Andy King 1955-2015



I was in The Paddock with my father standing in our usual spot, half way back and level with the Park End’s penalty area. As the ball was nodded back to Andy King lurking 20 yards from goal, I recall the wait for the ball to drop far enough for his right foot to meet it flush on the instep – he must have felt it too, but King had a finisher’s instincts and knew what a difference that tenth of a heartbeat makes. The ball flew into the top right corner of the net and what felt like an earthquake exploded around me.

Seven years is a long time when you’re 15, but, in the ecstatic faces of the dads and granddads around me, in their bearhugs and their lifting of someone, anyone off their feet, I learned that it was a long time for anyone. Everton had the goal that would give us our first win over Liverpool since 1971, and I had been physically closer to another human being than I would be until the sweet sting of alcohol, lipstick and tobacco was my gateway to the mysterious world of girls some twelve months later.

King’s non-interview in the chaos that greeted the final whistle has entered Goodison folklore and now, at the age of just 58, he has left the pitch for good, a sudden and terrible blow for Evertonians who lived through the grim 70s, the better to appreciate the glorious 80s.

Andy King was a shining light in the often pragmatic teams that suggested that The School of Science had found places for rather more dunces than its reputation demanded. He was not a Scouser, but he immediately found a home at Goodison, his blond head always driving forward, his keen eye for a goal getting him on the end of chances and his smile lighting up a club that had moved, just a little, into the shadows. He had the air of a Sunday morning footballer at times, but heart and passion counted a lot more in the late 70s than a silky first touch and a Beckhamesque physique. He was good enough for us.

“Oh, Andy Is Our King / Oh, Andy Is Our King / Oh, Andy Is Our King” the faithful sang, ironically really, because he was one of us, not a man from another planet as today’s footballers seem so often to be.  He left to go to QPR and came back, but it never quite worked out. He did some managing, coaching and scouting round the lower leagues too, but he never hit the headlines like he did when he played in Royal Blue.

Everton, and Evertonians, were enriched by Andy King’s short but memorable time at Goodison, all the more so now we know that it was part of so short a life. Goodison will stand to its departed hero in August and men will hug each other again when that goal is shown on the big screen, as it is before every home game, but this time it’ll be slightly out of focus – just a speck got into my eye son, just a speck…

Martinez, Mirallas and Green – The Blues’ midwinter blues

AG“I’m… I’m so in love with you
Whatever you want to do
Is all right with me…
‘Cause you… make me feel so brand new…
And I… want to spend my life with you…

Let me say that since, baby
Since we’ve been together
Loving you forever
Is what I… need…
Let me… be the one you come running to…
I’ll… never be untrue…

Ooo baby…
Let’s, let’s stay together…
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Ooooo… Oooo… Yeah…
Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad”

The Reverend Al Green there with a declaration of faith in the spirit of togetherness, something that’s elusive around Goodison Park (and probably Finch Farm too) these days. The grim run of results, Bobby’s bouncy bonhomie falling flat and Kevin Mirallas… Well, when things go against you, they really go against you.

The febrile football punditocracy have had their say on Kev’s show of confidence / show of arrogance, Gary Neville going all in on Sky with…

“If he’s done what I think he’s done, gone against team orders, manager orders, and selfishly taken the ball, it’s one of the most despicable breaches of team orders you can possibly have. You do not do that at any cost.

“Leighton Baines, not the most confrontational type of lad, he’s the type that has probably said: ‘go on then, if you’re confident’.

Mirallas took penalty ahead of normal spot-kick man Baines

“But what usually happens in dressing rooms is your free-kick takers, penalty-takers are usually listed.”

Well you can only call that kind of raise from the seat left of the small blind, but Kev still got the press he must have expected (although Leighton Baines probably didn’t expect a shoeing too – though the Press don’t often miss a chance to kick a nice guy when he’s down).

