27 Nikola Vlašić

cro Croatia
September 4, 1997

Youngster Nikola joined Everton from Hajduk Split on transfer deadline day in August 2017, penning a five-year deal.

However, the forward’s precocious talent had marked him out as a likely Premier League footballer from the day he broke into Hajduk’s first team in 2014.

Joined the Croatian giants from Split non-league club NK Omladinac Vranjic at the age of 12, his career has followed an upwards trajectory ever since.

The Croat scored on his Hajduk first-team debut in a Europa League qualifier against Irish outfit Dundalk in July 2014 before going on to play 37 matches for his club in what would prove his breakthrough campaign.

Nikola amassed 120 appearances and scored 13 goals for Hajduk before his 20th birthday and was appointed the team’s vice-captain in 2016.

A strongly built, attack-minded player, he has primarily operated on the flanks – he played on the right of Hajduk’s slick front three against Everton when the teams met in a two-legged Europa League play-off earlier in the same month he completed his switch to L4 – but is equally comfortable in midfield or operating in a number 10 position.

At the time of joining Everton, he had played for his country at every age-group level from Under-16 through to Under-21 and earned his first senior cap in a friendly match against Mexico in May 2017.

Vlašić was only 16 when he struck the winning goal for Croatia’s Under-18 team against an England side containing the likes of Tottenham star Dele Alli and Leicester’s Demarai Gray.

The son of Croatia’s decathlon record holder Josko Vlasic, Nikola is from rich sporting stock. His sister Blanka is a two-times high jump world champion and has claimed Olympic silver and bronze medals in the event.

Nikola was four when Josko spotted his son’s potential and decided to combine coaching Blanka with cultivating the rare ability he had identified in his athlete daughter’s sibling.

The pair reportedly spent hours every day honing Nikola’s skills and when the player joined NK Omladinac Vranjic, Josko claimed his son had already scored “around 30,000 goals”.

Vlašić had apparently been tracked by a clutch of Europe’s biggest clubs following his first Hajduk outing in Dundalk – but rebuffed interest from England in January 2016 so as not to disrupt Blanka’s preparations for the Rio Olympics, where she won bronze.

Asked about the family’s decision last year, Josko said: “Of course we are aware there is a possibility that an offer like this will never come again, but we refuse to think that way.

“We are doing everything in the faith that his career will develop the right way.”