Lovre Kalinić was signed by Aston Villa on the 21st December 2018, ten days prior to the beginning of the transfer window. The speed and coordination at which the deal was finalized this early on, exposed the glaring need for a goalkeeper of quality.
Ørjan Nyland had found life difficult between the sticks since his arrival in the summer and new head coach Dean Smith was keen to amend the teams Achilles’ heel in his first Villa signing.
However, after only eight games for the villans, the keeper was deputized – a position he has since failed to even reach.
What happened to the Croatian shot stopper, why did he lose his place so quickly, and will he ever make another Villa appearance?
Promising signing, captured at last
As mentioned at the beginning, Kalinić was signed more than a week before the transfer period had even begun, however, this was not the first time Villa had attempted to bring the player to B6.
In the fateful season of 2015/16, Remi Garde and Tom Fox (Chief executive at the time) had convinced Kalinić on a move to the Midlands. The deal was in advanced stages when the keeper was denied a work permit due to a shortage of international appearances, leaving him at his hometown club, Hajduk Split, for another year.
The 25-year-old goalkeeper was attracting interest from across the continent after performances saw him gain 21 clean sheets, in 41 games all season in Croatia.
The club that eventually signed him in December 2016, were Belgian side K.A.A. Gent – a move that ended the 17-year career Kalinić had endured in his native Croatia.
After a relatively short lived few years in Belgium, Villa finally signed their man. By which point, the fee was far more than the estimated €2 million Villa would have signed him for previously after Kalinić had picked up goalkeeper of the year in Belgium, played consistent Europa league football and became the first choice goalkeeper for the world cup finalists of only six months ago.
On the 5th January 2019, Kalinić made his long-awaited debut for Aston Villa.
Difficult start leads to lack of faith
Kalinić started the FA Cup third round tie against Swansea after a full week of training at Bodymoor Heath.
Despite the reputation he arrived with, only two minutes into his inauguration, he let a low cross spill from his midriff and be bundled into the back of the net.
This early blunder was then followed by two occasions where the 6ft7 frame of the Croat was unable to stop simple shots placed down low by the rampant swans.
In all, a hattrick not to be thought fondly of.
In a full strength team the week after the cup defeat, Villa conceded a further three goals – the week after, two more. In total, within his first trio of games for his new club, Kalinić had conceded eight goals…
Sadly for the once sought after shot stopper, after a nightmare display against Midlands rivals West Brom which saw the keeper (all two meters of him) chipped on his goal line, his time between the sticks was all but over.
In a move to replace the mistakes that were common of Nyland, Kalinić only replicated them.
To this day, he is yet to feature in a starting XI for Villa again.
Kalinić played no part in the first half of the Premier League season in 2019/20 and departed on a short-term loan deal to Toulouse, in January. He played four times and kept one clean sheet before the Covid-19 pandemic halted the French league. He has since returned to Villa and is training with the squad ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Despite most Villa fans having rendered the man a failure, I’m still hesitant about writing the goalkeeper off for good.
At just 30, there is still time to develop for a goalkeeper and given the recent departure of Šarkić, Villa are left with three others in his position, two of whom are still struggling with injury, and Nyland who has had several chances to impress and has repeatedly failed to convince.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that Kalinić is, or will be Smith’s first choice at any point in the coming season, however, I would still hesitate to condemn the £5.5 million signing to a total disaster.
Contrastingly, a move of any sort seems more than likely considering that due to his lack of first team football, he has lost his place as the national teams No. 1 – a position he can only win back with consistent game time.
What future lies ahead for Lovre Kalinić, and does it involve Aston Villa?