Euro Stars: Valter Birsa (Slovenia)

Euro Stars: Valter Birsa (Slovenia)

Publish on 06/06 at 16:35 - G. BOXALL


In our latest series focusing on the 2024 European Championships, we’ll focus on a player from each of the 24 countries participating (except for France). These legends have achieved success with their countries and in Ligue 1, and have helped to make the game in France what it is today: exciting, fast-paced and cosmopolitan.

In the latest instalment of Euro Stars we take a look at former Sochaux and AJ Auxerre winger Valter Birsa. Growing up in Nova Gorica, Slovenia, Birsa began his career playing for local clubs until 2006, when the youngster signed for Ligue 1 side Sochaux.

"I was going through the medical at Dynamo Kiev when I received their offer. I was 18 and there were a lot of great players ahead of me, so I wasn't totally convinced, but Sochaux wanted me in the first team straight away," said Birsa about his signing with the Ligue 1 club. "Then I met the chairman and the coach, who told me they were counting on me. In fact, I went straight to the pre-season training camp. I didn't speak any French, but Perrin and Galtier spoke good English, and the Serbian Tošić was there to help me. And I repeat, for a young player, it's perfect, you start the season with no objectives and no pressure."

Playing against Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Ajax in the Champions League

At Sochaux, Birsa would make 66 appearances and score eight goals from 2006 until 2009, where he would win the Coupe de France in 2007 against Marseille, scoring the winning penalty in the final at the Stade de France. In January 2009, Birsa went on to sign for AJ Auxerre in a loan move, and after 15 appearances made his move permanent. He scored a 23-yard free-kick and his first-ever goal in the UEFA Champions League against AFC Ajax in a Champions League group which included European royalty such as AC Milan and Real Madrid.

"We only won one game against Ajax and lost all the others, but with our heads held high, apart from the last one in Madrid when we won 4-0," said Birsa about his Champions League adventure with Les Diplomates. "In the two games against Milan, we were in the game until the hour mark and we had some good chances on the counter-attack before they opened the scoring. And that was the Milan of Zlatan, Seedorf, Ronaldinho and co. Against Real at home, we lost 1-0 in the 86th minute. We can be proud of ourselves."

Birsa's AC Milan journey

Birsa's career would take him onto new heights, as he switched France for Italy when he joined Genoa in 2011, despite the interest of Premier League sides Liverpool and Fulham. He would spend some time on loan to Torino before moving to giants AC Milan in 2013, where he represented the Rossoneri 15 times and scored two goals.

His international career would kick-off in 2006, scoring his first goal for Slovenia in 2009 against Poland. He scored a long-range effort against the United States at the FIFA 2010 World Cup, which Slovenia ended up drawing 2-2. In total, Birsa earned 90 caps for his national side and scored seven goals, retiring from international football as recently as 2018.