Welcome to Reading, Alen Halilovic. The 25-year-old Croatian playmaker has joined the Royals on a free transfer, becoming the third signing of the summer. He’s agreed a one-year contract.
Capable of playing out wide and through the middle, Halilovic should provide some more creativity going forward. His arrival follows the loan addition of Tom Dele-Bashiru from Watford and free transfer of former Cardiff City winger Junior Hoilett. Put all those signings together and Reading finally look like having some real depth and options in attacking midfield positions - both centrally and on the flanks.
Pauno said of the signing:
“Creativity in any team is vital and Alen is a clever attacking midfielder with vision and an abundance of talent. Even though he has only just turned 25, importantly he has Championship experience on his CV and he has played professionally across Europe and for his country, Croatia. I am very pleased we have been able to bring Alen to the club and I look forward to working with him on the training pitch.”
Like TDB and Hoilett, Halilovic has experience of Championship football. He spent all of last season with Birmingham City, playing a total of 17 times in the league and scoring once. That spell ended with the Blues offering Halilovic a new deal, but he spoke openly a few weeks ago about wanting to take his time over deciding where his future lay.
Unlike TDB and Hoilett who’ve both played senior football exclusively in England, Halilovic’s career has taken him across the continent - but it’s not for a good reason. Despite beginning his career in 2012 as a seemingly special talent, he’s struggled to repay that promise with real success in any of the seven countries where he’s played.
Halilovic was dubbed “The Croatian Messi” after coming through at Dinamo Zagreb, where he made his debut aged just 16. That prompted a move to Barcelona when he was 17 but he never made the grade there before leaving in 2016, after a loan spell at Sporting Gijon.
Permanent stays at Hamburg (2016-18) and AC Milan (2018-20) followed, including loans at Las Palmas, Standard Liege and Heerenveen, before his contract was cancelled by mutual consent in October 2020. At the end of the following month he moved to Birmingham City on a short-term contract.
It’s the story of someone who, once feted as a prodigious talent, never realised that potential and has been looking to resurrect his career at a diverse range of clubs ever since. Croatian journalist Aleksandar Holiga explained in this piece from First Time Finish that Halilovic’s development was handled poorly by Dinamo Zagreb:
“In this case, they just went too far. He was far from ready when he started playing for them, he was just a kid.”
The whole piece is an excellent in-depth write-up of Halilovic’s career. You can find it here.
Without doubt Reading have got themselves a talented player, but translating that talent into consistent performances is another matter. We will probably have to be patient with him - Halilovic is unlikely to make an immediate impact - but I’m looking forward to seeing how he does over the coming campaign.