From bad boy to fans’ favourite. Livaja’s incredible transformation with AEK
Eyebrows were raised when AEK Athens loaned unpredictable Croatian forward Marko Livaja from Spanish club Las Palmas. However, the 24 year old, who came to Athens with a bad boy reputation, has flourished into AEK’s leading force in a powerful attacking line.
It’s been a turbulent few years for Marko Livaja. The Croatian is only 24, but he has already played for eight separate teams during his professional career, something which is quite astounding. The fact that Internazionale had Livaja on their books proves that he’s always had talent, however his discipline has been found wanting. Livaja’s inability to control his temperament has resulted in clubs such as Atalanta and Rubin Kazan practically giving him the sack, and it looked as though his potential was going to waste.
Nevertheless, AEK Athens came to the rescue. Hunting for a new forward after Sergio Araujo returned to his parent club, the Athenians opted to give fellow Las Palmas player Livaja a chance in the Greek capital. Given Livaja’s poor scoring record, the majority of fans questioned AEK’s controversial decision to sign the Croatian. Livaja didn’t get off to a great start either, putting in two tepid performances as AEK bowed out of the Champions League qualifiers to CSKA Moscow.
As time wore on, Livaja slowly started to improve. Many were expecting head coach Manolo Jimenez to pack Livaja’s bags before Christmas, but the Spanish manager showed real faith in the Croat. Jimenez has certainly been proven right, with Livaja suddenly transforming himself into a fan favourite. Unlike anything ever seen before, he has become a true team player, showing unquestionable effort on the pitch. In so many tight matches, Livaja can be witnessed tracking back in defence and putting in a real shift for his teammates.
Jimenez has to take huge credit for Livaja’s stunning form. He constantly put Livaja in the starting line-up even when the forward wasn’t performing, refusing to bow down to the critics. The main turning point was Araujo signing for AEK again. The two have formed a deadly strikeforce, and it seems as though they have developed a close relationship. In recent AEK matches, including Sunday’s 2:0 victory against Levadiakos in the Super League, they have ripped opposition defences to shreds.
Livaja has scored some absolutely crucial goals for AEK. Since breaking his scoring duck, he has turned himself into a goal poacher. He netted the match winner against PAOK at OAKA, before saving a thrilling Athens derby with Panathinaikos in the 95th minute. Interestingly, in just four months with AEK, Livaja has taken four assists, the highest amount in his career. He also only needs one more goal to equal his best of seven in a single season.
There’s a feeling that Livaja has finally matured. His superb technical ability is now being matched by brilliant work ethic, making him an extremely dangerous player for opposing teams. In the past, Livaja was a pure liability with his awful attitude, but AEK have molded him into a role model for the Union’s supporters.
With AEK facing a do-or-die Europa League fixture against Austria Vienna on Thursday, AEK’s faithful support are once again looking to Livaja to be their saviour. He started on the bench for the 2:2 home draw against Rijeka, however Jimenez would surely be mad not to put Livaja into the line-up this time. In such a rich vein of form, Livaja could write himself into AEK’s history books.