Friday 18 September ~
Six years ago Francis Jeffers scored on his one and only appearance for England, as a substitute in a 3-1 home defeat by Australia. This week it has been suggested that he may soon link up with the man who gave him that one cap, Sven-Goran Eriksson. Playing for Notts County can be a lucrative business these days – they are paying Sol Campbell £60,000 a week – but a move down to the fourth level would nonetheless mark a new low in one of the strangest careers in modern football.
Jeffers cost Arsenal £8 million when joining from Everton in 2001. He was in the middle of a prolific run of scoring for the England Under-21s – he matched Alan Shearer in getting 13 goals in 16 games – and was widely tipped to become a regular in the national squad. Now 28, he has spent the last six years drifting around from club to club. If Jeffers is to be remembered, it will mainly be for Arsene Wenger's optimistic description of him as a "fox in the box". This has since been adapted in various uncomplimentary ways – "the fox on the bench" being the politest – by supporters of the various clubs at which he has underperformed.
A striker of undoubted talent is a free agent once again because Sheffield Wednesday transfer listed him after he was sent off for headbutting a Port Vale player in a Carling Cup tie last month. Last season was the best yet for Jeffers in terms of League appearances, 31 in total, although he only scored three times. Prior to that he'd had a season each at Charlton and Blackburn plus loan periods at Rangers, Ipswich and Everton. He returned to Goodison Park in 2003 having played just 22 games in two years at Arsenal, scoring four times. In his second spell with his original club, he was mainly used as a late substitute and failed to score in 18 League games.
Jeffers's stuttering career can partly be put down to injuries, specifically to a recurring ankle problem that blighted his time at Highbury. But his wanderings around the League have also been accompanied by comments about an uninterested attitude and occasional belligerence. "His conduct was totally unacceptable and something this club will not tolerate," said Wednesday manager Brian Laws after the Port Vale dismissal. As is the modern way, a career that has amounted to little more than a succession of disappointments has been expensively funded – each new move will have involved a signing on fee and a nice big contract. If he fetches up at Notts County some supporters will reflect that, this time, maybe, if he can stay injury-free... but it will be more in hope than expectation. Rob Weston