Margins between success and failure in football are incredibly fine- 1 unsatisfactory season, 1 unsuccessful loan spell, 6 months of poor form or even 90 appalling minutes on the pitch could destroy one's career. On a worldwide scale, the most notable footballers who are well-familiar with this are the likes of Bojan Krkić, Alen Halilović, Anderson, Royston Drenthe, Freddy Adu and so on. One Bulgarian who certainly deserves a mention in this list will be the main character of today's article- Valeri Bojinov.
Valeri Emilov Bojinov was born on 5 February 1986 in Gorna Oryahovitsa, Bulgaria. Valeri started training from a very early age in the youth academies of Maritsa Plovdiv and the renowned Lokomotiv Sofia, which was believed to be one of the high-quality places to learn the ABCs in football in Bulgaria back in those days. However, at the age of 12, Bojinov and his family had to immigrate to Malta, meaning that the youngster needed to find a brand-new club in which he was unknown to everybody. The Maltese first division team Pietà Hotspurs decided to give him a chance in their youth setups. After 2 years spent in the Southern European island, the sports director of US Lecce, Pantaleo Corvino, decided to gamble on Valeri as the Italian side paid around €15 000 for Bojinov’s services. The Bulgarian settled in the relatively small city whilst continuing his education there as well. 2 years since his arrival in Italy, the youth coaches, as well as the manager of the team back then, Delio Rossi, decided that Bojinov was ready for a first-team action despite being only 15 years of age. The teenager was fast-tracked into the main squad and started featuring in the starting line-up regularly in the 2002/03, campaign becoming the youngest foreign footballer to make an appearance at Italian's top flight. The breakthrough of the Bulgarian came in season 2004/05, while under the management of Zdeněk Zeman, Bojinov found the back of the net 11 times in 20 matches. The teenager was at the top of his game and seemed one of the hottest football prospects as one of the most popular media outlets, The Guardian, included Valeri next to the likes of Wayne Rooney, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie in a list of ‘world's most wanted young players’ for 2004. His fine form helped him secure a transfer to ACF Fiorentina for an unbelievable sum back in the days- €13M. It is worth mentioning that the sports director who foresaw his potential, Pantaleo Corvino, moved him to his side once again. Even by today’s standards, this is a solid transfer fee, but you could only imagine how staggering this amount of money sound when the most expensive transfers back in those years were somewhere around €35M (excluding the insanity of Florentino Perez who splashed €77.5M on Zinedine Zidane back in 2001). Nevertheless, Bojinov wasn’t able to cement a first-team place during his first season for ‘The Violets’, which led to a season-long loan deal to Juventus, which was in Serie B back in the 2006/07 season. After his return from ‘The Old Lady’, Fiorentina was reluctant to keep him. They managed to find him a new club a month later which saw the Bulgarian arriving in Manchester, and more specifically, the blue side of it. Manchester City purchased Bojinov for just less than €10M, but it should be highlighted ‘The Cityzens’ wasn’t the elite club as we know it now but stayed near the top half of the Premier League table, nonetheless. Once again, sadly, Valeri’s time at his new club didn’t meet the expectations- early knee ligament injury ruled him out of action for 5 months. After his full recovery, he was mostly used in the reserve team. Just when Bojinov was fully fit and ready for participating in the main squad on a regular basis, he suffered an Achilles injury ruling him out for another 6 months. The Bulgarian eventually made his return to Premier League football on 1 March 2009. After that, he played his last 7 games in a Manchester City shirt. Parma Calcio 1913 got their hands on the starlet on a loan deal with an optional future fee. He had a decent campaign in Serie A scoring on 8 occasions in 30 matches. On 4 July 2010, Parma made Bojinov’s transfer a permanent one, in hope of finding the ‘Hristo Stoichkov’ in him. It wasn’t long until they realised that was never on the cards- in the next season, he participated in 1 more game than the previous one but scored five fewer goals, and his overall performances were much worse. Parting companies with the Bulgarian was inevitable. Valeri put pen to paper on a five-year contract with Sporting Lisbon- the Portuguese side, on the other hand, paid €2.8M to Parma for him. However, a concrete place in the starting line-up wasn’t guaranteed for Bojinov and he had to make the most out of his chances as a substitute. Not only he failed to do that, but also on 20 January 2012, the Bulgarian hit an all-time low in his career - Sporting declared the Bulgarian as a persona non-grata, forbidding the player from entering the stadium or the training facilities. This happened due to the fact Bojinov insisted on taking a crucial penalty despite never taking one for the club nor being the initial taker. He went on to miss from the spot, which resulted in infuriating everyone at the club, including the fanbase. Valeri never wore Sporting colours again with his contract being terminated in 2013. This was the start of his unavoidable decline in form, which saw the long-forgotten wonderkid becoming a ‘journeyman’- for 7 years, the striker changed 10 clubs in various countries including Serbia, Croatia, Switzerland, and China.
An unhealthy lifestyle, lack of determination and serious injuries in the worst time possible are mentioned as some of the reasons for his inability to realise his enormous potential. Nevertheless, many believe that despite being able to write his name in the history books, Bojinov set his priorities differently from the ones of world-class players, which made his downfall inevitable.