James McFadden sealed a return to Everton on Monday, two-and-a-half years after leaving Goodison Park in a £6m transfer to Birmingham City. The Scotland international moved to the Midlands after scoring 22 goals in 153 games, roughly one in six, but that does not tell the full story of McFadden’s time under David Moyes.
Joining the Toffees from Motherwell in 2003 for a fee of £1.25m, McFadden made an excellent early impression on the Goodison faithful when he tormented a relegation-bound Leeds United in September, inspiring Everton to a 4-0 victory as Steve Watson scored a hat-trick. But that fine start did not set the tone for the rest of McFadden’s Everton career – while there were further moments of finesse and fine skill, there were far more moments of frustration. McFadden was widely regarded as a player with the ability to cause havoc against any team on his day, but those days were too few and far between, and, as such, the forward struggled to hold his place in Moyes’ preferred XI.
McFadden bares many similarities to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, the Russian midfielder who is following a similar path to his new teammate. Bilyaletdinov enjoyed a strong start to his Everton career, creating a couple of goals on his debut against AEK Athens and producing some memorable highlights on occasion since, but failing to do so on a consistent basis and dropping in and out of the first team. Both are left-sided players, although McFadden is capable of playing as a striker too, but a lack of pace or stamina hampers each player’s efforts to play on the wing in English football. Both are also guilty of occasionally trying too hard to impress or atone for their mistakes, with Bilyaletdinov’s appearances rife with errors while McFadden often ran into blind alleys and was wasteful in possession.
Success in his second spell at Everton depends largely on three factors – McFadden’s fitness, time on the pitch and whether or not McFadden has matured into a more reliable player. A cruciate ligament injury in August 2010 left McFadden with only four games to his name last season, and although he has trained with Wolverhampton Wanderers and passed a medical at Everton’s training ground before the deal was completed, a question mark must remain against the player’s fitness.
With that in mind, the amount of matches McFadden features in becomes doubly important, not only to regain fitness but the kind of player McFadden is, a tricky, creative player who relies on confidence a great deal, benefits from playing regularly and feeling secure about his place in the side. In turn, that is tied to the third factor – McFadden was not a regular at Everton in his first spell because he was not good enough to be. End product was distinctly lacking from his play and more efficient options were sought. What, if anything, McFadden has learned since January 2009 could determine whether his return to Everton is a success or a failure.
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