Everton teenager Jose Baxter is apparently the new Wayne Rooney. Whilst this claim might strike fear into the hearts of grannies all across Liverpool, it is by contrast meant to cheer Evertonians up.
And the reasoning goes something like this; Everton have no money; Everton have no forwards of note; here is a potentially brilliant forward available at no cost who could transform the side, providing that killer instinct in the final third that the team has lacked for so long. Put like that it would seem only the most weather-beaten of pessimists would fail to be cheered by this news.
And were I not such a person I would be happy. After all, according to Ray Hall, manager of the Everton Academy, Baxter was a more complete player at the tender age of sixteen than Rooney ever was. And, as if to provide concrete proof of this, on the very rare occasions that the nineteen year-old has graced the first team he has displayed glimpses of the kind of insight, skill and footballing intelligence that has been absent from the side since Rooney put his bank balance before his integrity and waddled north to Manchester seven years ago.
However, like a lot of Evertonians I am a weather-beaten pessimist and so I greet this news glumly. The fact is that Rooney was an aberration, and I’m not just talking in evolutionary terms. Wayne is the Everton teenager who lived up to the hype. The ONLY Everton teenager in recent history who really lived up to the hype
I’ve been following the club for thirty years and in that time if I had a pound for each time a young player of rumoured promise had turned out to be a major disappointment I would have nine pounds.
Then there was Stuart Barlow, a name which still sends shivers down the spine of many an Evertonian.
To recall but a few, there was John Ebbrell, tipped as a future England captain, a midfield dynamo who could be the new Bryan Robson. And that prediction would have been true had they meant Brian Robson, a mate of mine who was crap at football and had a lazy eye.
Then there was Stuart Barlow, a name which still sends shivers down the spine of many an Evertonian. Although young Stuart arrived in the first team promising much, he delivered little. In no time at all he had earned the sobriquet ‘jigsaw’, because he fell to pieces in the box. Seventy appearances - a figure that still remains hard to believe - and just ten goals, he was shipped off to Oldham after five disastrous seasons at Everton.
The last great hope before Rooney was Michael Branch, a player that the club programme triumphantly claimed was “the most natural goalscorer to emerge from Everton's ranks for years", which would have been great had that not been a total lie. Instead, Branch turned out to be an unnatural goalscorer, a player to whom the act of goalscoring became so other-worldly that he simply opted to avoid it altogether.
We endured disappointment after disappointment until Rooney came along with that wonder goal against Arsenal. Even then most Blues thought this would probably be a one-off, a never to be repeated example of footballing brilliance. But it wasn’t and for once all the hype actually meant something.
Could that really happen again? To date Baxter has already broken goal scoring records at International youth level and has even broken Rooney's, Rush's and Owen's records at club youth level. Man Utd and Chelsea are rumoured to have their eye on him and he is widely regarded as the best young prospect in the North West, if not England.
As soon as Ferguson showed him a few quid, Rooney was off, his brain filled with images of infidelity and ageing prostitutes.
Wisely, David Moyes has resisted the temptation to throw Baxter in at the deep end and used him sparingly to date. He has barely featured in the first team, a decision that reflects well on the manager, specifically considering the paucity of options he’s had in attack during the past few seasons.
It’s likely though, in light of our financial woes and dependence on the likes of footballing catastrophe Jermaine Beckford and human injury magnet Louis Saha, that this could finally be the season when Baxter gets the opportunity to show the fans whether he will be a Rooney or a Barlow.
The past weighs heavily upon any perspective I have on Everton and so I naturally believe that the hype will amount to little and that in a few years time Baxter will join the long list of youthful disappointments that have graced our side over the years.
But even if he does buck the trend and turn out to be a Rooney, what then? It’s not like Wayne paid the club back with any loyalty, choosing to hang around so that a team could have been built around him. As soon as Ferguson showed him a few quid, Rooney was off, his brain filled with images of infidelity and ageing prostitutes.
And Rooney was a lifelong Evertonian. Baxter by contrast is a Red, so putting our hope in loyalty would seem to be an exercise in futility. His affiliation with the dark side also raises the horrible possibility of him crossing the park, a prospect almost too upsetting to think about should he turn out to be the next Rooney.
The best we can expect from his possible success is a decent windfall, which admittedly would come in handy for a club as financially bereft as Everton. But saying that, we’d probably only squander it on more Yakubus.
What I really hope Baxter becomes is an unexceptional but welcome addition to the squad. Good enough to score goals but not so good that he wants to leave as soon as is humanly possible. Somewhere between Barlow and Rooney if that was possible.
Aim low but prepare for the worst. It could almost be the club’s new motto.
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