Last week, I premiered a new mini-feature, a look back at some of the best memories from my time at Goodison Park. Essentially, it will be split into 3 parts: Players, Matches and Goals i.e. the most memorable parts of a football match. As part of the player segment, I started to choose my favourite XI however, due to the amount of names to talk about I’ve had to split it into two parts. This is the second part of it.
Why am I doing this? Well, I’m about to enter my 22nd year on this earth and Everton, for better or for worse, have constituted a big part of it. Furthermore, this is the first season in a while I’ve been absent from Goodison Park and I’m missing it, hence why I’m reliving some of my favourite moments.
Who has made my team so far? Nigel Martyn pipped Tim Howard to the goalkeeping spot, Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Joeleon Lescott and Leighton Baines completed my defence with with John Stones and David Unsworth gaining places on the bench. Today we shall look at the midfield and attacking presence of the team.
There has been a plethora of wonderful central midfielders during my time watching Everton, of many different styles and possessing wonderful qualities. The hard working Carsley, Neville, McCarthy and Barry suit the creative Arteta, Gravesen, Gibson and Osman perfectly. I’ve even seen Paul Gascoigne wearing Royal Blue and tearing an opposition apart. Ignoring the likes of Rodwell, Besic, Linderoth and Li Tie, I narrowed my two picks down to those 8 and aim to pick one from each category.
Let’s start with the defensive section. Phil Neville came to Everton at the right time. His United career was over, and a fresh start at a club, which he could lead, was the best option. His Manchester background meant he was never fully accepted in Evertonian’s hearts but he brought a lot of good to Goodison. I personally would love to see him back as a coach one day; we could do a lot worse. I don’t see him as technically gifted as the other 3 being considered nor do I see Gareth Barry as consistent enough anymore, as good as he is he isn’t what he was. So that leaves the Irishmen, Lee Carsley and James McCarthy. It’s a tough call, both were/are solid midfielders who don’t score many goals but do the most important job for the team, stopping them. They both sat in front of the back four like they owned them and defended with their heart on their sleeves. The only reason I’m plucking for McCarthy is that I’ve never seen anyone with his energy or desire on a football pitch.
For the first half of the 2004-05 season Thomas Gravesen was leading Everton to the Champions League, with the title also a realistic possibility. He had always been a talismanic if infuriating figure however he was now transformed into a reliable world class match winner. Unfortunately, he then left to join Real Madrid, and came back a few seasons later a shadow of his former self. When we signed Darron Gibson from United, there was a lot of head scratching however since we’ve seen that Moyes pulled off the second best bargain of the century. His passing is a joy to behold, the best I’ve seen grace Goodison Park. Unfortunately his injury record means he loses out to Leon Osman and Mikel Arteta. It would be harsh on either to leave them out but Osman will have to settle for a place on the bench. Osman has knitted every Everton side that he has played for together and deserves more than his 2 England caps. Even now, he is the key man in our midfield. We will miss him massively when he retires but he never possessed the ability that Mikel Arteta had while with us. The Best Little Spaniard We Know would have loved playing under Martinez with the way he dictates play in the centre of the park, brings players in around him and can turn defence into attack with one ball. He declined before he left but the few seasons before then were nothing short of magical.
Holding the side together: James McCarthy, Mikel Arteta
On the bench: Leon Osman
Just missing out: Darron Gibson, Lee Carsley, Gareth Barry, Thomas Gravesen, Phil Neville
Making up numbers: Tobias Linderoth, Jack Rodwell, Li Tie
One-season “wonders”: Der Hammer (Thomas Hitzlsperger), Segundo Castillo
Wingers have been in short supply at Everton under both Moyes and Martinez. Over the last couple of seasons Kevin Mirallas has come in from Olympiakos and made a massive impact, possessing pace, trickery and skill in equal measure. He is an absolute delight to watch when on form, mesmerising opposition who don’t know which way he will go next. Last season, Liverpool resorted to kicking him to the point of injury, as they just didn’t possess enough intelligence or logic to find more legal ways of stopping him. Like all good wingers, he infuriates as much as he excites and has an attitude as bad as any. His time at Everton is ending in a sour note however that shouldn’t take away what a wonderful player he has been for us, even in such short a timespan.
