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Family Affair: the strange case of Nikola and the Vlasics

How Nikola Vlasic’s family could be unintentionally hurting his Everton career

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

The Vlašićs are one of the more pre-eminent families in Croatian sports. Led by patriarch Joško Vlašić, an athletics coach and a former Yugoslavia national champion decathlete, the Vlasic family have been heavily involved in multiple sports over the years.

Joško’s wife Venera is a physical education teacher and a former cross-country skiing national champion. Their eldest child Blanka is the Croatian record holder in the high jump as well as the former indoor World Champion and medalist in multiple Olympics. Which brings us to Nikola, the soon-to-be 21-year-old on the Everton books.

Vlasic’s story at Everton is well-documented, but in summary: played against Everton for Hajduk Split in the 2017-18 Europa League qualifiers, caught the eye of Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman who then signed him for about £10m, was used sparingly out on the wing by both Koeman and David Unsworth, and then left out in the cold by Sam Allardyce, did not impress Marco Silva who then asked he be loaned out, ended up at CSKA Moscow where he’s off to a great start finally playing at his preferred central attacking midfield position.

Family members getting involved in club affairs with a player is nothing new, and as recently as a couple of years ago the Blues had plenty of experience with that after Romelu Lukaku’s father and mother chose to speak publicly on multiple occasions about what they thought Everton were doing wrong when it came to their son.

In the case of the tight-knit family like the Vlasics, it is no surprise to see that both the father and sister of Nikola have spoken out in his favour at different occasions. Back in July 2014 Josko had said he preferred Nikola stay at Hajduk so that he could continue to monitor his son’s development first-hand. Then in January 2016, with multiple European suitors lining up for Nikola, he chose to stay in Split so as to not disrupt the training regimen of his sister ahead of the Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro that summer.

With Everton struggling and sacking Koeman last season, Unsworth came in and tried to keep the rapidly-sinking ship afloat, and chose to keep Vlasic on the sidelines. In October 2017, Blanka went public with her comments about that decision, earning the player a stinging rebuke from Steve Walsh. Things did not get better for the player under Allardyce, and in March 2018 his father was at it too.

Now with Nikola finally hitting his stride and is becoming an indispensable player out on loan at CSKA Moscow, his father has hit out at the Blues once again.

“Marco Silva is under enormous pressure because he gave Nikola away on loan. Many fans and journalists believe Everton have big problems in midfield, and Nikola is the player they need.

“Vlasic told Silva before leaving he considered himself the best midfielder in the team. The manager made a big mistake.”

It is no surprise that his family is standing up for him, it’s no different than anything you or I would do after all. However, it can also be said that the Vlasic clan are also suffering slightly from what is commonly known as ‘delusions of grandeur’.

No doubt Nikola is a very good footballer and having just entered his twenties, has potential greatness beckoning. However, Everton are not the only ones to have noticed that he’s still got some way to go before he’s Premier League starting calibre.

Marco Silva had made it clear that the player would not have a role in this year’s Toffees squad, but there wasn’t necessarily a line of suitors banging on the Finch Farm doors for Nikola. In fact, Newcastle United were the only English club loosely linked with the player, and that was about it.

CSKA Moscow seemed very interested in the player, and with the Russian side playing in the Champions League it presented the Blues with a very good development opportunity for the player this season. But the Russian Premier League is by no means a top-five European league and Vlasic bossing it should not come as a surprise. Like Henry Onyekuru in Belgium and now in Turkey, if these players are not stars in these B-level leagues then they shouldn’t be part of the Everton system.

Even at the international level, he was invited to join the Croatian senior side just the once in autumn last year, but was never really in the reckoning for a World Cup spot, even as a squad member. He has been a consistent performer in the Under-21 side however, much like a number of his Everton teammates in the England set-up.

At the Blues, he featured in a total of 19 games, scoring twice and adding one assist. Tellingly, all of those came against the inferior opposition of Apollon Limassol in the Europa League last season.

Nikola Vlasic also did not get enough of a chance to show what he could do in either the #8 or #10 roles, and that is more a matter of unfortunate circumstances than anything else. With Gylfi Sigurdsson, Idrissa Gueye, Tom Davies and Kieran Dowell already in the system, his path to the starting lineup is blocked. However, should he truly excel out at CSKA and want to prove Silva wrong, then this is his opportunity. Constantly harping on about how Silva has made a mistake and further straining an estranged relationship with the club is not the way to go about it.

We wish Nikola well, and will be keeping an eye on him all season long in our loan recaps, but at the same time it would serve his family well to keep their heads down and let his on-pitch performances do the talking, for now.