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

Comments (1)
Comment by loppy 2009-09-18 16:21:45

Been a bit of an enigma in Sheffield has Frannie. About 80% of Wednesday fans long since gave up on him, whIle the rest just live in hopeless faith that the fox will return To form and actually get some goals. His first season he atracted significant praise for, while not scoring many, he was making good movement and getting into good positions only to be let down by poor service from midfield. That arguement long since vanished when Brian Laws vastly improved the midfield and it turned out to be Jeffers in poor areas.

If Jeffers does move to Notts County don't expect an immediate goal surge. In our two meetings with League 2 sides this season Jeffers was far from his level. In the home tie against Rochdale Jeffers appeared from the bench in (admittedly already easily won tie) the second half and proceded to have a whole one chance - a one on one break in which he resembled a schoolboy on debut, overtouching his dribble and presenting the keeper the ball at his feet. In the other tie, at Port Vale, Jeffers allowed himself to be distracted and affected by opposition jibes and niggly kicks and resulted in the headbutt. However this was made worse the morning after with a Ill-advised phone call to Sky Sports News, where the presenter easily ascertained from Frannie that no he hadn't spoken to or apologised to the Port Vale player he headbutted, or really intended too, or apologised to Brian Laws and hadn't considered the possibility of going into training and was at the time "sat with my feet up".

Still if he gets a winner tonight he's a legend for life, and it could be worse, Wednesday could have the other striker who made his debut at the Boleyn against Australia that night, but didn't, unlike Jeffers, score - Wayne somebody...oh maybe not.

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