Some of the best right-sided players have been on loan. Gerard Deulofeu made a positive impact while we borrowed him from Barcelona last season. He was like a more talented but less rounded younger version of Mirallas, and if it weren’t for a horror injury he would have been one of our players of the season. We all hope he can come back at some point. The American, Landon Donovan, had two loan spells with us, working his way into our hearts with passionate displays and a clear love for the club. It’s a shame that he never came here permanently but in truth, I’m not entirely sure he was ever convinced enough.
The other two Moyes right-sided midfielders were Dan Gosling and Simon Davies. Both I remember with a tint of regret. I honestly thought Simon Davies would be a great signing but, besides a long-range effort to score his only goal, he did little. I saw an article that described him as one of Moyes’ worst signings, harsh but probably true. Dan Gosling had a lot of talent. He was starting to force his way into the Everton side before he got crushed by Marcus Hahnemann and then left Everton by saying he’d sign a contract before refusing to, which brought a disappointing end to a promising career. His best moment was the winning goal against Liverpool in the 2009 FA Cup fourth round which half of the country missed. Andy Van der Meyde, another right midfielder but one certainly not worth mentioning much, provided the assist.
Does anyone else have a player who is their favourite despite barely remembering them? I think I’m slightly strange for that reason but no one has ever come close to receiving the admiration that I have for Niclas Alexandersson. In fact, it’s because of him that I’ve adopted Sweden as my second national side, I always wanted to be a right midfielder, I always wanted to have blonde hair and he’s the reason 7 is my number of choice. For him to have had such an impact on me, I must have been seriously impressed by what I saw when I saw him. I celebrated his equaliser for Sweden against England in the 2002 World Cup so much that I got kicked out of the caravan I was watching it in! He only lasted 3 full seasons at Everton but he’ll always be my favourite. My only Walter Smith pick! Plus, Coleman and Alexandersson down the right is the dream partnership for me, the only footballers I’ve ever admired.
Right-winger: Niclas Alexendersson
Waiting in the wings: Kevin Mirallas, Landon Donovan, Gerard Deulofeu
Going home: Dan Gosling, Simon Davies, Andy Van der Meyde
There is only one outstanding candidate for this spot. The miniature South African, Steven Pienaar, who makes Everton tick with his clever little link up play, passing ability and knack of scoring goals at the right time. Everyone thought Everton would struggle without Mikel Arteta during his injury and then when he left, far from it as Pienaar stepped up and became even more crucial. He left to join Tottenham but soon came back and has been just as important this time around. He’s getting older and his influence is waning over time however he’s been injured a lot this season and we’ve missed his intelligence.
Pienaar is my pick but it’s worth mentioning a few others. James McFadden could do ridiculous things with a football at his feet, such as volleyed goals from impossible angles and lengths and deceiving people with his jinking runs. Quite probably the most talented player Britain has produced in recent years (excluding Bale) but he never lived up to the potential he showed. Sadly, I fear he moved to Everton too soon and Moyes ruined his creativity. Then there is Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, seen as a disappointment but he too could confuse players with quick feet. Bily scored some terrific goals for Everton and I wish he could have done more for us; he was very fun to watch. Next week, I’ll talk about him in more detail. Finally, there is Kevin “Zinedine” Kilbane. I admit I don’t remember much about him however a lot of Everton fans say positive things about him. Another hard worker rather than full of flair, he certainly did a job for Everton during his time at Goodison.
Completing Bainaar: Steven Pienaar
Left behind: James McFadden, Kevin Kilbane, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov
Thankfully never seen again: Magaye Gueye, Royston Drenthe
Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley, the list for central attacking midfielder is packed full of guts and talent. All four have genuine claims for this slot, as all four have made lasting impact at Goodison Park.
