Keegan Jelacic is a 20-year-old midfielder who plays for Perth Glory in the A-League. After a couple of years in Australia’s semi-professional state leagues, Jelecic signed with Perth Glory and had something of a breakout season. Splitting time between the wing and an attacking #8 role, Jelacic registered 2 goals and 4 assists for a not-very-good Perth Glory side. His performances have apparently drawn the interest of Belgian club Gent, a pretty meteoric rise for a player who was playing in the NPL this time last year. So, let’s examine why a club of that size would be interested in him.
Jelacic has a very specific profile that requires a specific role to be successful. He is an attacking #8 who excels at receiving progressive passes in the final 3rd and doing some damage around the edge of the box. He can also pop up in the box for the occasional shot, but he is not a volume shooter.
If you watch a highlights package of Jelacic you will see a lot of impressive-looking dribbles. But the highlights paint a slightly misleading picture. Jelacic certainly attempts a lot of dribbles, and a decent number of them are successful, but his game also includes a lot of running right into opposing defenders and losing the ball.
Jelacic creates a reasonable number of chances for his teammates. Around the edge of the box, he is capable of playing short-range passes in tight spaces that open up defences. However, in deeper areas of the field, he does not offer very much ball progression through passing. He mostly just looks to recycle possession if he is not in a position to create a chance. Jelacic does play on the wing occasionally and as such he is a decent crosser of the ball.
Jelacic puts in a lot of defensive work. He is not a ball-winning midfielder per se, but he presses hard and does win the ball back high up the field fairly often. The highlights package below includes a selection of chances Jelacic was involved in this season. You can see that he creates these chances through the asset we have discussed already, arriving late in the box, pressing up the field, some decent passing in tight spaces, and trying a million dribbles until one of them works.
These moments are all very impressive. But there aren’t quite enough of them. Wyscout credits Jelacic with 0.25 xG+xA/90. He also averaged 0.93 shots and 1.26 shot assists per 90. That’s pretty decent for a #8 but it’s not amazing. We should of course consider that Perth Glory was not very strong in 2022/23, only scoring 36 goals and finishing 9th out of 12 teams. So it’s not like Jelacic was in a totally favourable environment. But offensive production is supposed to be the cornerstone of his game and, at the A-League level, he has only demonstrated the ability to be above average at that.
Now, Gent plays a 3-5-2, which should facilitate the role Jelacic thrives in. They are also a lot better than Perth Glory. It’s possible Jelacic will really shine with stronger teammates, both in absolute terms and relative to the rest of the league. He certainly has the technical skills to do some damage in a dominant team. But I’m not 100% convinced he’s ready for this step yet. There is also the matter of his age. He turns 21 later this year, which is young, but there’s a big difference between 21 and 18. If he is going to make the improvements that will take him from a good to a great player, more progressive passing, higher shot volume, and more reliable dribbling, he is going to have to make them soon. If I were in charge of recruitment for Gent, or a club like them, I would definitely have Jelacic on my list of players to keep an eye on. But I am not sure I would rush out to sign him at this juncture.