Although Bosnia-Herzegovina's maiden World Cup Finals in the summer of 2014 ended disappointingly with elimination from the group stage in Brazil, Muhamed Besic was one of their players to catch the eye alongside his better-known teammates like Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, particularly in their first match against eventual finalists Argentina.
Everton manager, Roberto Martinez, was behind the microphone alongside ESPN commentator Derek Rae that evening and he got to see the 21-year-old midfielder execute quite impressively his man-marking directives on one Lionel Messi, at least until the "Atomic Flea" crucially got away from him to score what would prove to be the winner in the second half.
A tough-tackling, occasionally ill-disciplined but mobile and dynamic operator, Besic was likely one of the players at the World Cup already on Martinez's watchlist and, having seen him first-hand, he moved to sign the German-born Bosniak once the tournament was over. The deal was a protracted one, though, drawn out by reported complications over sell-on clauses between Ferençváros TC, his former club, Hamburg SV and his youth club, Tennis Berlin, as well as the distribution of agents' fees, but it was eventually concluded in late July for a fee believed to eventually be worth £4m to the Hungarians.
If media speculation is to be believed, Martinez beat off competition from the likes of Sevilla, AC Milan and West Ham United for Besic, for whom Swansea City had also agreed a fee with Ferençváros, but the player ultimately preferred Goodison Park as his destination,
the Blues giving him a generous 5-year contract.
Born in Berlin, Besic turned down the chance to represent Germany at youth level because of his preference to play for the country from which his parents had emigrated at international level and became the youngest player to play for Bosnia-Herzegovina when he made his debut as 17-year-old in November 2010.
He made his Bundesliga debut for Hamburg the same month but disciplinary problems and an apparent falling out with manager Thorsten Fink led to him leaving Germany for Hungary where played 47 times for Ferençváros.
Though he emerged as a defensive midfielder on the world stage, he was more often employed as a centre half in Budapest, underscoring his versatility and supporting his reputation for an ability to read the game.
Besic's comparative youth when he signed obviously made him one for the future at Everton but with the Blues back in European competition in 2014-15 for the first time in five seasons, there would be plenty of scope for Martinez to rotate him with Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson as he grew into life in the Premier League.
His introduction to the English game was a delayed one,
with Martinez asserting that it would take time for him to adapt to the pace
and physicality of the Premier League. Fears over his indiscipline initally proved to
be a little over-blown as he seemed to keep the worst of his aggressive
tendencies in check, although this may have helped to repress the more
expansive side of his game, which he exhibited in flashes during 23 appearances in all.
His hopes of playing a larger part in his second
season at Goodison Park were initially hampered with what turned out to be a
hamstring injury in the first pre-season game at Swindon, a complaint he would aggravate just nine minutes into his first league start of the 2015-16 campaign against Chelsea. (His replacement, Steven Naismith,
went on to score a surprising but very welcome perfect hat-trick in the
It would be almost two months before the Bosnian returned to
full training but he was back in contention to come in as cover for McCarthy again at the start of the New Year when he exhibited a new-found composure and maturity with a couple of magnificent performances to start 2016.
Unfortunately, injury struck again soon afterwards when he strained a hamstring in his other leg but Martinez's faith in his future role as an important member of Everton's first team was underscored at the end of February 2016 when he was
given a new 5½-year contract that tied him to the Blues until June 2021.
With his somewhat belligerent attitude, he became something of a cult
figure among a section of the Everton fanbase, but his performances on the field still markedly failed to live
up to the promise of his performances at World Cup 2014, and his second
season proved to be even more disappointing than his first at Everton. His performances, when he was available, betrayed a lack
of positional sense, and he spent most of the season out injured.
The coming of the Ronald Koeman era in 2016 offered a chance to re-energize his Goodison career but disaster struck again just 12 minutes after he came on as a second-half substitute in Wayne
Rooney's testimonial at Old Trafford. An awkward twist of the knee in an
innocuous tackle saw him signal for a replacement before hobbling off the
pitch. Scans later revealed the extent of the damage, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a projected
recovery period of six months.
Muhamed would eventually miss
almost all of the that season, getting fit enough to only
sit on the bench for the final two games over nine months after he was
injured. A new season dawned but things didn't really improve for the
Bosnian: he found it hard getting any continuity of playing time under all
three managers (Koeman, Unsworth and Allardyce) and half-way through the campaign he accepted a loan move to Middlesbrough in the Championship, where he did
well – perhaps a case of finding his true level – and became something of
a fan favourite on Teesside.
He returned to Everton for
pre-season under new boss Marco Silva but did not do enough to
impress and was told by the new manager that he was not in the
first-team picture that season, leading him to seek a move back to the Riverside. He looked set to join Boro on a permanent basis on
transfer deadline day in August 2018 but the deal fell through, reportedly due to a
dispute over agent fees.
An agreement was eventually agreed later that month that would see Besic return to the Riverside on loan for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.
He got a good number of games but was not as convincing as he had been
in his first half-season on Teesside and, with no place in Silva's plans at Everton, rumours of a move to Turkey surfaced in the summer of 2019.
Besic would remain England, however, securing a deadline-day loan move to newly-promoted Sheffield United who fended off interest from Fulham to acquire him for the season. After a fallow spell in the autumn, Besic would get a handful of games
for the Blades, albeit often from the bench, finally scoring a fine goal
against Millwall in the FA Cup. However, that involvement with the first
team ended abruptly in January 2020 when Chris Wilder acquired the
services of Sander Berge from Genk and Besic eventually returned to Everton once more in the summer.
With little prospect of being part of the first-team picture under Silva's replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, Besic was again expected to seek either loan move or permament transfer as he entered the final year of his contract at Goodison Park.
He would appear for 15 miniutes in the first pre-season friendly at
Blackpool, wearing the No 30 shirt, and was included in Everton's Premier League squad for the 2020-21 season but never made it as far as the matchday squad
under Ancelotti before finally leaving the club in June 2021 after seven
largely disappointing years when his contract expired.
Besic returned to Ferençváros when his contract at Goodison Park expired having made just 35 starts but he recalled his time with the Toffees fondly in an interview with evertonfc.com in late 2023.
“My connection with Evertonians always meant a lot to me… it still does,” he said. “Even now, here in Hungary I see a few Evertonians now and then and every time they will say, ‘It was a shame it didn’t work out’, and things like this.
“The fans and the Club’s values are what make it so special. We say in Bosnia, the fans are from the streets. They are not like some fans of other clubs. When you see Evertonians on the street, they are the people who will talk to you like they are one of your friends. I love that connection.
“Things didn’t end up going as I would have liked but that is life. It means a lot to me to be part of Everton and to know that the people still remember me fondly. I still support the Club, of course. I still watch nearly every game even now.”
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