Let’s start with the big Belgian. He played in many different positions, but was more effective when up front or just behind the striker. He was good in the air, great with his feet and possessed enough skill to survive in the cutthroat pace of a Premier League midfield. It doesn’t surprise me he is now a key part of Van Gaal’s United because he was clearly more talented than the majority of the Everton team. He had the ability to dominate defences with his physical presence and was always in the right place at the right time to slot hone. He was an important part of our side but, since he left, we’ve coped well.
He’s not been missed because of the development of Ross Barkley. Barkley is frustrating and raw but undoubtedly talented. He’s at his best when he has the ball at his feet, running full tilt at defenders and then unleashing a furious shot or splitting the remaining defenders open with a beautiful through ball. Barkley is the rough diamond of this Everton set up, the one who has the spark that can change the course of a match or even a season in the blink of an eye. He’s come back from a career threatening injury at the age of 16 to be one of England’s brightest young things. The sky is the limit and under Martinez, he can reach it.
I wrote quite recently about how Steven Naismith’s form has made him un-droppable and that point still rings true. Naismith nits the team together and has recovered from a poor start to his Everton career to be one of our most valuable player. He can play small passes, finds space in the tightest of corners and has an eye for goal. He’s the fan favourite of this team, the player who leaves everything on the pitch and could do great things with us. All it comes down to is whether you prefer Naismith or Barkley. It’s not that I’m against talent; it’s just that I prefer what Naismith can do hence why he makes the bench of my team.
He only makes the bench because essentially, Steven Naismith is nowhere near Tim Cahill. We’ve never really replaced the tenacious Australian because how can you when one player brings so much? I’ll start with his heading ability, the ace up his sleeve. He would run into the box late and latch on to a lot of crosses that looked like they were going nowhere. Despite the ploy being obvious to all, it was very difficult to stop. He was a thorn in Liverpool’s (and many others) side as he wound them up. He would be a little pain, putting himself about and using his strength to win the ball and keep it. He played physically and within the laws of the game so rarely got into trouble (one of his red cards was for taking his shirt off). He gave Ferguson a new lease of life, he gave Jelavic the best possible start at a club and he would work wonders playing off Lukaku. When our midfield boasted him, Pienaar, Arteta and Osman we were almost unstoppable. You can’t fail to look back at his Everton career and smile because he gave absolutely everything for us. Calls to retire the 17 shirt were ridiculous because he never won a trophy with us but if he had, it’s almost certain that he would have wrestled the lifting duties away from Phil Neville and no-one, not even fizzer, would have minded. An easy pick.
Playing in the hole: Tim Cahill
Warming the bench: The Messi of the North (Steven Naismith)
Harshly in the reserves: Ross Barkley, Marouane Fellaini
I’m fairly sure I left some strikers off my list of ones I’ve seen up front for the blues given how many David Moyes the striker killer got through in his 11 years. So, off the top of my head and in some sort of chronological order: Bakayoko, Ferguson, Radzinski, Campbell, Jeffers, Rooney (probably), Chadwick, Bent, Beattie, Johnson, Yakubu, Anichebe, Vaughan, Saha, Beckford, Vellios, Stracqualursi, Jelavic, Kone and Lukaku. This was the hardest decision to make and obviously I won’t talk about all of them, so let’s narrow it down to some of my favourites: Duncan Ferguson, Louis Saha, Victor Anichebe, Denis Stracqualursi, Nikica Jelavic and Romelu Lukaku.
I’ll start with the count from Argentina. Not the most technically gifted player but it’s impossible not to love someone who cries when he scores his first goal for your club! He always threw himself about everywhere, ran after every lost cause and even tried heading the ball after he had fallen to the ground. There’s a good article about him here, which sums up everything I feel about the big man. Despite that season not being one to remember, Denis made going to Goodison worth it and for that reason, I very nearly made him my striker.