As for me? Kev’s a confident guy, he’s always backed himself, he’s a winner and winners do that sort of thing (cue Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights). Except it’s not like that – not outside a Will Ferrell vehicle anyway, no matter how well observed. If Kev wanted to take the penalty, the time for sorting that out was on the training ground prepping (yes, prepping) for the match. Whether you have a poignant tribute to a tragically killed mate on a T-shirt, or felt you are on a roll, or just got high on the sheer release a goal would bring to a tense spell, he shouldn’t have done it. He looked like a selfish idiot (his personal comeuppance) but he made team-mates and his manager look weak too and that’s worse than the two points eschewed.  (What could they do – “Bowyer and Dyer” it out on the field, Big Rom and Glasgow Steven battling for Bainesy? No.)

If Kev goes, I shan’t shed any tears. Though he should recognise that Everton made him – I mean, who is top scorer in the Greek League now? I doubt he will though (at least not yet) and, though he’ll probably go to another top, if not top, top team in the summer, he’s unlikely to be indulged running down blind allies and playing hospital passes as he has been at Everton. We’ll miss his pace – but we’re missing pace everywhere right now.

So what of Bobby? Are you with the Talksport shouters who want him out and Duncan Ferguson promoted to add a bit more PASSION!!! (Presumably because elite football matches turn on PASSION and not player technique, managerial organisation or coolness under pressure).

Not me. I’ll give Senor M this season to deal with the reaction to last season. I’ll judge him (and Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku and Tim Howard) in December 2015 when we’ll know about how these men deal with adversity. This season will improve when James McCarthy returns (which might be ideally timed for the Europa League), a player with plenty of mid-80s Peter Reid about him and a huge loss this term. Bobby’s got some work to do on the squad, but he bought McCarthy and secured Muhamed Besic for a song, so he knows what’s needed to defend up the field and he has coaches to get the lads right at corners. Once Premier League safety is secured (and I’m not taking that for granted), I’d like to see lots of the impressive youngsters (like Tyias Browning and Ryan Ledson) being given 60 mins, because, as Southampton have shown, there’s nothing like giving responsibility to encourage responsibility.

(The squad needs to be fitter though, something Bobby M knows a bit about, but ain’t a little knowledge a dangerous thing?)

Lose against Palace away and this mysteriously effective Liverpool at Goodison and Martinez will face the awesome Chelsea machine at Stamford Bridge with a crisis on his hands. And, when you’re in a crisis or in a mid-90s slasher movie, everyone knows that it pays to stay together.

Sing the song Al.


Everton – Christmas Present

Things looking up for Kone?

Things looking up for Kone?

Everyone knows about second season syndrome – indeed, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as there’s nothing like a readymade excuse to burrow into the brains of tired men. And tired men, despite Bobby M’s assertions that the club is embracing the additional demands of the Europa League, is exactly what we have seen in blue too often in the first half of the season. It may be unpalatable to those struggling to pay the mortgage, working two jobs to make ends meet or recalling days spent toiling in the pit, but fatigue is not relative – it’s there or it not. I offered more on this some weeks ago.

So if we accept that the squad and the manager are worth much more than a mid-table slot (and let’s not be complacent about that with the likes of QPR snapping at our heels), what changes can be made to shake the lethargy and re-fire the cylinders?

First and foremost, the impact of James McCarthy’s injury is now as plain as plain can be. My Player of the Season last time round is so much more than a defensive midfielder screening a suddenly vulnerable back four. He picks the ball up from defenders and makes the team play, not with long raking passes that catch the eye and do little else, but by shuffling forward to prompt other blue shirts to make the angles the short-passing game demands. He also allows others to risk forward runs while he slots into their place in the defensive unit. It’s a cliche, but he makes the team tick – and tempo matters in football as much as it does in any other sport.

McCarthy’s ability to deliver on a pivotal role is no surprise – he’s been playing senior football since he was 16 and, though he may not speak often to the media, clearly burns with football intelligence. Muhammed Besic and Ross Barkley are young and developing their games, but they must work with McCarthy and the coaching staff and learn a position that must be one of the hardest to play in 21st century football, as it is Besic’s primary function and Barkley’s secondary. In the summer, Bobby M must look for another with whom he can work to cover the McCarthy / Barry axis. It’s my belief that a bright young full-back can be taught the DM position and, if Southampton miss out on Europe, I’d like us to push the boat out for Nathaniel Clyne with a view to him playing there. And I wouldn’t put it past Leighton Baines covering Gareth Barry’s role if his engine starts to splutter on those runs up and down the wing – just because the conversion it did not work for Philipp Lahm does not rule out its merits. 

