Victor Anichebe’s eighth goal of the season crowned Everton’s comfortable 2-0 win over Premier League strugglers Queens Park Rangers and maintained the striker’s startling upturn in form and importance to David Moyes’ side.
If Anichebe had his way, back in 2009, he may not even be an Everton player today. Hull City, then of the Premier League, tried to take the Nigerian on loan but Moyes rebuffed the approach, leading to a widely-reported bust-up between player and manager. Anichebe was very much on the fringes of the Everton squad then, and scored only once all season, raising the ire of Evertonians when it was claimed he declared himself unfit to sit on the bench against Liverpool after Hull’s bid was rejected.
Four years is a long time in football and much has changed everywhere since then, but the difference in Anichebe’s status didn’t come about in the duration – it’s more like the last four months that Anichebe has earned his current position as not only Everton’s first choice striker, but a highly-popular figure among the supporters.
It’s easy to forget, when looking at the man mountain, light-heavyweight boxer-built Anichebe that he is only 24. The alleged reaction to the dismissal of Hull’s bid could be put down to the petulance of youth, particularly a youth who even then had been around the Everton first team for a few years but never truly been first choice.
Even the criticisms of Anichebe since then – a lack of work rate chief among them – could be chalked up to his tender age and lack of experience. With such a burly build Anichebe was always capable of bullying players of a similar age or experience level. But against Premier League defenders – some of whom have 10 years on Anichebe – it wasn’t so simple, and adapting to a first team mindset isn’t something that happens overnight.
Anichebe wasn’t helped by his sporadic appearances. He’s made far more substitute appearances than starting – coming off the bench 93 times compared to a starting XI place 68 times, for a total of 161 – and most of the time he was introduced was either as a late sub to rest a tiring player, or as Everton chased a goal. Neither scenario is conducive to improving a young player’s game.
Something certainly seems to have clicked with Anichebe lately. He’s started the last four games – since Everton’s FA Cup exit against Wigan – and though he’s only scored once, he’s laid a claim to being man of the match in most matches. He was phenomenal as Everton beat Manchester City, excellent in the draw against Tottenham and while his individual performance against QPR wasn’t on that level, it was the one game in which he scored.
Goals are the measure by which Anichebe will ultimately be judged but the player who moped around the pitch appears long gone. That in itself is a huge improvement, and in its place is a player again capable of bullying defenders, and who thunders around the pitch to close down the opposition. That Anichebe is a potent weapon, one Everton are glad to have.
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