x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Valeri Bojinov back to where it all began with Lecce

The Bulgarian has returned to the club where he made history in Serie A back in 2002.

Valeri Bojinov, right, in action for Sporting Lisbon, has rejoined Lecce on loan.
Valeri Bojinov, right, in action for Sporting Lisbon, has rejoined Lecce on loan.

Serse Cosmi, the Leccehead coach, put it rather nicely as he welcomed his club's would-be saviour, scooped up from the embers of the transfer window. "He's got a long career behind him," said Cosmi, in his thick Umbrian accent, "even though he's still very young indeed."

Valeri Bojinov is indeed youthful, a mere 25, though so precocious was he in his middle teens that he seems to have been on the scene of European football for a decade. In fact, it is slightly more.

It was in January 2002 that, aged 15, Bojinov became the youngest non-Italian ever to appear in a Serie A fixture … for Lecce. Even though it would be another two years before his first league goal, at 17 he was still the youngest foreigner in Serie A history to net one.

By then he was becoming widely known as a sort of Eastern European, left-footed Wayne Rooney, a muscular, compact striker with daring skill, and perhaps a latent reckless streak, but a potential star of the future.

The Bulgarian would be sought after far and wide.

Fiorentina beat off a variety of rivals from several different leagues to sign Bojinov, paying €13 million (Dh61.1m) for him when he was still 18.

But in Tuscany, he would have dips of form and the goals arrived less frequently. He dropped down to Serie B for a season, albeit with Juventus.

A luckless spell with Manchester City in the English Premier League followed, marred by long-term injuries, progress stymied by that club's accumulation of other strikers.

Last season, spent in Parma's colours, back in Serie A, would have its frustrations, too.

But a new chapter for the man now being referred to as the "former"' prodigy seemed to have opened when he signed for Sporting, and moved to Lisbon, last summer.

Then, earlier this month, the reckless streak returned.

Sporting banned Bojinov from their stadium and from their training ground after an incident in which he pushed the team's usual penalty taker, Matias Fernandez, out of the way to take - and fluff - a spot-kick during a League Cup tie against Moreirense.

Which is why Bojinov, once the wonder boy of Italy's deep south, has returned, on loan, to the place where he began what was supposed to be a meteoric career in the game.

It might turn out a lucky bonus for Lecce in their fight to stay in the top division, currently three points adrift of safety in the standings.

It might just, as Cosmi hopes, "bring out the best in him, so we can appreciate the great player we all watched here in the past".