When McCarthy does return to the colours, he will find a back four behind him that is wobbling. John Stones cannot relieve Sylvain Distin quickly enough, tremendous servant though the Frenchman has proved. Further back, Tim Howard might be advised to curb his off-field activities and concentrate fully on the day job. That’s not intended as jibe at another fine player who has given so much to the cause, but an honest appraisal of a man whose physical powers must be waning at nearly 36 and so needs to call upon all his concentration and positional sense in the cauldron of Premier League matches. Summer recruitment at centre-back or as clear a commitment to promote a youngster as was given to John Stones last season, is another priority looking forward.

But it’s upfront where the squad’s talents are most obvious and, in consequence, the solutions seem, infuriatingly, contrarily, both plentiful and elusive. Why can’t Bobby get a combination to work and why can’t the players get anywhere near last season’s form? Both questions are easier to put that to answer.

Mine? I’d give Big Rom a break through regular rotation – he’s played pretty much the whole of 2014 (with the World Cup in the summer) and he is only 21. Now Kone is fit, he can do the job for which he was bought – at least some of the time. Steven Naismith is just too valuable a player to leave out, so I’d start him just off the centre-forward every match, but expect him to drop deeper if he needs to do a job to hold on to a clean sheet. Ross Barkley? Probably has too much talent to leave out, so I’d ask him to play in the middle of midfield, in front of the Barry / McCarty axis and with defensive duties, but able to use that preternatural balance to go off either foot, breaking upfield. He would have to learn on the job, but fourth in the PL looks a long way off, so the league season can be dedicated to such development.

That gives the team seven players starting through the middle, but with Barkley and Naismith capable of going wide and Lukaku often doing good work out on the wing, it shouldn’t imbalance the XI. Inevitably, much emphasis would be placed on the full-backs getting forward into the spaces out wide (as they did so well last season) and on Mirallas, McGeady, Eto’o, Osman, Pienaar, Atsu and others maintaining a shape that is difficult to break down, as well as providing options going forward. It’s a squad game after all.

With so much football to be played before the Europa League brings silverware into sight and revives what is already a disappointing season, Blues fans must be patient, but deserve to see Bobby M’s thinking and players’ responses to it – a rare plea from me to be less pragmatic. A slow drift towards 11th an a defeat in the Europa League quarter-finals with the team asking the same questions each week and getting the same answers, won’t really do. But a finish ahead of Liverpool, with clear objectives laid out and achieved, both collectively and individually, would do much to set up 2015-16, a season that one feels Bobby M must deliver something at least as good as Moyes at his best in order to underpin the potential of his first joyous incarnation as Everton boss.

You can tweet me @garynaylor999

On surrendering points – Everton vs Hull City

Chez Roberto

Chez Roberto

Roberto Martinez has a young daughter and, though his world is very different to ours, some things remain the same. Small children can tire you out – physically and mentally. You struggle to concentrate, you forget things you really ought to remember, you get clumsy. It’s a joy that’s seen through bleary eyes and a fuzzy head. Sure you get through, but, for a few years, you’re short of your best as obligation stretches from day into night and on to day again. Cyril Connolly pithily put it thus: “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

Everton’s pram in the hall is the Europa League, the mewling infant that demands attention when you really want to watch Pointless and eat chocolate. Roberto doesn’t see it that way – the more the merrier is his line when it comes to fixtures, but methinks he doth protest too much. The line – like the squad – is beginning to feel a little worn.

While the likes of Mark Noble can laugh off fatigue with ridiculous comparisons, the empirical evidence is rather more compelling. Two points were surrendered at home to Hull to join the three surrendered on Sunday at White Hart Lane. In the disappointing start to the campaign, three were given up at home to Crystal Palace and two each to Arsenal and Leicester City. That’s 12 points in total, 12 points that would see us third in the table, the kind of advance on last year’s fifth that fans had hoped for, if not expected.

