What went wrong for Nikola Vlasic at Everton as he prepares for return with West Ham following £30m move?

The midfielder struggled at Goodison Park yet sealed a €30 million to the Londoners in the summer just two years after his exit.

David Moyes will be back in familiar territory on Sunday.

The former Everton boss returns to Goodison Park with his West Ham side aiming to pile misery on his previous employers.

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Of course, this isn’t the first time Moyes will revisit Merseyside after leaving the Toffees in 2013 following 11 years at the helm.

He’s taken Manchester United, Sunderland and the Hammers to his old stomping ground - and had mixed results.

However, one player among the Londoners’ ranks will return to Everton for the first time since his exit - Nikola Vlasic.

The midfielder had a largely unsusccessful two years at Goodison. Purchased for £10 million in the summer of 2017, he scored two goals in 19 games before leaving for CSKA Moscow.

Yet Vlasic thrived in Russia and convinced West Ham to splash out €30 million for his services on transfer deadline day, while he’s become a regular for Croatia.

Evertonians will inevitably be wondering why the 24-year-old was unable to shine for the Blues.

There seemingly were several reasons.

Nikola Vlasic joined West Ham in the summer. Picture: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Managerial changes

There’s no doubt that the persistent chopping and changing of managers is a factor why Vlasic was unable to settle.

He was brought to Goodison by Ronald Koeman, having caught the eye of the then-Everton boss first hand.

Vlasic impressed for Hajduk Split against the Blues in the Europa League, convincing Koeman to fork out an eight-figure fee for a relatively unknown teenager at the time.

As a 19-year-old, he’d been earmarked as one for the future, someone to nurture into the first team and the Blues would gradually reap the dividends of.

Yet Koeman was sacked just two months into the season. He’d be replaced by David Unsworth for a month on an interim basis before Sam Allardyce took the reins from November 30.

Allardyce didn’t last long, though. He was out of the door at the end of the campaign after turgid rather than terrific spell despite steering Everton to eighth spot in the Premier League.

And when Marco Silva became the third supremo within 12 months, Vladic was frozen out completely.

He was shipped off to Moscow on loan for the 2018-19 campaign before making his move permanent the following year.

Speaking to West Ham TV after his arrival, Vladic admitted the persistent switching of bosses had a significant impact on his Goodison career.

He said: “It’s not that I didn’t feel I was good enough then, I think I was, it was just a problem with the changing of coaches and everything.

Marco Silva was the Everton manager who sold Nikola Vlasic. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

“The situation now is different. I am coming to a big club and they expect big things from me and I also expect big things from myself, so I think it will be a really exciting time.”

Out of position

Vlasic regards himself as an attacking midfielder, with his preferred position the number-10 role.

At Everton, he was given little chance to operate in that area of the pitch.

Vlasic was one of three four players capable of of featuring as an attacking-midfielder recruited in the summer of 2017.

A club-record fee of £40 million was splashed on Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea.

Meanwhile, Davy Klaasen’s purchase for £23.7 million from Ajax wasn’t exactly a bargain and Wayne Rooney returned to Everton on a free transfer from Manchester United.

It meant chances were understandably difficult to come by.

Wayne Rooney speaks to Nikola Vlasic. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

And when Allardyce took over the driving seat, Vladic was switched to the flank.

He told The Athletic in March: “It was hard. The hardest was when we would play 4-4-2. I would be on the right-wing but it was more right wing-back because we were so defensive.

“I played three or four times under Allardyce and I felt like I was a full-back.

“It was the first experience for me in that position and I felt so bad because I had never played winger before.”

Wrong time

Everton are reaping the rewards of Demarai Gray since his summer arrival.

The winger was highly regarded when he was a fledgling talent. During his England under-21 days, he was raved about over the likes of Chelsea’s Mason Mount, Leicester duo James Maddison and Harvey Barnes and the Toffees’ very own Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

But for one reason or another, Gray didn’t hit the heights many expected at club level.

He failed to force his way into Leicester’s plans, with the aforementioned Barnes leaping ahead in the pecking order.

With age, experience and maturity, though, Gray’s fulfiling his potential at Goodison. He’s started in barnstorming fashion with three goals and an assist in nine appearances.

Demarai Gray celebrates his goal in Everton’s defeat of Burnley. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Perhaps Vlasic fits a similar category.

At Everton, he arrived when he was still a youngster learning his craft. Patience was needed.

That was something all three of the managers he worked under were afforded, though.

Given the money that Koeman, Allardyce and Silva spent, coupled with Farhad Moshiri’s recent takeover, there was pressure for results to be delivered.

Ultimately, that meant that there was scant time for a youngster to be experimented with and given time to make mistakes.

Everton required tried-and-tested performers who could catapult them to become a regular European contender. Not that it worked, mind.

As a consequence, Vlasic fell victim and wasn’t given the time he probably required to acclimatise.

And although he’s been on the periphery of things at West Ham so far, making just six appearances, you get the impressions that’s a commodity he’ll be handed in the capital.