Everton’s preseason preparations continued with two games in Scotland, where the Blues’ youngsters again caught the eye.
The first match, against Dundee United, was pushed back a night thanks to a waterlogged pitch. When it did eventually get underway, the six and a half thousand punters who showed up must have wondered whether it was worth the wait.
A low key encounter looked set for a fitting goalless draw until the 87th minute, when Seamus Coleman jinked away down the right wing before floating a cross to the back post. The unmarked Ross Barkley left the goalkeeper and recovering defenders no chance as he headed the ball back across goal and in the far corner.
Everyone expects a lot from Barkley, and there is always an eagerness from the supporters to see youngsters thrown into the action. That desire is perhaps even stronger at a club like Everton where new signings are relatively few and far between; new faces are more likely to come from the ranks of the reserves and youth set-ups. Young careers need to be managed carefully though, and David Moyes has proved himself to be as good as anyone at introducing and developing nascent talent. At Everton, if you are good enough then you are old enough.
In fact, Moyes’s biggest mistake was probably made at the start of last season when, impressed by Barkley’s form in the warm up games, threw him in too the cut-throat world of the Premier League too early. The teenager’s confidence and desire to make a difference in matches resulted in a a numbe of bad decisions that he was probably used ot getting away with. At the top flight though, as you hear so often, you get punished ruthlessly.
Getting slung into a struggling side is never the best for a young player either, but that tends to be when the crowd most want to see a change. Not only is it bad for the youngster in terms of what’s happening on the pitch, the manager has to also consider how he affects the team’s morale. For every reserve player being introduced, there’s usually an unhappy senior squad member being dropped. Sat in the stands, we can say that it shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it clearly does and the manager has to weigh up the pros and cons of every decision.
In Saturday’s game at Motherwell, more of the senior players were involved, including Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith, whose clearance to play has finally arrived. Again it was one of the younger players who opened the scoring though, with a similar goal to Barkley’s. This time it was centre-half Shane Duffy who rose to head home Victor Anichebe’s cross.
In a much more entertaining game both sides created plenty of chances, but the only other goal came after the break when Nicky Law fired a peach of a half-volley high past Tim Howard. Substitute Naismith should have scored on his debut but fired straight at a defender on the line.
Moyes was again impressed by the contribution of Fransisco Junior, one wild tackle aside, and said:
“By the way he’s playing at the moment, yes, he’s got a good chance of being involved in my plans for next season.
“Pre-season he’s probably looked as good as anybody.
“Of course it’s a different ball game pre-season to the real thing so we won’t be kidded, but he’s not looked out of place that’s for sure.”
Competition for midfield places should be as strong as it’s been at Goodison for a long time then, especially if Steven Pienaar’s transfer is ever actually completed. Every day, reports say it is ‘edging closer’, but there are continental plates that have moved quicker than this. What seems much more likely than any incremental movement is that a deal with Tottenham has been agreed but we are simply waiting for a lump of cash to pay the first instalment. The accepted wisdom seems to be that the money will arrive if and when Joseph Yobo’s permanent move to Fenerbahce is ever completed. The Turkish side appear to be just acting soft, knowing that Everton need the money and definitely don’t want to the player back. The longer it goes, the further they can force the price down.
The Blues head out to Indonesia to play a couple of matches now. As we all know, everyone always agrees that those sorts of trips, at the behest of sponsors and marketing types, always make for superb preparations for the season. How many times have you heard managers declare that their great start to the season was down to hauling themselves halfway around the globe to play in boiling weather?
In other news, Everton won’t be the latest club to pay Michael Owen’s stable fees. The knack-kneed striker is about as relevant to modern football as shouting ‘steps’ at the goally, regardless of whatever wanky statistics someone always drags up for his goals-per-games-when-he’s-not-fucked-and-off-somewhere-wearing-a-top-hat-ratio. Will someone please just make him go away?