Football Features

West Ham transfer gives Nikola Vlasic Premier League redemption chance after Everton struggles

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:18, 31 August 2021 | Updated: 18:14, 10 September 2021

West Ham United have confirmed the signing of Croatian midfielder Nikola Vlasic from CSKA Moscow for a reported £25m.

The 23-year-old joins on a five-year deal after thriving in Russia and will undoubtedly seek to become a part of West Ham’s improving team as they look to break into the top four after securing Europa League football last season. But Vlasic will surely have redemption on his mind, too.

This will not be Vlasic’s first season in the Premier League, as he previously joined Everton from Hadjuk Split in 2017 as a highly-rated teenager, but things did not work out for the Croatian. He was signed by Ronald Koeman but the Dutchman was eventually replaced by Sam Allardyce, who did not have a role for Vlasic in his XI, eventually seeing him leave for CSKA Moscow on loan the following year. He made that move permanent in 2019.

In the Premier League alone, Vlasic played 12 times across his sole season in England, making four appearances for Koeman, six (out of a possible 24) under Allardyce and two during David Unsworth’s interim role. Across those 12 games, Vlasic failed to score or record an assist, averaging just 0.78 shots per 90 minutes, 0.16 of which hit the target. His 1.88 chances created per 90 minutes, however, was a respectable amount, ranking 29th in the Premier League among players to have played at least 500 minutes.

But it still wasn’t enough for Everton and so he was dubbed a flop by some and went to Russia to re-find himself, which is exactly what he did.

Vlasic’s first Russian Premier League campaign saw the 23-year-old score five goals and record five assists in 25 appearances, but he also added another three goals and two assists in the Champions League including one of each across two group stage games against defending champions Real Madrid — all while still being just 21.

The following two seasons were much better for Vlasic as he was directly involved in 33 goals in 56 league games, scoring 23 and recording a further 10 assists, finishing as the club’s top scorer as they finished fourth and then sixth. Last season, he averaged 0.4 goals per 90 minutes in the league, with only Jesse Lingard (0.57) and Michail Antonio (0.45) doing better at West Ham in the same campaign — though the difference in league qualities should be taken into account.

For assists, Vlasic averaged 0.2 per 90 minutes, which would have placed him in the top five for the Hammers, with Said Benrahma (0.39) the only man clear of him at West Ham in the Premier League.

Vlasic is also an expert dribbler, never failing to complete less than 40 in his three seasons in Russia, with 73 in 2019/20 his personal best and also the best in the league for that campaign. He has carried those impressive performances over to the national team too, especially at Euro 2020 even though Croatia were knocked out at the round-of-16.

The 23-year-old scored the opening goal in Croatia’s crucial 3-1 win over Scotland that secured their spot in the knockout stages and averaged 1.33 shots per 90 minutes across his four appearances. Once again, he was an expert with the ball at his feet, completing 3.99 take-ons per 90, bettered only by Jeremy Doku (5.45), Eden Hazard (4.38) and Frenkie de Jong (4.13) among those to play at least 100 minutes at the tournament.

In the league, he posts closer to 2.0 take-ons completed per 90 minutes, which is still good enough to make a difference at West Ham, whose best dribbler (at least 100 minutes) in the Premier League last season was Benrahma who averaged 2.72 per 90.

Vlasic’s move to West Ham is one that appears to have brought excitement to both parties, with Hammers manager David Moyes speaking of the Croatian’s determination to move to the London Stadium.

“I am delighted to welcome Nikola to West Ham United,” he told West Ham’s website.

“I have been watching Nikola improve over recent seasons – he has got a good goals and assists record during that time. He is also a Croatia international with experience and still being only 23, I feel there is more to come from him.

“I was really impressed with how determined Nikola was to become a West Ham player. It’s that hunger and ambition that fits with what we are trying to build here at the club.”

It will be interesting to see how Vlasic fits into West Ham’s plans, perhaps being a straight swap for Lingard who appears to be staying at Manchester United. But one thing’s for certain, he is not the Vlasic that struggled with Everton three years ago.