Has Nikola Vlasic earned another shot at Everton?
Nikola Vlasic is a name which brings a lot of frustration to Everton fans. The young Croatian arrived at Goodison Park last August but failed to make any real impression. This past summer the decision was made for him to develop elsewhere. He went on a season-long loan to CSKA Moscow.
Vlasic's career at youth level began close to home. After representing Omladinac Vranje, the then 12-year-old moved to their more prestigious neighbour, Hajduk Split. He was regarded as a sporting protege early on, with his father coaching him from a very young age. Josko is an athletics coach who helped Nikola's eldest sister Blanka to two World Championship gold medals in the high jump. Her other accolades include two World Championship silvers as well as second and third place finishes in the Olympic Games.
Nikola impressed as a Hajduk youngster. After debuting aged 16, he went on to make 120 appearances in all competitions. This led to interest from abroad. Everton were quickest to the punch, spending £10 million for his services. Sadly Vlasic failed to live up to expectations on English soil, featuring only 12 times, in which seven were starts. He fared a little better in the Toffees' disappointing Europa League bid, scoring two goals and assisting another before group stage elimination.
As the campaign progressed, Vlasic was receiving fewer and fewer opportunities. With Richarlison and Bernard both new additions to Everton's attack in the summer, he was free to join CSKA.
Not too many players have made the move from England to Russia. So far it is working out well for Nikola Vlasic.
Since arriving, Vlasic has started every game for CSKA. He has mostly operated as a central attacking midfielder but also played on the right wing a few times. His three goals and an assist in nine Russian Premier League matches have helped the Krasno-sinie stick with the chasing pack behind leaders Zenit Saint Petersburg.
As good as Vlasic's domestic form, it's his Champions League performance which has really caught the eye.
CSKA looked to be making a disastrous start to their European campaign when falling 2-0 down to Viktoria Plzen. Shortly after halftime, the deficit was halved owing to Vlasic setting up Fedor Chalov. Then, in the 94th minute, the Croat netted a pressure penalty to rescue his side a valuable away point.
Things soon got better. Real Madrid, a club which has won the last three Champions Leagues, visited the Luzhniki Stadium at October's start. After just two minutes Vlasic pounced on Toni Kroos' loose pass to put CSKA ahead. Though taking the lead against Los Blancos was a surprise, for the next 88 minutes plus stoppage time they defended superbly. The Russian side hung on to produce the competition's biggest shock so far this season.
Vlasic gave a man of the match worthy display in both those Champions League contests. Although CSKA suffered a heavy defeat away to Roma last time out, he is showing why Everton were so keen to splash out on him. Based on performance in Europe, his reputation and value are both growing.
If the Toffees wanted to sign Vlasic now it would most likely cost at least double what they spent 14 months ago. Fortunately, he is already their player. It didn't work out last campaign but early signs indicate his form in Russia could be the making of him. Everton will have a serious talent at their disposal when the 21-year-old returns for 2019/20.