Vlasic Grateful For Koeman's Backing

by Paul McNamara

Nikola Vlasic says he is thankful for Ronald Koeman’s “faith” in him and was “very happy” to be handed a full debut in the “best competition in the world” last week.

The Croatian was rewarded for an assured, purposeful display from the bench in Everton’s Europa League encounter with Apollon Limassol when boss Koeman selected him for the Toffees’ Premier League match against Burnley.

Having previously been restricted to 10 minutes of league football following his August transfer from Hajduk Split, Vlasic was understandably delighted to get the nod to start against the Clarets – even if he was left nursing a sense of frustration over a 1-0 defeat that sent Everton into the international break on a low note.

“The manager has faith in me and all the players – and I am very thankful for that,” Vlasic told evertontv.

“I am very happy about making my first start in the Premier League. It is the best competition in the world.

“But I was disappointed with the result. We wanted to win and we had chances to score before Burnley’s goal – and then more chances in the second half.”

Vlasic, who turned 20 last week, was one of a host of Everton players called up by their respective countries for the current round of international matches.

He scored twice on Monday night as Croatia Under-21s thumped Czech Republic 5-1, with the attacker’s first strike a thunderous finish at the end of a skilful, jinking run inside the Czechs' penalty area.

That resounding victory came hot on the heels of last week’s 2-1 success over Belarus – when Vlasic played 77 minutes – and kept the Croats on top of their qualifying group and poised to reach their first Under-21 European Championship finals since 2004.

Vlasic’s maiden Everton start came in the Europa League meeting with Atalanta and after an auspicious outing in Italy he confessed he was on a mission to repay the belief Koeman and the Club showed in his talents when they brought him to Merseyside following the Blues’ two-legged European play-off collision with Hajduk.

A vibrant performance against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup demonstrated all the zest and audacity the manager had identified in Vlasic, before the forward took the Limassol tie by storm with a sizzling 45-minute cameo, which he crowned with an expertly dispatched goal in front of the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End.

But following the Burnley defeat, Vlasic revealed the Toffees players had opted against holding an immediate inquest, preferring to let the dust settle on a disappointing afternoon before channelling their efforts into preparing for Sunday’s trip to Brighton.

“We said some things in the dressing room after the Burnley match – but it is hard straight afterwards," added Vlasic. "Your head is warm, you need to sleep and after that think about the game.

“And I always look forward to meeting up with Croatia. I like playing for my country and it is a big honour to represent your international team.”

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