Croatian international centre forward Nikica Jelavić completely revitalised Everton’s disappointing 2011/12 season, breaking scoring records along the way and giving every Evertonian hope in their hearts.
A £5million acquisition from financially stricken Rangers in January 2012, Jelavić had made his name with Hadjuk Split in his native Croatia. There followed spells with S.V. Zulte Waregem in Belgium and then a turn with Austrian champions Rapid Vienna between 2008 and 2010. Rangers made him a £4million signing in August 2010 and he immediately impressed, scoring 19 goals in 27 league matches.
His move to Goodison came as the Scottish giants neared financial administration and his arrival completely altered the complexion of Everton’s season. A lithe, intelligent centre forward, he combines supremely intelligent movement off the ball with composure and imagination on it. While not a target man in the traditional sense, he possesses the physicality to hold his own amid the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
And then there were the goals – lots of them. Not since Tommy Browell exactly a century earlier had a new signing scored ten league goals for Everton so quickly. He scored them with his head, he scored them with his feet, he scored them against teams battling relegation and sides challenging for the title. He scored in an FA Cup quarter-final replay and on a different day his first-half strike in the semi-final against Liverpool may have brought a victory. Very rarely did he need more than one touch when striking with the ruthlessness of an assassin.
Few goals scored anywhere in England were better than that which he plundered against Newcastle United on the last day of the season. Superbly collecting a long ball from Johnny Heitinga, Jelavić brought the ball down and shot low and hard, forcing a fine save from Tim Krul. The ball rebounded back into his path and Jelavić recovered and elected to volley home the rebound with his right foot. It was by no means a spectacular goal but one executed with technical brilliance.
‘His all-round play has given us a lift,’ said David Moyes. ‘We had badly needed a centre forward for a couple of seasons and he felt as if he had something to prove. This hasbeenabitofastepupfor Nicky but he is a bit of a silent assassin. Some of the players we have brought in over the years have needed time to settle but he has got on with it.
‘We have needed him and are very happy with what he has done for us. He was well recommended by people like Davie Weir and Walter Smith. We had £5million to spend and we spent it wisely.’