A Partick Thistle player once took a bad knock to his head and was getting treatment, so the story goes, when the physio shouted over to manager John Lambie that the player was concussed, didn’t even know who he was and would clearly have to come off. Lambie replied, “tell him he’s f*cking Pele and get him back on”. Sometimes it feels like Victor Anichebe is in a similar mental state to that hapless headbangee.
I remember when I first heard about Victor Anichebe. He was seemingly inseparable from fellow Royal Blue hope James Vaughan. Somehow though, Anichebe was always the junior partner and I expected less of him. Whereas James Vaughan had goalscoring weaved into his DNA, Anichebe – whilst good – seemed less exciting.
Then injuries happened.
First to Vaughan. Cruciate damage, a dislocated shoulder and all manner of bloody injuries were sustained. From a player who went into tackles like a lusty medieval jouster, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when injuries permanently dented and eventually ended his Everton career.
Eventually Anichebe too broke through the first team door, and he did so in dramatic fashion. He was our black prince, a young swashbuckling force in our European campaign. His goalscoring at Metalist Kharkiv, Larissa, FC Nuremberg and SK Brann was his “Here’s Johnny!” moment.
Then big Vic got his injury.
It is St James’ Park in February, half time is looming. Slow “to me, to you” exchanges by midfield Sunday drivers are punctured by our hero tracking back, winning the ball, and dribbling forward. Kevin Nolan leaps feet first on Vic’s right shin, and the youngster writhes in pain, pulling his entire body up with his neck like a huge twisted girder. Physio Mick Rathbone says the sheer size of Anichebe’s legs is what stopped the tackle from destroying his career, later the Nigerian describes it as the most painful experience of his life. Kevin Nolan is dismissed and apologises at half time.
The game is smeared with violence, we clash like police and thieves. Ameobi rams Tim Howard and the ball into the net, Rodwell is bullied and buffeted, and Anichebe is crippled. Our Spanish laureate Arteta is injured too, although not from blunt tackling, just from an awkward fall.
Anichebe’s career had been in purgatory ever since Kevin Nolan’s studs hit his shin.
And then he slowly returned…
Stroppiness. Arguments. Moans from the stands raining down on him like hail. Confidence stripped, when he did score he still frowned. Standing there, passively aggressive, whilst his teammates surrounded him in a congratulatory swarm. He was the boy who forgot he was good.
He could have been the striker that we needed. Ridiculously strong and deceptively fast, can almost be unplayable. His strength at holding the ball up with his back to goal is such that you imagine he could reverse all the way, beeping like a lorry, shielding the ball right into the opposition net. But the fragility is still there. After he missed a good chance to put us 3-2 up at White Hart Lane a few years back, he threw himself to the floor, beating the turf with his fists, face longer than a milkman’s round. He left Everton, fumbled through over 50 games for West Brom (only scoring six times) – and despite the very occasional swashbuckling performance for Sunderland, he only scored three times this season.
Perhaps David Moyes should have told him that he’s Pele.
Premier: Sun 17 Sept (16:00); Manchester United at Old Trafford
Carabao Cup: Weds 20 Sept (19:45); Sunderland at Goodison