressive from today’s perspective, but back in the day, you could buy established players in their prime for that kind of cash.
First Struggles and Move to England
Everyone thought Bojinov would excel in Fiorentina and hit the next level. However, he didn’t have the brightest start there. He played in nine games and scored two goals in 2004-2005, but it was still early days, and the hopes were that the player would improve.
That barely happened during the next campaign, as Bojinov scored six goals in 27 games in Serie A and added another two in the other competition. While such a return was somewhat respectable, it was nowhere near what Fiorentina hoped for.
This is the reason why the club decided to loan Bojinov to Juventus. The new team of the Bulgarian had just been relegated to Serie B as a result of the Calciopoli scandal of 2006. In a way, playing in the lower tier, alongside experienced guys like Del Piero and Nedved, was a good thing.
Bojinov had the chance to learn from the best and regain his confidence, but he didn’t take advantage of that.
The Bulgarian once again underperformed, and the next move of his career was to join Manchester City at the start of the 2007-2008 season.
At the time, the player was still only 21, so many believed that the past couple of seasons were only a temporary delay of his rise to stardom.
Injuries and Downfall
Unfortunately for the young Bulgarian and his new club, Lady Luck had other plans for the player. Almost immediately after joining Manchester City, Bojinov suffered the first major injury of his career. His ruptured his cruciate ligament and was ruled out for 6 months or so.
The striker returned to training in February 2008 and was expected to feature again during this season. However, Manchester City didn’t want to risk the youngster. Bojinov was given the time to rebuild his fitness by working hard on the training ground and playing for the reserves.
The big goal was for the Bulgarian to be completely fit for the next campaign. For that purpose, Bojinov was part of the pre-season preparations of the first squad and even went to Manchester City’s Asia tour.
The player was set to restart his career, and there were some promising signs in the summer. Bojinov scored in the friendlies against Stockport and AC Milan, which brought some hope to the supporters, the new manager Mark Hughes, and the man himself.
Unfortunately, the 2008-2009 season had barely started when Valeri Bojinov was injured again, this time rupturing his Achilles tendon. This ruined a second successive season for the striker.
Bojinov was at least able to return to action before the end of the campaign this time around and even managed to score some goals. Despite that, Manchester City was hardly the best club for Bojinov at this point of his career.
The organization had just been bought by Sheikh Mansour, and the new owner started pouring money. The status of the club had changed, so Bojinov would hardly receive the playing time required to regain his fitness and his confidence.
A loan move in his last season seemed like the smart option for both sides. This is why Bojinov decided to return to Italy and join Parma on a season-long loan for the 2009-2010 campaign.
It was hardly the best season of his career, but the Bulgarian still managed to stay injury-free. He played 31 games and scored 8 goals, which was not a bad way to restart his career. Bojinov’s performance was solid enough to earn him a permanent move to Parma.
Unfortunately, this was the last time the Bulgarian looked set to fulfill his potential. It all went downhill from there, as Bojinov became the typical journeyman.
The striker struggled to beat the competition for a starting spot in 2010-2011 and had a difficult season. Parma decided to sell him to Portugal, so Bojinov joined Sporting. Things didn’t go his way there, either, and the player got involved in one of the most shameful moments of his career.
Bojinov was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His team was drawing 1-1 in the cup against Moreirense but received a penalty in the injury time.
The regular penalty taker, Matias Fernandez, was about to perform his duties when the Bulgarian shoved him and took the penalty instead.
His actions were bad enough already, but the fact that Bojinov actually missed the opportunity to find the net made it even worse. The supporters were absolutely furious, and this was basically the end of his Sporting career. The club started with a punishment and then loaned the player a couple of times.
He then played for various teams, including a couple of loans in Italy, a return to Bulgaria in Levski Sofia, more time in Italy, followed by transfers in Partizan, the Chinese Meizhou Hakka, Lausanne, and Rijeka.
The only season worth mentioning is the 2015-2016 campaign when Bojinov actually scored 18 goals for Partizan. This was the last time we saw glimpses of the man once labeled as a wonder kid. Lately, the man is more popular in his native country with his Instagram post and has become a symbol of failure.
The latest move saw Bojinov sign with Botev Vratsa, a team that just won a promotion to the Bulgarian elite soccer division. He will join his stepfather there in the hope of actually playing some soccer once again.
It’s ridiculous that Bojinov is only 32 and could’ve been at the end of his peak right now. It’s a sad career that should’ve seen him become one of the top strikers in the world.
What Went Wrong for Bojinov?
The big question is how did this happen? How did one of the most promising young players of the past two decades end up as a journeyman that will leave no legacy besides a couple of jokes and what-ifs?
Unlike other wasted talents, I believe there is no one single factor that could be blamed for the downfall of Valeri Bojinov. There are a couple of reasons that contributed to his failure.
The Early Hype Got Him
When people are talking about you as the next big soccer star when you’re only 17 or 18 years of age, it’s hard to keep a cool head. I think Bojinov bought his own hype early in his career. The youngster believed he was destined for big things and stopped working hard.
This inevitably led to his decline as the expectations kept rising. As soon as he joined Fiorentina, his price tag and the ambitions of his new club meant that Bojinov was required to do much more compared to his time in Lecce.
The lack of progress meant that the Bulgarian was unable to live up to the hype, and this led to his transfer to Manchester City.
Injuries Didn’t Help, Either
Another big problem was that Bojinov was hit by two tough injuries just as he was trying to get back on track. The Bulgarian basically lost two full seasons when he was in his early 20s.
Such a blow would be critical for any player out there, so this certainly affected his career as well.
He lost a lot of time in a critical moment of his career. His body was still developing, as well as his skills. We’ve seen many players that were never the same after such injuries.
And yet, you can’t blame it all on the health issues Bojinov had. Ever since recovering from the ruptured Achilles tendon, he has been relatively fit and suffered only a couple of minor injuries that barely prevented him from playing.
In the past couple of years, Valeri Bojinov has become famous for his lifestyle. The player is always surrounded by beautiful women, doesn’t shy from sharing all kinds of stuff on social media, and generally speaking, I’m not quite sure if soccer is his top priority.
We’ve seen this time and time again with players from the Balkans. They simply can’t handle fame and fortune. Once they reach stardom, the sport and the hard work required to be a top pro seems too exhausting for them.
Unfortunately, Bojinov is one of the many who fell in this trap. The results are clear, as the once-promising striker will play in a club no one has ever heard of after starting his career in clubs like Fiorentina, Juventus, and Manchester City.
The story of Valeri Bojinov is a sad one and a good example that talent is not enough to succeed at the top level. Maybe that wasn’t the case in the early days of soccer, but the modern days require hard work, focus, and determination to succeed.
Losing your hunger and hitting some bad luck could ruin your career, even if you are one of the brightest talents of your generation.
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