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Arsenal (A) Sun 1 Mar 2015, 14:05, Barclays Premier League

by Matthew Gamble @efc_mattgamble

Derby encounters have a tendency to breed hyperbole.

Over-zealous commentators and pundits would quite happily refer to Merseyside's classic encounters as 'wars'.

Few footballers in the Premier League era would have much of a concept of what that three-letter word actually means - but Everton striker Nikica Jelavic's formative football years took place as one of Europe's most brutal conflicts unfolded.

As Yugoslavia broke up during the 1990s, tens of thousands of people lost their lives.

"I was six when the war started and this might sound strange, and people might find it difficult to understand, but it was the best time of my life. I swear," said the striker.

"There were no rules. I would wake up in the morning, I would leave the house and then I would spend the day playing football in the fields and swimming in the river.

"My father was on the frontline and my mother was at home, so I had a kind of freedom that a lot of children do not get.

"It was different for us because the normal rules had broken down because of the war and that meant we didn't have to go to school.

"We didn't have great facilities like we have in this country so we had to make the best of what we had. But what we did have was lots of talent.

"I remember that I always played with boys who were older than me. It was more of a challenge, but I was still the best player.

"It was a great time for me and for my generation. I was too young to realise just how serious the situation was. Now I understand it, but then I didn't.

"It is always a good discussion with my dad, but the war is one thing he doesn't talk too much about. It is too difficult for him."

Perhaps it was those escapist days which helped make Jelavic the player he is today; the man whose clinical one-touch finishing has invigorated Everton's fortunes in 2012.

In some ways the Croatia international insists he still plays in the same instinctive manner which saw him empty his fathers pockets on a regular basis during his adolescence.

"My father used to say to me that if I scored he would give me the equivalent of a few pounds for each goal," said Jelavic.

"But sometimes I would score six or seven goals in a game when I was playing for my first youth team, GOSK Gabela, and he said: 'No more! I have no money!'

"I used to spend the money on sweets or chocolate, but most of the time he couldn't give me the full amount. Maybe that was a good thing.

"My dad was a player as well and then he became a referee in the Bosnian league. Now he is a referee's assessor and whenever we speak on the phone, he always tells me off for speaking back to referees in the Premier League.

"If you compare me with someone like Phil Neville, he is always focused even days before a game but I never think about things," revealed Jelavic in a way which suggests it's a scenario he's perfectly comfortable with: "That's just the way I am.

"I never think about how many touches I take to score a goal or how I score a goal, I don't have those kind of thought processes.

"If I have the ball when I see the goal then I will shoot. Why complicate it?

"When Mirallas has the ball, or Pienaar or Bainsey, whoever it doesn't matter, I know where they will try to put it and so I run to that place.

"I am the player in the box most of the time and to me this means that usually one touch is enough because I am already so close to the goal. It is natural for me.

"Maybe if I started to think about what I do then I would stop being able to do it because it wouldn't be natural anymore."

Don't be fooled by the 27-year-old's laid back demeanour. He retains a steely desire to succeed, an ambition which has been heightened by Everton's eye-catching start to the season.

Victory over Liverpool on Sunday is next on Jelavic's agenda after his two previous games against the Anfield outfit proving rare low-points in his Blues career.

"We are a strong team," he said. "I have heard all about the success that Everton enjoyed in the mid-80s and what a great team they had back then. I can't promise that we are ready to get back to those levels just yet, I do believe that we are strong enough to play Champions League.

"We have already beaten Manchester United this season, and last season we beat Manchester City, so we have shown that we can play and also that we can compete.

"I have had two bad experiences playing against Liverpool in this country, but I did beat them in a pre-season friendly when I was with Rapid Vienna.

"Obviously, it is a big derby and it is a big game for everyone and now I want to win against Liverpool with Everton."

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