Jovan Mijatović | The Boy from Belgrade 


After New York City FC announced the transfer of Jovan Mijatović, we asked Serbian football expert Kristijan Plazonja for the lowdown on our newest recruit.

In Serbia, he is popularly known as ‘Beckham’, a nickname he received from a youth coach based on a haircut and some skills, however, New York City FC fans will quickly realize his style of play is more similar to that of another Man United legend - Wayne Rooney. 

The Boy from Belgrade 

Jovan Mijatović is his name. Just 18 years old and coming off one of the most dominant stretches Serbian domestic football has seen from any youngster. 9 goals and 2 assists in 19 appearances during the opening half of the season. Even more impressive when broken down into goal contributions (goals + assists) per 90 minutes: 1.3.

But before we get into what it is that makes Jovan Mijatović special, we must start at the beginning. Jovan grew up around athletes. His grandfather was a talented footballer that had to cut his career short because of a knee-injury, while his mother played handball for Red Star Belgrade, and his father was a volleyball player.

As a 9-year-old, Mijatović got the chance to join the club he’d grew up supporting and he hasn’t looked back since. He meticulously worked his way through the youth ranks and after a good showing with Serbia at the U17 European Championship - where the team reached the semi-finals - he got his chance in pro-football just after turning 17.

It wasn’t at Red Star, however, but at their B-team Grafičar. With 5 goals in his first 8 appearances and a goalscoring rate of 0.95 per 90 minutes, Mijatović quickly earned a level-up in his career and was promoted to Red Star’s first team. From there, he made his league and European debut at the age of 17. 

Fast-forward a little over a year later, and Jovan has earned himself a transfer to New York City FC and is at the very least on the radar of Serbia’s national team coach, for the upcoming European Championships.

Forward Drive 

Whereas Mijatović spent a large chunk of his youth career out on the wings, he’s played in a more central role as a senior footballer - either as a striker or just behind the striker. His best role with Red Star was that of shadow striker, as it allowed him to showcase both his goalscoring and creative qualities, but more on that later.

Physically, Mijatović has not struggled to adjust to senior football. His stocky build, similar to Wayne Rooney, with a low center of gravity, excellent balance, and plenty of strength. It allows him to play well through contact. Mijatović is also quite quick over the first five yards, with his impressive leap an added bonus.

His goalscoring record immediately catches the eye. Although he’s primarily left-footed, he is also able to score with his right foot. The breakdown of his goals scored in 23/24 reinforces how varied his scoring potential is: 4 headers, 3 left-footed goals & 2 right-footed ones.

Creative Force 

Despite his nose for a goal, it would be too easy to label Mijatović as a scorer only, as he has the passing ability, timing and vision to develop into a formidable creator. This is why he’s most effective in a slightly deeper role, as it allows him to take more touches on the ball and thus have more impact on the game. Mijatović is particularly dangerous in the half-spaces and connects well with overlapping players. 

Out of possession, he’s hard-working and strong in the press - both when it comes to cutting off passing lanes and putting direct pressure on the opposition. He’s also not afraid to put his body on the line in a challenge.

When you put all of that together, you already have a fairly complete player, who’s still only 18. And_ that_ is what makes Mijatović stand out in today’s football landscape - his well-rounded skill set.

New York State of Mind 

As good as Mijatović is as a player, it’s his mentality that makes him adjust to each level-increase seamlessly. Brave, fearless, excellent under pressure, competitive, but also capable of cracking a smile during the match, showing just how at ease he is. On rare occasions, his emotions can still get the best of him, but it’s nothing that age and experience won’t take care of.

In the grand scheme of things, Mijatović is considered one of Serbia’s biggest talents and a major hope for the near future. And with players at clubs like Juventus, Chelsea, and Milan, New York City’s acquisition of Mijatović can be considered quite the coup. 

In recent times, more Serbian players have decided to try MLS, with Đorđe Petrović (former New England goalkeeper, now at Chelsea) and Dejan Joveljić (LA Galaxy striker) as prime examples. Clearly, as it’s his first move abroad, Mijatović might need some time to adapt, but there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t be the next Serbian success story in the US.

The open and attacking nature of the league will be a welcome change compared to the sturdy low blocks he’s used to facing in Serbia. And the same goes for the improvement in pitch quality and general infrastructure. Going off his impressive progress so far, Mijatović could even be one of the surprise packages of the upcoming MLS season.

For the City - Stories

Join us on our mission to empower NYC youth through soccer.