The news that James McFadden, Scotland’s foremost purveyor of inconsistent forward performances, is set to return to Everton on a free transfer got Football Burp thinking: haven’t the Toffees had to resort to this kind of thing quite a lot over the last fifteen years? At the risk of rushing this mildly interesting claptrap out before noticing any glaring omissions, here are six other players that “rejoined” the Toffees in recent times with decidedly mixed results…
1. Duncan Ferguson – Having been sold to Newcastle United by then owner Peter Johnson behind the back of then manager Walter Smith, the big, Scottish nutter made an emotional return to his adopted club a couple of years later and pretty much picked up where he left off in terms of scoring the odd crucial goal in between spells on the sidelines with various ailments. After Smith was sacked by Kenwright for his catastrophic attempts to resuscitate David Ginola’s football career, Ferguson was named captain for and scored in each of Moyes’ first two games as Everton manager. A bust-up between the two during a turbulent 2003/04 campaign cast aspersions on the future of each but a reconciliation was made abundantly clear when Ferguson’s role as ‘super sub’ helped catapult Moyes’ seemingly relegation-bound Toffees into the top four the very next year. The man known as Big Dunc bowed out with a last-minute penalty equaliser against West Bromwich Albion at Goodison on the final day of the 2005-06 season, his cult hero status intact, and he has recently returned to the club as a youth coach.
Football Burp says: A reasonably successful return, all in all.
2. David Unsworth – As a powerful young centre-back, Unsworth was capped for England and kept Mark Hughes quiet in Everton’s 1995 FA Cup final win over Manchester United, but he never quite progressed as had been hoped and was eventually sold to West Ham United in a deal which saw ill-starred midfielder Danny Williamson come to Goodison during Howard Kendall’s ill-starred (and very almost disastrously-starred) third stint as Toffees manager. He moved on to Aston Villa the very next year but was in the Midlands for only a matter of weeks before – as legend has it – Mrs Unsworth demanded a move back up north and subsequently got it. He went on to prove himself a solid and popular servant of the club without ever really coming close to hitting the heights that he appeared destined for as a youngster. Took a mean penalty, though.
Football Burp says: “Rhino charges” up the pitch may have been replaced as a feature of his game by constant, diagonal hoofs up the pitch, but his second spell was solid enough not to constitute any kind of disaster.
3. Alan Stubbs – Now the club’s Reserve team manager, Stubbs was brought in by Smith on a free transfer from Celtic and went on to be a key member of the Everton side that clinched an unlikely top four finish in 2004/05. He was granted a free transfer to Sunderland at the end of that season, with Per Kroldrup his apparent replacement, but was back at Goodison by the following January as Moyes sought to remedy the alarming collapse of his side’s defensive solidity during that intervening time, which took in 4-0 defeats to Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion. It worked, as the rock-bottom Toffees then went on a run that saw them climb into the top half of the table before fading at the end to finish 11th. Stubbs continued to be first-choice the following season as Everton claimed UEFA Cup qualification with a 6th place finish, before eventually handing over the ‘marshalling’ baton to Phil Jagielka.
Football Burp says: A thoroughly successful return
4. Alessandro Pistone – Another regular member of Everton’s 2004-05 defence to be released at the end of that season, reportedly due to his reluctance to sign the new one-year deal offered him, the injury-prone Italian full-back was back on a two-year deal by the end of that very summer in the midst of a defensive crisis as the Toffees prepared for their Champions League qualifying matches against Villareal. However, he picked up a cruciate knee ligament injury almost immediately and left Goodison the following year without having made another appearance.
Football Burp says: D’oh!
5. Francis Jeffers – Having come through the Everton academy to emerge as one of the most promising young strikers in the country, Jeffers’ £10 million move to Arsenal must have had a massively destabilising effect on him as he’s never even looked close to being the same player since then. Such was his inability to live up to Arsene Wenger’s infamous “fox in the box” billing, Moyes took Jeffers back to Everton as a last-minute loan signing in the summer transfer window of the 2003-04 season. This had the blue half of Merseyside dreaming of a prolific link-up in attack with fellow local boy Wayne Rooney – not to mention a supporting role from the talented young James McFadden, who had also arrived at the end of this window – but Jeffers failed to register a single league goal and was subsequently sent to continue his downwards trajectory elsewhere.
Football Burp says: If he hadn’t manage to miss from pretty much the goal line in the last minute of an FA Cup replay at Fulham – a tie which had already seen him plunder two late equalisers – who knows what direction his career might have taken from then on? A sad waste of what looked to be a special talent.
6. Thomas Gravesen – Commonly mistaken for a defensive midfielder by dint of his bald head and mad staring eyes, the Dane looked to be making up for four prior years of deeply inconsistent form with a run of virtuoso performances that saw Everton rack up 40 points by the halfway stage of the 2004-05 season. Real Madrid then took him for £2 million and proceeded to play him in the holding role, a move which can only be explained away by the oft-proffered theory that they mistook him for Lee Carsley – and, via an ill-fated stint at Celtic, he returned to Goodison with knees barely intact on a free transfer at the beginning of the 2007-08 season after Manuel Fernandes reneged on a permanent deal to join Valencia. Aside from the occasional cameo, Gravesen’s role appeared to be limited to geeing up the crowd from the sidelines and it was not long before he announced his retirement from football.
Football Burp says: Scored a penalty in an ultimately unsuccessful UEFA Cup shoot-out against Fiorentina and almost took the roof off Goodison with a blistering effort against Newcastle on the final day of the season. Also made for a damn fine cheerleader, so his return was not entirely in vain.
7. Manuel Fernandes – Prior to turning his back on an apparently agreed-upon £12 million move, the skilful Portuguese midfielder had endeared himself to the denizens of Goodison with an impressive loan spell at the end of the previous season. Life in Spain, however, did not go entirely according to plan at first either and he was back on loan that very January. This time around, however, he looked sluggish due to a lack of games and, aside from a mesmerising performance against Newcastle on the final day, looked to be a bit of a liability in Moyes’ hard-working midfield unit. Now at Besiktas, which would appear to indicate that Everton dodged a bullet on that one.
Football Burp says: Another case of considerable talent going sadly unfulfilled, although he is still young enough to turn it around.
8. Peter Beagrie – The McFadden of his day? Beagrie was an occasionally tricky winger but not exactly a resounding success during his first spell at Everton, so his return on loan towards the end of the 1997-98 season did little to assuage Toffees fans’ relegation fears. He turned up at central midfield in a 4-0 defeat at Arsenal on the penultimate day of the season, confirming the Gunners as champions and plunging Everton into the relegation zone in the progress, but did not start the following week’s 1-1 draw with Coventry City that clinched survival on goal difference at the expense of Bolton.
Football Burp says: Remember that one?
9. Phil Jagielka – Released by Everton as a youngster, brought back in the summer of 2007 and now an established member of both David Moyes’ first-choice back four and of Fabio Capello’s England squads.
Football Burp says: Ah come on, let us have this one.
10. Leighton Baines – Ditto all of the above.
What do you think of Football Burp’s selections? Have your say in the comments section at the bottom of the page…