The next destination of our alphabetical world tour is Croatia. Born out of the collapsing Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Croatia has been a FIFA member since 1993. According to the Premier League website, 24 players have represented Croatia in the Premier League, the first of which should ring a bell.
First Player – Slaven Bilić (West Ham, Everton; 1996-99)
Before life as a manager, Slaven Bilić was a ball-playing centre-half who enjoyed two-and-a-half years in the Premier League with West Ham and Everton.
He brought tactical nous to England during the Premier League’s most transitional period in terms of playing style, with a continental style that wasn’t always popular with his own fans.
Nonetheless, he enjoyed a successful playing career and has earnt a positive reputation as a manager, including stints at West Ham and the Croatia national team. Bilić is currently manager of West Bromwich Albion and will look to keep his side safe as they prepare for life back in England’s top flight.
Most Appearances: Dejan Lovren – 161 (Southampton, Liverpool; 2013-present)
“One of the best defenders in the world”. Though his infamous 2018 quote was largely ridiculed at the time, the context behind it is undeniable.
You don’t get to the finals of the Champions League and World Cup if you are a bad defender, more often than not and Lovren featured heavily for both Liverpool and Croatia as both sides fell at their final hurdles in 2018.
Though he has struggled for game time over the last two seasons, his time in England with Liverpool and Southampton has been a huge success and his current tally of 161 Premier League appearances is the highest of any Croatian. He will not build on that tally this season though following his move to Russian side Zenit St Petersburg.
Top Scorer: Nikica Jelavić – 29 (Everton, Hull, West Ham; 2012-16)
Striker Nikica Jelavić joined Everton in January 2012 on the back two lethal years at Rangers in which he scored 30 goals in 45 league games.
He looked the real deal in his first half-season at Goodison Park, notching nine goals in 13 appearances including a brilliant header in the famous 4-4 draw with Manchester United that contributed to the Red Devils’ eventual failure to win the title.
But that was as good as it got for Jelavić in England. After playing and scoring for Croatia at Euro 2012 he returned to Everton and scored just seven league goals in 2012/13, later suffering similarly barren spells with Hull and West Ham.
Nonetheless, Jelavić’s 29 Premier League goals are enough to make him the current top Croatian goal scorer in Premier League history.
Just two Croatians appeared in the Premier League last season; Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovačić.
Kovačić enjoyed a positive season for the Blues after sealing a permanent move in the summer, while Lovren made nine appearances behind the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip in Liverpool’s defensive pecking order.
- Croatia have qualified for all but one of the World Cup Finals tournaments they were eligible for, missing out in 2010 (their status as a UEFA member was granted too late to participate in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup).
- Former Arsenal and West Ham striker Davor Šuker is the highest goal scorer in the history of the Croatia national team (45).
- Former Spurs midfielder Luka Modrić won the 2018 Ballon d’Or. He is the only player other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to win the award since 2007.
- Two Croatian players have won the Champions League with an English club – Igor Biscan (Liverpool, 2004/05) and Dejan Lovren (Liverpool, 2018/19), but no Croatian has won a Premier League title before this season (Andrej Kramaric made two appearances for Leicester in 2015/16, not enough for a winners medal).