WHEN Partizan Belgrade forward Mateja Kezman signed for PSV Eindhoven last year, many claimed the reported œ10million fee was toohigh for a 21-year-old.

Yet a similar sum would be necessary to buy 24-year-old Red Star Belgrade striker Goran Drulic.

Drulic, who joined Red Star’s youth sections at the age of 15, first attracted attention when he scored 51 goals in one season for the club’s under-18 side.

By March 1996, when he was still not quite 19, the robust centre-forward had made his first-team debut, but it was not until he had spent time farmed out to a number of other clubs, including a short spell at Barcelona B, that he earned a regular place in the Red Star starting line-up.

Today, he is among the most important players at the club and has also broken into the national team set-up. Yet there have been a number of setbacks along the way. Drulic has been sent off no fewer than three times, all of them during key games – against Germinal Ekeren and Metz in European ties, and against Partizan in the Belgrade derby – and on each occasion Red Star have gone on to lose.

Then there was the bad knee injury he sustained in August 1999, which put him out of action for almost a whole season. But, after a long rehabilitation, he made his comeback just in time to help Red Star to their 2000 League-Cup double triumph.

Drulic has proved his quality this season by scoring six goals in just four UEFA Cup ties, including all four against Celta Vigo, to live up to the tag of ‘the Serbian Christian Vieri’.

The centre-forward may lack pace, and his workrate when the opposition have the ball needs improvement, but there are plenty of strong points too. These include a powerful right-foot shot and a healthy appetite for team-work.

“Born goal-getters like Drulic often forget about collective play,” says Red Star coach Slavoljub Muslin. “Goran is an exception. His biggest shortcoming is that he doesn’t decide more often to finish alone.”

Muslin’s point is amply demonstrated byDrulic’s far from prolific scoring record of 28 League goals in three seasons, a tally that hardly marks him out for success in one of Europe’s stronger leagues.

But Drulic certainly does not lack ambition, saying that what he has achieved so far is only a fraction of what he wants from his career as a whole.

Club Red Star Belgrade
Country Yugoslavia
Born April 17, 1977, in Negotin
Previous club Hajduk Veljko Negotin
International debut November 2000, v Romania
International caps 4 (0 goals)
Honours YugoslavLeague 2000; Yugoslav Cup 1999, 2000