There are few men more capricious, or more interesting, than Slaven Bilic.

Now the head coach of Croatia, who play England in Zagreb tomorrow, this colossus of a man will say almost anything to guarantee a headline - even if it means suggesting, as he did in 2001, that Aston Villa were "lucky" to sign Bosko Balaban.

So when Bilic cheerfully claimed last week that England's performance in the 2006 World Cup was "s**t", it was hard to know if he was being serious or merely trying to score points in a public-relations battle.

To be fair, England were ghastly at the World Cup in Germany, and their performance in drawing 0-0 at home to Macedonia three days ago suggests that they have not improved.

But Bilic is as Bilic does. He was the guy who played a significant role in ensuring that Laurent Blanc, the France defender, was sent off during the 1998 World Cup semi-final.

Croatia lost the match - they defeated Holland in Paris three days later to win third place - but Bilic was universally criticised for feigning injury when Blanc merely pushed him aside inside the penalty area.

The red card meant that Blanc was suspended for the final between France and Brazil. He has not forgiven Bilic.

Not that Bilic cares. He is wealthy enough not to care about anything. He is probably the only man on earth who can praise Balaban and get away with it.

Ah, yes, Bosko Balaban - remember him? He signed for Villa from Dinamo Zagreb for £6.5 million in August 2001 and, in a three-year career at Villa Park, did not start a single Premiership match and never came close to looking like a footballer.

Balaban was living proof of John Gregory's failings as Villa's manager. Neither Graham Taylor nor David O'Leary gave Balaban a chance and striker, who was a part of the Croatia squad at the 2002 World Cup, disappeared off the radar.

Balaban is a part of the Croatia squad to face England tomorrow and he is certainly a better player now than he was five years ago. Rehabilitated, he has flourished with Club Bruges KV of Belgium and has now scored nine goals in 29 appearances for Croatia.

Bilic has restored Balaban to the squad after the player, along with Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic, was fined for leaving a training camp in Slovenia last month and going to a nightclub. Bilic is a forgiving man.

I remember him from his days with Everton, when I was working for the Liverpool Echo. He is good company and not what one might describe as a diplomat. In this era of sanitised football news and one-dimensional characters, Bilic stands out as being three-dimensional.

Five years ago, when I asked him to discuss Balaban's move to Villa for a piece I was writing in The Birmingham Post, he was obliging and, alas, so off the mark it was embarrassing.

"Like most Croatians, he [Balaban] has tremendous mental strength to deal with living abroad and, of course, dealing with the Premiership," Bilic said.

"He will find that life at Aston Villa, and this game, against Liverpool, is great for him. He has a lot of ability and I have no doubt that he could become as good if not a better finisher than Davor Suker [Croatia's most distinguished player].

"I would say that Bosko [is] the only player guaranteed a game for Croatia these days, which sums up [his] ability.

"Bosko scored a hat-trick for Croatia against Latvia a few months ago and, because of that and his ability, he has become a big hero here.

"He is a class act. I know that a lot of clubs were after Bosko, so Aston Villa were really lucky to sign him. I hope they make the most of his talents. The problem is that he won't get two years to prove himself - he'll have to be successful immediately."

The final paragraph is rich in significance. Balaban was not successful immediately and, even now, is deemed to be the worst signing made in Villa's history.

Even Doug Ellis, the former Villa chairman, said that "Bosko Balaban never looked like a footballer", but a player who can score a goal every three matches at international level must have some ability.

Balaban has now been involved in two World Cup tournaments (admittedly as an unused substitute in six matches) and he might still embarrass England in Zagreb tomorrow night.

If he does, it will be interesting to know what John Gregory, now the manager of Queens Park Rangers, thinks of it all. We already know what Slaven Bilic thinks of it all.

But we can be sure that Villa were not "lucky" to sign Bosko Balaban.