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Exclusive interview: Everton striker Nikica Jelavic has been ga-ga for goals from day one

FOR SOME strikers, confidence vanishes when goals abandon them. Nikica Jelavic wouldn’t know – goals have never left him.

FOR SOME strikers, confidence vanishes when goals abandon them. Nikica Jelavic wouldn’t know – goals have never left him.

It is little wonder Jelavic has wasted no time becoming a hero on Merseyside, because the Croatian’s timing when it comes to the only currency that matters for centre forwards has always been impeccable.

Since he was a boy in the small Bosnian town of Capljina, Jelavic has hit the back of the net resoundingly on cue.

And it was a habit you could perhaps say Jelavic was born to carry out in blue – ever since making his debut in the blue shirt of his first club FC Gabela, before going on to Rangers, and now the royal hue of the Toffees.

“Gabela was named after my birth place,” says the 26-year-old, who took time out to reflect on his early life and career so far with the ECHO ahead of the new season.

“On my first game for the club I scored twice so I can’t remember right now which one was first ever goal, but it was a good way to begin.”

Good beginnings are another canny habit Jelavic has mastered. He bagged five goals in his first three games for Rangers, and wasted no time getting going at Goodison.

An elegantly side-footed finish on his full debut against Spurs, was followed by a characteristically coolly-taken goal on his first trip to Wembley, and even if that afternoon ended on a sour note for Evertonians, it still harbours fond memories for the striker.

“My dad inspired me when I was growing up,” he says. “He was always around, helping when help was needed and he let me go from home when that was important for me.

“He went to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final when we played Liverpool but he and his friends were late (Jelavic Snr had only landed in London hours before kick-off and had to make a mad dash across the city).

“They got to their seats just a minute before I scored the goal, and I heard later it was an emotional moment for him.”

It was not the first time Philip Jelavic’s chest had swollen with pride at his son’s goal exploits. His boy’s early promise fuelled the already innate confidence of a youngster enjoying a bucolic childhood – even if he was never going to be a grade A school pupil.

“We have a river near my village and as kids we spend a whole day in river swimming and jumping in it, sometimes from 15 metres high,” he says. “School was not my favourite building in my village.”

The real education for a young Jelavic was watching the exploits of Davor Suker in Croatia’s 1998 World Cup campaign, and it spurred him on to chase his dream of a career in professional football.

“In that World Cup Croatia had a great team, so many great players in one team, it is incredible,” he says. “Davor Suker, is one of Croatia’s best athletes ever, he was top scorer in France 98 and a hero for me.

“As an U16 player I played for the U18 team, sometimes two games a day. I just loved football. I signed with Hajduk Split when I was 17, and fortunately I didn’t have to deal with rejections like some young players. My only set-backs have been from injuries.”

It was during that spell that Jelavic realised his footballing philosophy, crystallised by the best piece of advice he ever received – “Pat the ball and she will pamper you,” explains the man whose deft finishing proves the maxim.

Football might be his over-riding passion in life, but away from the pitch Jelavic happily diverts all his attention to his family. He is married to his teenage sweetheart Dajana, and the couple have two daughters, Nika and Lana who are settling happily on Merseyside.

“I don’t have much time away from football so I spend my time with my wife and my daughters,” he says. “I enjoy playing with my daughters. That’s my hobby and my happiness.

“I don’t come from a city but I like cities with big history. Liverpool is a nice city to live in and my family enjoy it here.”

Jelavic has already spoken of his respect for David Moyes, thriving under the Everton boss’ tutelage so far, and he admits he has been fortunate with the quality of managers he has worked under.

“Peter Pacult (former Rapid Vienna manager) was a hard worker, he brought me on to a higher level,” he says before adding with a smile. “Then Walter Smith brought me to Rangers for big money then, he knew what he was doing!

“After him Ally McCoist gave me my number nine shirt, and that meant an awful lot when it came from his hands.”

It is in Jelavic’s nature to be gracious about his former clubs, and he is held in high esteem by fans at all of them, but now perhaps more than ever he feels at home.

And it is a notion he has had from the moment he met the Everton players, and fans, during their pivotal night-time victory over eventual champions Manchester City on the day he signed in January.

“I was in the dressing room after the Man City game, and that was my first contact with the players,” he recalls. “They gave me a really warm welcome, and they’re all good lads – we are as one. It’s definitely a case of ‘one for all and all for one’.

“I’ve already had some special moments here it’s hard to pick one. I had a great reception at half time after the City game, then my first goal for Everton, or the strike at FA Wembley. It’s too hard to choose.”

 

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