Lovre Kalinic was, until his Aston Villa career went off the rails, the first choice goalkeeper for Croatia. In the space of nine months, he’s now fourth choice for club, and second choice for country.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @findfoy


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Last January, Aston Villa fans were jubilant at the arrival of Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic from Gent, proudly telling fans of other Sky Bet Championship sides that they’d bagged the new number one of the World Cup Finalists and boasting about having ‘the best goalkeeper in the league’ on Social Media.

Now at least, we know both of those statements to be false.

Lovre had appeared once at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in France in a 2-1 win against Iceland, perhaps as a precursor to his eventual taking on of the mantle, as Danijel Subašić was retiring after the tournament to concentrate on his club career with AS Monaco.

He wasn’t a blind punt by Aston Villa by any means, and the fault of his signing can’t really be placed upon Dean Smith or Jesus Garcia Pitarch. Neither of those men discovered Kalinic initially – the club had tried to sign him under the guidance of Remi Garde and Hendrik Almstadt – which should have said enough to probably warrant a complete u-turn on the transfer itself.

His arrival was to provide competition for Orjan Nyland, who had experienced somewhat of a topsy-turvy time at Villa Park so far with a number of exceptional saves (ones against Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony and an acrobatic number against Preston stand out) that were overshadowed by risky decision making and perilous mistakes. Unfortunately, Orjan ruptured his Achilles a few days into the January transfer window and left Lovre Kalinic to be thrust into the spotlight, with only young Matija Sarkic at the club to provide any form of competition.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Everybody knows the story of Jed Steer’s return, his arrival at half time against West Bromwich Albion, and everything else the goalkeeper went on to do last season. This often overshadows Lovre Kalinic and discussion surrounding the ‘keepers ability seems to be firmly rooted in the ‘he’s bad’ category.

In seven games, Kalinic was scored past twelve times – a bad return for a brand new £7,000,000 goalkeeper and the fabled new number one of the World Cup finalists, Croatia. Three or so of these goals were mistakes, or something similar, based upon the fact that the expected conceded goals (xCG) from these games stood at 9.84. One that jumps to mind is Sharp’s Sheffield United goal which saw the ball kicked out of Kalinic’s hands.

Lovre’s first game came against Wigan Athletic, where he conceded three goals against a side that Aston Villa were expected to beat. This was the same game that Kortney Hause made his debut in, and was ridiculed for a poor performance before he won the hearts of the faithful deputising for Axel Tuanzebe. Other high conceding games include the 3-3 draw against Sheffield United – where some leeway needs to be given to Kalinic – and the 2-2 draw against Hull.

You have to be fair to the man. Before Jed Steer came into the net at half-time against West Bromwich Albion, Kalinic was playing behind a makeshift defence that had been shipping goals all season. Things only started to improve with the return of Tommy Elphick and then the subsequent arrival of Tyrone Mings.

(Illustration by Daniel Hardman, @DanieIHardman)

Over the summer, it was revealed that Lovre Kalinic was feeling homesick and would like to return to Croatia or to Belgium, less than ten months after joining Aston Villa. A number of clubs were said to be interested, with Sampdoria mentioned. There were even murmurs of a potential move to Ligue 1 in a deal that could have seen Valentin Rongier move the opposite way.

It was very much a case of deal or no deal this summer, and unfortunately for Lovre, it ended in no deal. It seems that this could be due to Aston Villa trying to recoup most of their £7,000,000 for the goalkeeper.

Since losing his spot to Jed Steer and recovering from a concussion, and then knee surgery, Kalinic has subsequently lost his place as the starting goalkeeper for Croatia too. The man must think that Aston Villa has some bad juju. Literally, within two months, he has gone from first choice for club and country, to experiencing two injuries and becoming the fourth choice at the club, and second at national level.

It seems from news released today, that Aston Villa are putting the person before the club – which is good news. Rather than having a player wallowing in training, missing his own sides match days to watch Croatian sides instead, or simply suffering with homesickness, Aston Villa are willing to take a hefty loss on Kalinic to ensure he finds a way out of his, albeit short, B6 nightmare.

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