Few sides concede no equalisers nor winners across 14 matches, so let’s hold on to less than half the points (Arsenal, Tottenham). Those five points retained would put us sixth (between West Ham and Swansea if it feels too far-fetched). As it is, we languish in 11th, closer to the Championship than the Champions League.

Okay, maybe fifth last season was an overachievement, but seventh should not be beyond a squad brimming with internationals. But if a dreary league season beckons, that pram in the hall has to house a bouncing baby Europa League trophy – with its passport to the Champions League, football’s Oxbridge education.

Let’s not be over-critical after this most disappointing few days, but let’s also understand that backpacking across Europe brings plenty of bills as well as memories.


In praise of Leon Osman

Like everything else, it's for Everton

Like everything else, it’s for Everton

Ten years or so ago, I was picking up tickets on a Friday morning at the Park End of Goodison and a slight, smallish figure, smarty dressed but otherwise completely indistiguishable from any other young man about town, was spotted walking from the car park towards the ground. “All right Ossie” was a shout from one or two of us queuing for our Saturday seats. The man signed a few autographs then went inside. A couple of minutes later, I thought “Ossie? Ah… Leon Osman” then just making his way in the first team. Yes, he’d started as he would (for so long) continue: under the radar.

Fast forward to about 2011 and Ossie was playing well in Moyes’ midfield, as usual shuttling box to box, keeping it simple and finding the odd killer pass and strike, to chip in at the sharp end. He was up from under the radar in the Premier League (he had been picked out on Match of the Day a week or two earlier) so my brother and I were speculating on whether he would get an England call-up. We agreed, citing Moyes’ record against top teams in evidence, that Ossie was a great Evertonian, but a notch below international class, because even in the tiki-taka era, he wasn’t quite skilful enough to compensate for his lack of size and strength up against the Matics and Toures roaming midfields like panzers. Naturally, he made his debut in 2012 and has two full England caps.

That’s what Ossie does. He confounds the sceptics (even those who admire him as a player and a man) by getting on with the job and doing what is asked of him. Six months and a 33rd birthday after he was painfully unable to get into the match at Craven Cottage and substituted in the 77th minute (Everton scored two straight after he was hooked), he was at it again, playing the full 90 against an in-form West Ham, popping up in the box in the 73rd minute to slide in Samuel Eto’o’s superb cross. Three more points with Leon’s name on them.

I was surprised to see him there, the furthest forward, busting a gut to get to where he knew the ball would arrive (Eto’o has taught us that he’s anything but a man picking up easy money to top up his pension – he’s a Blue and would deliver). But I’ve always been surprised by Leon Osman, an Evertonian from his greying hair to his small boots. With 400 appearances notched, he needs 33 more to join Everton’s all-time top ten. When he does, he’ll be a worthy addition to those names. And I won’t be surprised.

On Barkley and Naismith – Everton 0 Swansea 0

My ball!

My ball!

The Barkley-Naismith Problem sounds like one of those mathematical conjectures that attracts a $1M prize that is unclaimed since 1974. Everton’s very own Barkley-Naismith Problem might prove as intractable unless Roberto can find a way of blending these two non-complementary talents. There is no future in having twice as much possession as our opponents and fashioning just three attempts on target as was the case vs an obdurate Swansea, aided by a tolerant referee.

Since Ross Barkley started his season late, he has caught the eye with his dribbling, his prompting and his general busyness in the final third, but it came as something of a surprise that his assist for Samuel Eto’o’s curler into the corner of the Burnley net last week was his first assist in his Premier League career. The long-standing Everton issue of converting pass completions into a killer ball remains, with Leighton Baines still the most likely source of unlocking a drilled defence. Though Barkley is still learning his game, it’s perhaps a tinge disappointing that after what must have been a period of rehabilitation during which he worked with coaches and video analysis, he still knocks the ball off sideways (as often as not) when probing for an opening. The game-changer needs to change games

That might not be so bad – and might be too harsh a criticism for a young player – were it not for Barkley’s impact on Steven Naismith, Everton’s best player in the first half dozen matches of the season. Pushed wide to give the England man a free role “in the hole”, the spaces Naismith nosed out between the lines and the late runs into the box that yielded goals, have become much less frequent (though the Scot’s work ethic has blocked opposition full-backs effectively). Opposition centre-halves must be very pleased to see Naismith so distant from domain.

