TOWERING striker Eli Babalj has convinced the Newcastle Jets that he can provide the rebuilt A-League outfit something different in attack.
The 29-year-old former Socceroo has been training with the Jets since the start of the pre-season and has earned a one-year contract - and a chance to kick-start his career.
The 195cm centre-forward gives the Jets a genuine target man.
Newcastle haven't boasted a player of Babalj's physical presence since former Liverpool frontman Emile Heskey spent two seasons as the club's marquee in 2012-14.
Major signing, Georgian international Beka Mikeltadze, prefers the ball at his feet and also has the pace to get in behind. Valentino Yuel, Olivier Boumal, Sammy Silvera, Savvas Siatravanis and teenager Archie Goodwin also pose threats with speed rather than size.
"I'm really excited to join a team that will play a very exciting and attacking brand of football," Babalj said. "I believe we will be successful and give the fans in Newcastle something to be proud of."
Jets coach Arthur Papas has a long association with Babalj, going back a decade to their days together at the Melbourne Heart.
"The biggest reason I came here was to work under Arthur again," Babalj said.
"I know his teams play great football, and he's building something special here. I'm coming here to do my part by working hard and scoring goals to help the team to fight for the title."
Well aware of Bablj's ability, Papas wanted to ensure he had the physical capabilities to handle the Jets' up-tempo, aggressive game.
"Eli has been with us since the start of pre-season and we set him a challenge which he has taken with both hands," Papas said.
It has been more than a decade since Babalj burst on to the scene as a 17-year-old for the Heart.
In December 2012, he scored twice as the Socceroos steamrolled Guam 9-0 at the East Asian Cup.
A prized moved to Red Star Belgrade followed.
But he has since bounced between Europe, the A-League and Asia, with spells at Red Star, Adelaide United, AZ Alkmaar, PEC Zwolle, FK Mlad Boleslav, Atletico de Kolkata.
Babalj's last appearance in the A-League was for Brisbane in 2019. He was most recently with Thai second division club Chainat Hornbill.
A string of injuries at critical times has stalled Babalj's career. He suffered groin issues at AZ Alkmaar and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee at Adelaide United in 2016.
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