Eyeing a World Cup spot

Since his January transfer, Nikica Jelavic has scored in crucial wins against struggling Sunderland and Cardiff, and his partnership with Shane Long looks set to keep Hull in the top flight. By Andrew McDermott.

Swapping the race for Champions League football for a possible relegation battle may have seemed a strange move to some but it is one which looks to have revitalised Nikica Jelavic.

Having dropped out of favour at Everton, Jelavic opted to move from the west coast of England to the east in search of more regular first-team football and a greater chance of a ticket to the World Cup.

While it remains to be seen whether he has done enough to be in Brazil this summer, his goals are certainly proving vital for his new club in the meantime.

With Croatia having missed out on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it is understandable all their players are desperate to make it to Brazil and Jelavic is no different.

Having watched boyhood hero Davor Suker fire Croatia to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup, Jelavic is dreaming of following in his footsteps.

He was actually born in the Yugoslavian town of Capljina, which is now part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and 12 miles from Croatia, but moved over the border during his junior career and signed his first professional contract with Hajduk Split in 2002. He struggled to make an impact there and headed to Belgium in 2007 to join Zulte-Waregem, where he netted just three goals in 25 games before Austrian champions Rapid Vienna took him on a season-long loan.

It was there that his career took off as the goals began to flow and his move was made permanent, eventually leading to his international debut in October 2009 when he marked the occasion by grabbing a late winner in a 3-2 victory against Qatar.

His form in the 2009/10 season was particularly impressive as he bagged 28 goals in 48 matches, including nine in 12 Europa League appearances.

That did not go unnoticed around Europe and resulted in a GBP4million move to Scottish giants Rangers.

His first campaign at Ibrox could not have gone better as he scored an extra-time winner against bitter rivals Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final as Rangers completed a domestic double.

English clubs continued to monitor his progress and Rangers rejected a bid from Leicester for the striker but that only extended his stay for a few months until he joined Everton in January 2012, having scored 36 goals in 55 matches for Rangers.

He began to repay his GBP5.5million fee by marking his first start for Everton with the only goal against Tottenham and his brace in the 4-4 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford saw him become the first Everton player to find the net in five successive away games since Duncan McKenzie in the 1977/78 season.

He ended the campaign as Everton’s top scorer but was less prolific in the following season and Romelu Lukaku’s loan signing from Chelsea in June 2013 signalled that a reduced role was on the cards in 2013/14.

He had to wait until January 4 for his first start and although he scored twice, Everton boss Roberto Martinez admitted a move could be in the pipeline.

“I don’t want to sell him but I understand it is a key moment for him,” said Martinez. “Put it this way — if the World Cup was not in the summer this situation would never be in place.”

Less than two weeks later and Jelavic was a Hull player, signing a three-and-a-half-year deal for a fee reported to be GBP6.5million, potentially rising to GBP7.5million.

After completing his move, Jelavic wrote an open letter to Everton fans admitting his concerns over his World Cup place forced him to move.

“Playing for Croatia is something I take huge pride in and with a World Cup on the horizon I was in the situation of needing to play more games to make sure I remain in Niko Kovac’s thoughts ahead of the tournament in Brazil,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately that wasn’t happening at Everton and Roberto Martinez was very honest and up-front with me about his thinking. When I went to meet Steve Bruce I realised it was the right move to a club with the potential to become a top Premier League outfit. While I’m sad to wave farewell to Everton and all my friends it is time for my next challenge.”

He was soon on the goal trail, scoring in crucial wins against struggling Sunderland and Cardiff, and his partnership with Shane Long looks set to keep Hull in the top flight.

Jelavic is married to his teenage sweetheart Dajana and the couple have two daughters.


MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Giving Everton the lead in the 2012 FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Wembley.

MOMENT TO FORGET: Being part of a Croatia squad that failed to get beyond the group stage at EURO 2012.

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