In the end though, I had to go with actual talent and everyone listed above had more of that. Well, maybe. Victor Anichebe was similar to Denis and it was that season that the two of them became the most feared partnership in the land (not quite!). For years, Anichebe had been a super sub who wasn’t very super. He scored the odd goal but we had all been saying he was far from good enough until Moyes lit a fuse up his backside and he became the beast we all hoped he could be. For two seasons he was brushing defenders aside, scoring more goals than he had and linking with the midfield perfectly. During Moyes’ last season, Jelavic lost all that had made him good the season before, and it was Anichebe who kept the European dream alive. I was devastated when we sold him to West Brom, the man loves Everton and I’d have him back in a heartbeat. However, once again I must stress that he wasn’t as good as the strikers I’ve yet to mention.
Louis Saha was an incredibly frustrating figure but one who I remember fondly. Signed cheaply from United, he lasted longer than most Moyes strikers and scored 27 goals for us in 97 appearances. Ok, that scoring record isn’t great and spent most of his time on the wings (I’m to this day not really sure why) but he had something about him, a spark that when he turned on he became the world’s best. Poor Blackpool found that out, when he scored 4 past them in one game – in quite frankly the strangest game of football I have ever witnessed. His Everton career ended with a 942-minute goal drought, but lets skip past that and remember the better times!
Another person we have to do that for is Nikica Jelavic. Nothing fills me with more sadness in football than Jela’s second season, just as no one had made such an impact with his first half season. We had had a bad season, signed the Croat on deadline day and he scored 11 goals between February and May that included taking us to Wembley. We all thought we had an Everton legend on our hands, until the second season jibs got to him and he looked a shadow of himself. No longer was his second touch a celebration, no longer were the arms outstretched in delight. In 2013-14, Lukaku took his place until the FA Cup tie v QPR when he scored 2 and missed a penalty before being sold to Hull. Typically Lukaku then got injured and it would have been the perfect chance for Niki to regain his form had Martinez not got rid of him. Quite frankly, I miss him and therefore he makes my bench.
Another who makes my bench is the big man himself, Big Dunc. The first footballer jailed for an on-field offence and the most sent off player in Premier League history was a recluse who loved pigeons and hated the limelight but developed a bond with Everton fans. He was an incredibly gifted player, yes he had a temper but overall his Everton career was more positive than not. Ok, he’s loved because we had little else back then to get excited about but even I, too young to understand all that, was taken in by him and his passion. It was fitting that he scored on his last appearance for the club.
But my striker is our current striker, the 21-year-old Romelu Lukaku. He’s got the world at his feet and it is almost certain that he will play for much bigger clubs than Everton in the near future so we’ve got to enjoy this while we can. Powerful, fast and with a vicious shot, Lukaku has every attribute you want from a first class striker. Whatever he does next in his career, I will always remember my last season as a season ticket holder where we finally could boast a striker worth the name. He is the perfect blend of Saha’s talent, a little pinch of Stracq’s work effort and Jelavic’s instincts. He hasn’t soured this season either and looked set to score 20 until injury hit. If we hold onto him for another few years, he could be very good indeed.
Leading the line: Romelu Lukaku
On the bench: Duncan Ferguson, Nikica Jelavic
Working hard in training: Denis Stracqualursi, Victor Anichebe
Also around: Louis Saha, Yakubu, Andy Johnson
Consigned to the dustbin of striker history: Apostolos Vellios, Marcus Bent, Nick Chadwick, Francis Jeffers
So, my side in full:
This Everton side combines the power and pace of Lukaku with the creativity of Arteta, the power of McCarthy and the tenacious Cahill. It has a solid defence, with 2 partnerships down the wings enough to scare any opponents. Baines and Pienaar already have the best combination in the land, I’m sure Coleman and Alexandersson would strike up something similar.
Next week we shall have a countdown of my favourite matches while sat at Goodison Park.