The withdrawal of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov at half-time during Everton’s Premier League defeat to Manchester United on Saturday marked the nadir of the Russian international’s two-year career at Goodison Park. After an error-strewn 45 minutes it was a mercy killing by David Moyes, in the face of a crowd increasingly hostile to Bilyaletdinov’s continued presence on the field.
The rancour directed at Bilyaletdinov was reaching such levels as to be reminiscent of the infamous day at Arsenal when a disgruntled supporter confronted Alex Nyarko on the pitch and offered to take his place such was the effect the midfielder was having on the game. That barrier may not have been breached last weekend but it was certainly the most vociferous reaction towards one player’s performance in recent memory, the culmination of a series of inconsistent displays from the player multiplied by the feelings of frustration that have surrounded the club since the summer.
Bilyaletdinov suffers from an affliction that, more than any other, compounded his misery against United. One mistake and the midfielder’s head drops. Rarely can a Premier League footballer suffered so severely from what on the surface looks a crisis of confidence. When Bilyaletdinov loses faith in his ability further mistakes follow and the inevitable conclusion is the kind of performance entered in the first-half on Saturday. A heavy touch, a misplaced pass, an errant cross – they all occur, the crowd turns and the player hides. Visibly hiding, as Bilyaletdinov was on Saturday, only makes matters worse.
It is all the more perplexing because amongst the handful of negatives around Bilyaletdinov’s game – a lack of place and a tendency to play with his head down chief among them – are a string of positives that have highlighted his Toffees career. Possessing a wicked left foot and a powerful shot, Bilyaletdinov has scored some stunning goals in his time – club Goal of the Season against Manchester United, a belter against Portsmouth and a shot so searing against Wolverhampton Wanderers it would still be travelling if it was not for the goal net.
However, as a packed Goodison Park questions his every move, Bilyaletdinov’s decision making falters. He passes when he should shoot, he shoots when he should pass, and he makes runs that do nothing to help his teammates. Leighton Baines’ exasperation was tangible. By taking him off at the break Moyes saved his player from further opprobrium but the manager could have done more while Bilyaletdinov was on the field. Swapping the 26-year-old with Seamus Coleman on the right wing would have been worth attempting, likewise moving Leon Osman to the left and Bilyaletdinov behind the striker, a position many feel is really his strongest but one in which he has never played for Everton. It would certainly provide more opportunity to shoot on goal from dangerous positions and remove the need to track back and defend, far from Bilyaletdinov’s strongest suit. It all brings to mind Winston Churchill’s famous description of Bilyaletdinov’s mother country – “Russia
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