Friday, February 18, 2011

SPL: Francis Jeffers Hopes For Motherwell Redemption

“His movement was excellent, obviously he has taken his goal well. He has created himself another couple of chances, he has got across the front of people.” (STV Sport)

Motherwell boss Stuart McCall was effusive in his praise of his new striker after Tuesday night’s win at Aberdeen.

All fairly run of the mill stuff after an SPL midweek clash.

But the striker in question is Francis Jeffers, last seen scoring one goal in nine appearances for Australia’s Newcastle Jets but once an £8 million Arsenal striker.

Back in the days when Arsene Wenger was less parsimonious he splashed out when Jeffers was seen as one of England’s bright young things after scoring 18 goals in 49 appearances for Everton and 13 in 16 England under-21 games.

Jeffers seemed to have the world at his feet. And then...nothing.

Unable to break into the Arsenal first team he managed just 22 league games, with a Premiership return of four goals.

Money, it seems, doesn’t always buy goals.

Since then Jeffers career has frittered away. A loan spell at Everton ended when he fell out with David Moyes - just as his original move to Arsenal followed a fractious relationship with Walter Smith.

Between 2004 and 2010 he played for Charlton, Rangers (loan), Blackburn, Ipswich (loan) and Sheffield Wednesday.

In that time he managed only 101 league games, scoring just twelve goals. 54 of those games came for Sheffield Wednesday with a return of five goals.

Undoubtedly he’s been unlucky with injuries. But his time at Sheffield Wednesday saw him transfer listed after headbutting Port Vale’s Tommy Fraser. Combined with the early run-ins with Everton managers it suggests that rumours of “attitudinal” issues might not be too far off the mark.

Yet here is a player who Arsene Wenger once hailed as a “fox in the box,” a player who scored on his England his debut, who seemed set on a stellar career path. Wenger is not infallible but Jeffers’ fall from grace has been dramatic.

Football can be a callous game, the line between success and failure is finely drawn.

Maybe Jeffers career was needed, the high profile warning to all the young millionaires the game now creates. If you think you’re untouchable, that life and football will bend to your will, you are mistaken.

Today an £8 million move to Arsenal, in a few years a failure to score in eight SPL games for Rangers.

I can’t quite imagine what it must be like to be the subject of a multi-million pound move to a club like Arsenal when you are just 21.

I suspect, however, that at no point in that particular life experience do you ever imagine that in less than ten years you will be looking to Motherwell and Stuart McCall for a final shot at redemption.

But that is where Francis Jeffers finds himself.

I don’t know him. I can only guess at the balance of blame in all that has happened although I’d guess that bad luck and a loss of confidence have played a role along with injuries and self inflicted problems.

Yet I find myself hoping he finds something at Motherwell. We’re not supposed to have sympathy for rich young footballers, we’re supposed to snigger when it all goes wrong.

But, big fearty that I am, I’d find something compelling about Jeffers’ story ending with him banging in the goals as a Motherwell hero. To see him enjoying the game again as I’m sure he must have done when he started out with Everton.

Would that not, for once, be a good news story for us to savour?

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