Behich heading to Turkish league
On the move: Aziz Behich. Photo: Getty Images
MELBOURNE Heart defender Aziz Behich hopes his move to the Turkish Super Lig will help him cement an extraordinary four-year transformation from a teenager whose career looked on the scrapheap to playing in a World Cup in 2014.
Behich was due to fly to Turkey on Tuesday night to join Bursaspor, which won the Turkish championship in 2010. He becomes the latest in the conveyor belt of young talent Heart has sold to overseas clubs.
It's been good for the club's bank balance - it is believed Heart will earn about $400,000 from his sale. But stability comes at a price on the pitch, as the loss of the first-choice left-back, who recently won his first international cap, will weaken Heart ahead of the derby against Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.
The move to Turkey will pit Behich regularly against high-quality opposition and should, if he can establish a first-team place, help him cement his claims to be Holger Osieck's first-choice left-back for the World Cup qualifiers later this year and the competition itself if the Socceroos qualify.
For a young man of Turkish extraction, the chance to play against Galatasaray (Bursaspor's opponent on Saturday), Besiktas and Fenerbahce is, as Behich said on Tuesday afternoon, ''a dream come true''.
''It's what I have wanted to do since I was a little kid, so it is fantastic,'' he said as he farewelled family and friends at his parents' Broadmeadows home. ''It's all come about very quickly. I knew there was interest, but it's all really happened in the last 24 hours.
''It's a good league with some great players and tough opposition, but I will back myself in in any situation. I am really looking forward to it and the chance to improve my game.''
Behich joined Heart in its inaugural season having been thrown a lifeline by its first coach, John van 't Schip.
He had been an attacking midfielder or winger with Melbourne Victory's youth team and had been elevated to the first-team squad by Ernie Merrick, where he was often used off the bench. He came on in the grand final loss to Sydney in 2010 and missed a late chance, and his cards seemed to have been marked by Victory after that.
He was released by the club and playing in the Victorian Premier League when van 't Schip took a chance on him, converting him to a left-back. Behich, now 22, has made remarkable progress since then.
''To make a move to a club that plays Champions League football is a dream come true and I really can't thank Melbourne Heart enough for giving me this opportunity. I will miss the fans and miss being around my old teammates,'' he said.
Heart coach John Aloisi said he was disappointed to lose Behich, but did not want to stand in his way.
''To take Aziz from the state leagues of Victoria to face the likes of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder is something Melbourne Heart can be enormously proud of. It hurts to lose him at this stage of the season but how can you stand in the way of a player fulfilling his dreams?''
Eli Babalj has just returned to the club, his former employer Red Star Belgrade having failed to meet all the financial demands of his transfer.