Nickica Jelavic: Everything You Need To Know About Everton's FA Cup Goal Scorer

Thie piece was written before Everton signed Jalevic from Rangers - but offers a fantastic insight into the player's makeup.
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Thie piece was written before Everton signed Jalevic from Rangers - but offers a fantastic insight into the player's makeup.

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With the capture of Jelavic from Rapid Vienna on August 20th 2010, Rangers completed their biggest signing in eight years. Still, and notwithstanding Jelavic appearing to be nearing his peak at 26, any top club buying the Croatian now is nonetheless still gambling on potential rather than proven quality.

Rangers agreed a fee of £4million with Rapid, making Jelavic the most expensive signing since Mikel Arteta arrived at Ibrox from Barcelona B via PSG for £5.8million in 2002. But having spent big in the 1990s - £12million on Tore Andre Flo, £6.5million on Michael Ball and £5.5million on Andrei Kanchelskis for example – the fee for Jelavic merely emphasises the fact that Rangers have increasingly been latterly operating within straitened circumstances. Indeed, Jelavic doesn’t even feature within Rangers’ top ten most expensive transfer buys all of which were concluded in the club’s golden era between the signing of Paul Gascoigne (1995) and Mikel Arteta(2002).

Nonetheless, the capture of Jelavic still represents a rare recent transfer coup for Rangers.

Indeed, it is my understanding that by rights Jelavic would actually be a Celtic player currently had their Chief Executive Peter Lawell agreed to Neil Lennon’s request that he free-up the funds for the player’s transfer from Austria. Given Jelavic’s impact at Ibrox, (32 goals in 43 appearances). The notoriously hands-on Lawell will doubtless be relieved to see the back of a player deemed crucial to Rangers’ fourth successive title challenge by the man who signed him – Walter Smith. Another keen admirer of the Croatian is Everton’s David Moyes and the Scot apparently now regrets the indecision over Jelavic that paved the way for the striker’s move to Glasgow.

Looking at the player’s record and performances it is easy to see why even an astute judge like David Moyes could be both simultaneously admiring and also unreconciled as to the merits of the player who Everton scouted in Europa League action in 2010.

On the face of it there is much to admire about the 6ft 2in frontman with sound technique and a decent eye for goal. A look through this YouTube goals compilation from 2010/11 tells you all you need to know.

It’s a showcase of the full gamut of the striker’s art: backpost headers and front-post runs, goals from crosses and throughballs, smashed finishes blasted home from an acute angle, opportunist goals. There is even a pair of deadball strikes and an improvised finish or two. Taken together, the collection shows Jelavic to be a gifted all-rounder with a full mastery of the striker’s repertoire. But Jelavic’s greatest strength, his unspectacular proficiency also exposes his most obvious weakness. In an age of super-specialists Nickica Jelavic appears not to boast that one killer attribute - such as explosive pace or a gift for spectacular invention - that might lift him from his current role as a scourge of mediocre defenders in Scotland to the elite echelons of the contemporary game.

As such, the hype surrounding the Croatian is hard to fathom. Jelavic boasts just two goals in 17 appearances for his country and if he goes to this summer’s Euros he will have to improve on his standing as Croatia’s fourth or fifth choice striker behind Eduardo, Olic, Mandzukic and potentially also Mandzukic’s uncapped Wolfsburg teammate Lakic.

At Rangers too the cracks are beginning to appear too and while they obviously wouldn’t actively choose to lose Jelavic’s goals many Rangers fans would reluctantly sacrifice Jelavic in favour of keeping Allan McGregor, an on form Steven Davis or an injury-free Steven Naismith.

Indeed since Naismith, the beating heart of this Rangers side, incurred a serious injury at Aberdeen on October 29th, Rangers have dropped 10 points from a possible 27. While Naismith has been absent Jelavic has weighed in with six goals in nine games: on the face of it a decent return for a player robbed of his greatest creative ally.

However on closer inspection, that recent record isn’t quite so impressive: four of those six goals came from the penalty spot and with Jelavic contributing just one assist in that period (against ICT). Jelavic’s all-round contribution, at a point in the season where Rangers need him most, can and has been questioned within the Rangers dressing room.

Jelavic is often referred to as a targetman in the Scottish media but it is a lazily applied description, based almost solely on the striker’s physique. Jelavic is basically an old fashioned dynamic forward of the kind much-beloved at Rangers but largely out of fashion elsewhere - for a whole host of reasons.

In a world context, think of a Theofanis Gekas, Fernando Llorente, a James Beattie, or at a push a Mario Gomez or Luca Toni type.

In terms of Rangers, think of a roll-call of imposing yet technically adroit centre forwards like Mark Hateley, Duncan Ferguson Marco Negri or the player Jelavic arguably most resembles, his fellow countryman and Rangers’ idol Dado Prso.

Goran Trpevski the former Malmo midfielder turned Balkans-based scout has monitored Jelavic’s career with interest. And while he questions the comparison with Prso, he does suggest that Jelavic’s effectiveness could be limited to either teams that dominate possession against weak opponents like Rangers or lesser lights in the top leagues prepared to play to the centre forward’s strengths.

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