Nikola Vlašić: I'm really looking forward to returning to Croatia with West Ham United
Nikola Vlašić will certainly need no directing to the away dressing room when he arrives at Dinamo Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium for West Ham United’s UEFA Europa League Group H opener on Thursday evening.
The Hammers’ new Croatian attacker has played at the Maksimir well over a dozen times in his relatively short career, including seven appearances for Dinamo’s greatest rival Hajduk Split and five for the Croatia national team, scoring against Sweden (pictured, below) and France.
He also knows a number of Dinamo's players from the Croatia squad, having played alongside the likes of goalkeeper Dominik Livaković, midfielder Luka Ivanušec and forwards Mislav Oršić and Bruno Petković in the famous red and white shirt in recent matches.
Just a fortnight into his West Ham career, Vlašić returns to his homeland – but not home city, as he was born in Split – for the Club’s first-ever Europa League group-stage fixture, and he is expecting a warm welcome from the home supporters.
Speaking to West Ham TV ahead of Thursday’s tie, which kicks-off at 5.45pm UK time and will be broadcast live by BT Sport 2, the 23-year-old also revealed he has settled in quickly in Claret and Blue and is also relishing the prospect of making his home debut against Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon…
Everything is perfect, so I think I've been here for a week now and all the people are good here.
Everyone has been kind to me and I feel like I've been here already for a long time.
The dressing room has been perfect. All the players are very polite and they always tell me if you need something just tell me and I'll help you with anything.
All the players have been great to me.
It's such an international game and we don't mind the differences in cultures and nationalities. We are all friends here and we talk about everything.
My first experience of the Premier League at Southampton on Saturday was nice.
It was an intense game and 0-0 at the end but I think we could have won it because in my opinion we are a better team, but we go forward.
The intensity of the Premier League is high and I will get used to this more and more, but I feel good.
It's a different challenge in Europe against Dinamo Zagreb. It's my home country so I'm really looking forward to it.
It's different between the Champions League and Europa League obviously, but Europe is a different kind of competition. When you go to play against teams you maybe have never played before – in the Premier League you play pretty much the same teams every year – but here there are different styles of play, different cultures of playing, so it is always hard to adjust, but we will see what will happen on Thursday.
The team worked so hard and got a great placement in the league, sixth, and everyone is really excited about Europe.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and Dinamo is the champion from the last ten, eleven years.
They are a good team and a good opponent and I think we can enjoy this game because it's Europe.
Dinamo do have some very good players. Every year they sell some players and other young players come from the academy or they buy from another team in Croatia. They always have a good squad.
The Dinamo supporters are passionate, but in the stadium the stands are not close to the pitch so you will not feel like you are suffocating from them. I think that [will make it] easier for our players to settle.
There are good memories from my goals for Croatia at Maksimir, but Hajduk and Dinamo have a big rivalry.
Dinamo has been very dominant in the last ten years and I'm not happy about that as a former Hajduk player. I have good memories there but I hope I have better ones after Thursday!
I cannot wait to make my home debut at London Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday, too.
These games, against Manchester United with a new guy in the team, Ronaldo, is always exciting. It is why we play football.
I want to test myself. I want to see where I am compared to these other players in big teams. I have belief in myself and I'm ready for everything.