The Bulgarian attacker turned heads at a very young age but has struggled to find any sense of stability as his captivating career winds to a close
Valeri Bojinov is a name few people outside of Bulgaria would know these days, but rewind just over a decade and the striker was on the cusp of becoming a household name.
Born in Bulgaria, Bojinov was scouted by Italian club Lecce as a 14-year-old and just one year later, he would make his Serie A debut.
The year was 2002 and Bojinov was aged just 15 years and 341 days old, making him the youngest foreign player to ever grace the Italian top-flight – a record that remains to this day.
Across stints with Lecce and Fiorentina, the well-built teenager would prove more than handy in front of goal, scoring 24 league goals until being loaned out to Juventus in 2006.
While today a glamorous transfer, at the time Juve had just been relegated to Serie B for their role in a match-fixing scandal, meaning Bojinov’s move was in some respects a step down.
The player himself didn’t look back, though, and chipped in with a handful of goals as the club claimed the second-division title and sealed a swift return to Serie A.
Bojinov’s next move would however take him away from Italy and to England as Manchester City – then coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson and still looking to establish themselves in the Premier League –, took a gamble on the Bulgarian.
“Our signing of Valeri is another sign of the impact made by Dr Thaksin Shiniwatra and Sven-Goran Eriksson,” City’s chief executive Alistair Mackintosh said at the time.
“Valeri is an exciting young player and a great addition to the squad.”
Much like City themselves at the time, though, Bojinov failed to live up to his potential at the Etihad as injuries crippled his attempts to make it in the Premier League.
In the same month he joined the club, the rising star was struck down for five months after suffering a knee ligament injury just six minutes after making his starting debut against Manchester United.
Missing the entire 2007-08 season, the then 21-year-old was looking sharp in City’s next pre-season only for an Achilles injury in August to again sideline him for six months.
Bojinov would go on to make just 11 Premier League appearances and score one goal for the Citizens before he secured a return to Italy via a season-long loan at Parma.
After a bright start back in Serie A and inheriting his favoured No.86 jersey, Bojinov would hit a brick wall in the form of Hernan Crespo and Amauri, who severely limited his playing minutes across the 2010-11 season.
Fit again and in desperate need of regular game time, he sealed a move to Sporting CP in 2011, where, hungry for goals, he’d implode in dramatic circumstances.
With Sporting awarded an injury-time penalty in a league match against Moreirense and the scores level, Bojinov boldly took the ball off usual taker Matias Fernandez and fail to convert from the spot as both fans and the club itself quickly turned against the seemingly selfish striker.
“In light of the events which took place in the match between Sporting and Moreirense, the board has decided to open disciplinary proceedings against Valeri Bojinov,” a club statement read.
“Until the conclusion of these proceedings, the player is provisionally suspended from all activities and is forbidden from accessing the club’s facilities, whether it be the academy in Alcochete or the Estadio de Alvalade.”
Shunned by his own club, this was a turning point in Bojinov’s career as he desperately searched for an escape route – a theme that would quickly start repeating itself in years to come as he bounced from club to club and country to country.
Initially returning to Italy via stints with Verona and Vicenza, the attacker would then play in his homeland for the first time in 2014 as he signed for Bulgarian club Levski Sofia.
Nine months later, however, Bojinov would again return to Italy with Serie B side Ternana, where he played regularly and scored six goals.
Not content to sit still, a move to Serbia soon followed as he joined Partizan in 2015 and arguably started living up to some of his potential – albeit eight years too late.
Scoring 25 goals across 67 appearances, the Bulgarian international won the Serbian Cup in 2015-16 before also lifting the domestic title the following season.
Once again, Bojinov’s nomadic club life spoiled what was his career-best stint as he accepted a move to second-division Chinese club Meizhou Hakka in March 2017.
After just 13 games in Asia, he’d quickly return to Europe as he signed for Swiss side Lausanne. Here he would make only nine appearances before terminating his contract and moving to Croatian side Rijeka in 2018.
This time, two games would be all Bojinov could muster as he was ultimately forced to return to Bulgaria, this time lining up for Botev Vratsa.
Even back in his homeland, Bojinov has struggled to stay settled, moving mid-season to Levski Sofia, only to return to Botev for the 2019-20 season.
Despite his migratory ways, the goals have still flowed somewhat frequently for Bojinov, who is now 33 and playing for the 15th club in his crazy career – a career that could have gone very differently had he been able to stay fit in Manchester.