“Those English kids, want to play the blues so bad, and they play the blues so bad”.
So said (musical) Blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II, and it’s a fitting summation of Thursday’s game where the Stadium of Light bathed our callow English blues in the glare of professional European football. Our youngsters – Coleman, Gosling, Rodwell, Baxter, even Fellaini – may have wanted to play well for the blues, but collectively they were out of their depth.
We were handed our biggest European thumping by Benfica , a 5-0 drubbing that didn’t quite match Arsenal’s pistol whipping season opener against us, but showed the gaping holes in our defence. There are excuses to be submitted, and they are good ones. Most revolve around injuries which meant that youths had to be flung out of their prams and onto the pitch and experienced players had to be shunted into uncomfortable positions. Bile and venom from the kneejerkers has flooded fan sites – but with a second choice defence, and a midfield stripped of Arteta, Pienaar, and Captain Neville – this was always going to happen against a slick Benfica side.
Poor Seamus Coleman a young Irish reserve who found himself in the side on Thursday, had to fight injury in the summer with a nasty infected blister that stared eating away at his foot. Quick, effective treatment “probably saved the lads career” according to Baz Rathbone – our physio. The Stadium of Light against a caffeinated Benfica, was hardly the ideal place for a debut.
So much has been made of Liverpool, and their struggles with red beach balls and injured marquee players that Everton, in their mediocrity, have slunk into the shadows. Make no mistake though, we are hurting too. Moyes‘ summer recruits were meant as additions to our injured players , not as replacements. We still cannot see the full picture, and with eleven players missing against Benfica the team will be playing with one eye closed until injured players return.
It isn’t just Evertonians who forget exactly what we have in reserve; when it comes to the world cup and Fabio Capello’s projected choices at centre half the same names seem to be paraded out by most people. Rio Ferdinand has been the reason for many nervous journalistic scribblings with his supposed creaking 31yr old frame. John Terry has been at the heart of a Chelsea Team seemingly unable to switch to the much maligned zonal defence.As the possible back ups are mooted Phil Jagielka very rarely features.
Phil Jagielka is Everton’s best defender, and perhaps even more importantly, was comfortably Everton’s best defender when Joleon Lescott was still a Toffee. The fact that Jagielka eclipses his former partner in almost every facet of the game – is also rarely mentioned.
Everton’s woeful run of injuries last season has sploshed over to this season too – Yakubu’s Achilles stole away our shooting star, and he’s still not himself. Thesp Antony Sher called his Achilles knack “A mysterious accident that befalls sportsmen in top condition, little old ladies stepping off the curb, and a surprising number of actors” , and the surgeon described Sher’s injury as having ” ruptured completely, up the back of your leg like a venetian blind.”…Who knows when
Arteta’s absence has left all creative responsibility to Pienaar, and both were absent in Portugal. Jags though is our biggest loss. There is an innate jitteriness about Yobo; he often seems devoid of gorm and guile and you wouldn’t trust him in the vicinity of bone china or prized antiques; Distin seems a worthier junior partner at centre half than the Nigerian. Jack Rodwell, the heir apparent to Everton’s defence and Rio’s England shirt, is currently doing his apprenticeship in midfield. Promote him too soon and we could stunt his development.
When fit, Jagielka has been wonderful at Everton, and without both him and our captain Phil Neville we do appear rudderless at times. Jagielka is such a revalation at Everton that there are a few blues who were actually happy that he was unfit for transfer whilst Man City’s wealthy and roving eye was looking for defenders. Capello though should have Jagielka’s name bouncing around his mind. When we first signed him he was a polyglot player: full back, centre back, defensive midfield, he even proved his abilities as a goalkeeper at Sheffield United. It didn‘t take him too long to permanently lodge himself at the centre of defence – and hopefully his name is still lodged in Capello’s head…He’s been under the radar because of his injury, but he should be back at the end of this year…Let’s hope that Capello’s memory is longer than some amnesiac journalists.
As for the flood of negativity from some Evertonians after our thrashing, let’s play a little game. Write down the eleven players who were unavailable on Thursday (they can have Carlo Nash in goal for argument’s sake), and write down the eleven who started…If crow-barred into two teams, which one would win?