Tipped to be a star at Everton, Graham Ennis remembers why Nick Barmby couldn't fulfil his potential
On the day Joe Royle signed Nick Barmby from Middlesbrough he made a curious admission: that he wasn’t quite sure where he was going to play him. Obviously then, he just kinda hoped that he’d get lucky and things would work themselves out. We all kinda hoped too. Choosing to ignore the fact that Royle had just off-loaded the highly promising Daniel Amokachi because he didn’t know quite where he fitted into his plans.
And guess what happened? A week after his quiet and uneventful debut, Barmby starred and scored in Everton’s 7-1 annihilation of Southampton, and suddenly it seemed that the fabled Everton team jigsaw was nearly complete. Only, once again, after seemingly collecting all the pieces, we lost the box with the picture on…
It’s also fair to add that Barmby’s form peaked during the Southampton game and since then he has looked increasingly uncomfortable in whatever position Royle/Watson/Kendall has tried him in. It would appear that Nick feels his best position is just behind the front two and when a team is struggling, a player in such a position can only be considered a luxury. Therefore, almost since day one, he’s been something of a square peg in a round hole; a neat and tidy footballer but never the 25-goals-a-season, out-and-out striker that the club has been screaming out for since, well, the sale of Gary Lineker in 1986.
As with every other under-achiever, Barmby’s attitude has to be questioned. Not just at Everton but throughout his career. At Tottenham there were stories of Nick pining for the North, whilst Boro were quick to get rid of him when he started sulking over being left out of the team.
And, it’s true, at times last season the Barmby pout was working overtime whenever the going got tough. And whilst the team struggled, it was our renowned battler, Dave Watson, who first dropped the England star late on, choosing inexperienced youngsters in other positions to help the club in their relegation struggle. The message could not have been clearer, Nick Barmby is not suited to a backs-to-the-wall situation.
If Barmby does leave it will be to the regret of many fans, especially given the euphoria of his arrival only ten months ago. But, while he may have found it hard to settle and at times he has been used as a scapegoat for poor team performances, it is a fact that big expectations come with big transfer fees and wages. And Nick Barmby has not delivered. Twelve months ago Barmby was a regular England man, now a place in Glenn Hoddle’s squad looks as remote as an Everton trophy.
Everton’s record signing, but unable to hold down a regular first team place, Barmby has joined the likes of Maurice Johnston and Vinnie Samways on the long list of Goodison under-achievers. Nick Barmby is only 23 and now appears to be on the brink of this third big money move in only two years. Maybe he ought to reflect on the reasons why.
From WSC 129 November 1997. What was happening this month