Can the two men best suited to the attacking midfielder role be accommodated in the same XI? Three shots on target in 90 minutes and a reluctance to cross the ball due to an absence of numbers in the penalty box suggest that they can’t at the moment. And (whisper it) if you had to pick one or the other, wouldn’t it make more sense to pick Steven Naismith? Heresy I know, but Ross Barkley might not be an automatic first choice and rotation may well be the best option regardless of the fixture list’s demands.

On possession and risk – Burnley 1 Everton 3

Now what?

Now what?

An early goal can put me on edge – and maybe it has the same effect on the players. There’s so much time for opponents to re-assess, draw breath and then come again with a freedom that might be lacking when there’s the point with which every team starts every match still in the bank.

I felt this unease just before Burnley scored, so the goal came as no surprise. Thinking harder about the source of my that unease (why worry one-nil up to Burnley?), I thought of Jose Mourinho’s reported unease about the merits of possession football. Attributed to him is a view that crystallises my anxiety with an early lead. If goals come from mistakes, then mistakes come when in possession. So the best way to avoid mistakes is to let the opposition have the ball in their own half where they can make the mistakes. Turnover ball, as in rugby and American Football, is a mighty weapon against drilled defences.

After Samuel Eto’o’s brilliantly conceived and executed opener, Everton fell into ten minutes of the nice possession football that we all know Roberto Martinez admires. Triangles formed, one-touch (maximum two-touch) passes beat out a rhythm and neutrals will have enjoyed a style seldom seen in England until ten or so years ago. But, but, but…

Everton’s terrible defensive record this season has many causes with individual errors high on the list. Sure enough, one popped up when Romelu Lukaku misplaced a pass (back into the defensive third) and three Burnley touches later, the scores were level. That sparked some unfair Twitter jibes at the big Belgian, but, well, you know… Twitter…

At his best, Lukaku suits the Martinez way. He’s available for short and long passes from midfield, can get on the end of a move and score (as he did, a little fortunately, to restore the lead he had to some extent squandered) and he is willing to learn. On the downside, he can look very raw, even now, the first touch more flaxen than silken, the ball seldom instantly tamed.

If that’s a technical shortcoming, his error at Turf Moor was, perhaps, rooted in the other challenge possession football sets – maintaining concentration. Creating those triangles in one and two touch combination play demands players run into the right areas and then know what their options are as the ball comes towards them. Smaller players, on the half-turn with a glance or two sideways as the ball arrives, don’t find this so difficult – Leighton Baines gave a fine demonstration of what I mean for 90 minutes and Steven Naismith’s blossoming “in the hole” is partly accounted for by his ability to pick the right options under pressure. Big Rom didn’t do that, passing the ball infield when he had 30 yards space into which to pass the ball towards the left touchline. His concentration had lapsed and he chose a risky rather than risk-free pass.

He is still 21 and he has played a lot of football, particularly since returning from his January injury -so it’s no surprise to see evidence that he’s not absolutely “on it” twice a week, 40 or so weeks a year. Of course, it would help if he had a naturally easy first touch to fall back on, but he hasn’t, something that Jose Mourinho will have noticed in agreeing to the summer sale.

All this is not intended to lay blame at Lukaku’s door (though plenty will, and their fingers will twitch over their Twitter accounts the next time Lukaku makes a mistake). It is a plea that we accept that with possession comes risk and that players are fallible, especially young players on whom big demands are made. Everton enjoyed almost twice as much of the ball as Burnley: twice as many chances to launch attacks and make those three lovely goals; and twice as many chances to cock it up and hand opponents the chances they crave.