Red Eli's ready to Star

On the rise ... Red Star Belgrade's Australian import Eli Babalj (Getty Images)

He has been dubbed the heir apparent to Mark Viduka but hulking striker Eli Babalj knows he is only at the foothills of football’s summit.

The Red Star Belgrade recruit – who scored his first goal for his new club in the 3-1 win over Smederevo two weeks ago – was nominated by Socceroos great Stan Lazaridis last month as the man to lead Australia’s attack towards the 2014 FIFA World Cup and fill the vacuum left by the legendary Viduka.

While bashful about the compliments, the uncapped 20-year-old, whose three Serbian Superliga appearances for his new club have all come off the bench, is determined to make his mark in Serbia to further fuel his Socceroos dreams.

"I have always looked up to Stan, especially being a fellow Perth boy, and I was really flattered by what he said," said Babalj.

"He's a Socceroos giant and his backing has just given me that extra bit of motivation and belief."

With his transfer from Melbourne Heart to Red Star only finally ratified in August, Babalj has been on a slow burn for the European giant and admits: 'Things have been alright but they could have been better.

'I was happy to come off the bench and score our third against Smederevo and then help set up our winner (against Javor Ivanjica) in the next match.

'It’s much better now that I can play official games because the hold-up was frustrating.

'The coach who signed me (club legend Robert Prosinecki) resigned also and while I have a good relationship with our new coach (Aleksandar Jankovic) it just made things a little unsettling in the first days here."

Babalj is confident that when the chance to start comes he will seize it with gusto, just as he did in his breakthrough season at Heart.

'I definitely back myself to do that," he said. 'I came here to a lot of expectation. I was the club’s most expensive off-season signing and that obviously brings with it a certain amount of pressure.

'As long as I’m playing I am happy; I will keep pushing and I know in myself that when the opportunity does come my way I won’t waste it.

'I know I can perform at this level. I just want to show what I can do on a regular basis.

'Coming into a new team is always a challenge because you have to get to know your teammates and build up an understanding of the way they play."

With 25 national championships and 24 national cups to the club’s credit to go along with its shining achievement, the 1991 European Cup, Red Star goes into every match with its fans expecting victory, especially against bitter foe Partizan Belgrade.

'The atmosphere is immense at games and it’s really seen as a battle for the title between ourselves and Partizan," he added.

'Even after we lost 3-0 to Spartak (going into the international break), we had our heads down but our fans kept singing and the buzz they create at games has to be seen to be believed."

Red Star currently trails Partizan by two points in second place on the ladder.

Babalj - who has a four-year deal in Belgrade - has represented Australia at under-17 and under-20 level and is being heavily scouted by the Socceroos as coach Holger Osieck widens the net in search of fresh attacking talent, particularly in the light on-going injury problems being suffered by Josh Kennedy.

He is ready to push hard for a call for his country, insisting he is equiped to step in and deliver should Osieck decide to take a punt on his emerging pedigree.

'While I need to be getting regular game time with my club to really push myself forward I am still am confident that I am ready right now if the coach wants to take a look at me for the national team," he said.

'I can do a job up front if the opportunity comes. I would love to be involved, and obviously sooner rather than later, but I know I have a lot of work to do yet to make that a reality."

Source SBS