This week we take a closer look at former Goodison Park cult figure Slaven Bilic in the fifth edition of Club Connector.
Ahead of each match, the focus will be on a player who made a name at Everton as well as playing for the Blues' forthcoming opponents.
Bilic is the ‘Club Connector’ as Roberto Martinez's men prepare for the trip to the capital to face West Ham United...
West Ham United
January 1996 - May 1997
August 1997 – July 1999
LIFE AT GOODISON
Bilic was officially confirmed as a Blue in March 1997, joining from West Ham for a fee of £4.5million in a deal agreed by then-Everton manager Joe Royle. Although the Croatian had agreed terms, he only linked up with his new team at the start of the following season as he believed he owed a debt to the Hammers and wanted to help them maintain their place in the Premier League.
The defender finally arrived on Merseyside ahead of the 1997/98 season after new boss Howard Kendall had given the deal his backing. Kendall's decision was vindicated as Bilic produced several fine displays during the opening months of the campaign, despite the team only managing to win two of their first nine games. However, his ill-discipline would see him miss a quarter of the season through suspension after amassing six yellow and two red cards.
Rumours surfaced that Bilic would be departing in the summer of 1998 but he returned to the club after helping Croatia to a third-place finish at the World Cup in France. Despite the nation’s surprise success, the defender was involved in controversy as his play acting saw France skipper Laurent Blanc receive a red card in the semi-final and miss their 3-0 final success against Brazil.
Bilic didn’t play any part in the first four months of the 1998/99 season, claiming he needed to rest a groin strain and returned home to his native country. After arriving back in England, he played only five further matches before the club decided to cut their losses and leave him free to find another team. He was released in July 1999 and subsequently signed for Hajduk Split, where he had a brief spell before announcing his retirement.
BEST REMEMBERED FOR
Bilic never scored for Everton but he will be most remembered for his love of a tackle and the ability to find his name in the referee’s notebook. And his rough and rugged approach cost him dear when he missed out on his first ever Merseyside derby – a game the Blues won 2-0 thanks to a Neil Ruddock own goal and late strike from teenager Danny Cadamarteri.
FOR THE OTHER SIDE
Bilic originally moved to England in January 1996 and joined West Ham United for a club record fee of £1.3mllion from German side Karlsruhe.
The defender’s performances saw him earn a spot in Croatia’s squad for the 1996 European Championships – held in England - where they were knocked out by eventual winners Germany in the quarter-finals.
Bilic continued his impressive form for the Hammers and his classy displays at the heart of defence resulted in Everton’s bid of £4.5million in March 1997.
“I remember him and Neville Southall doing a fist-pump in the game against Manchester United when Bilic had pulled off an awesome sliding challenge on Ryan Giggs to prevent a nailed on goal.” – Dan White
“He wasn't an icon but he could've been more if the dice were rolled differently. I remember him outside the Winslow one night and he was joined by his wife who was greeted with the chant of ‘There's only one Mrs Bilic’. – Bernard Parkes
“I recall the derby when Robbie Fowler did his infamous goal line celebration. Bilic was sat with us in the away end!” – Jimmy Lane
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
After hanging up his boots, Bilic turned to management and was in charge of Hajduk Split for a short period of time before progressing to the Croatia Under-21s top job alongside former Derby player Aljosa Asanovic.
In July 2006, Bilic was appointed manager of the senior national team and led them to the quarter-finals of Euro 2008, where they suffered a late defeat against Turkey. Bilic was unable to guide his side to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but he did manage qualification for Euro 2012 when Croatia were eliminated in the group stage.
He departed after that tournament and took over at Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. He would only be in the job for one season after Lokomotiv finished ninth - their worst final league standing since 1992.
The 45-year-old is now in charge of Besiktas, who have started the Turkish Super Lig in fantastic fashion by winning their first four matches.