The curious case of Alex Nyarko

“When I retire I would like to write a book. A chronicle of my life.” A statement that may have been intended for the conclusion of Alex Nyarko’s career, however this transpired much sooner than anybody could have anticipated.

A recommendation by Former Everton midfielder, Olivier Dacourt was enough to convince the Everton manager, Walter Smith, to purchase Alex Nyarko from Ligue 1 side RC Lens in the summer of 2000.

The Ghanaian player brought with him a reputation that offered the impression that he would take the English Premier League by storm. Alex Nyarko was quickly being described as “The New Patrick Vieira”, but to the confusion of the Goodison Park, the reality couldn’t have been further from the reputation.

Nyarko had been chased by a number of Premier League clubs that summer, including Arsenal and Liverpool, with the latter’s then manager, Gérard Houllier, stating that Everton had captured an “outstanding” midfielder.

In the end Scotsman Walter Smith won the race, parting with £4.5 million to add the Ghanaian to Thomas Gravesen, Duncan Ferguson, Paul Gascoigne, Steve Watson and Niklas Alexandersson who had all joined off the back of a mediocre season by ‘The Toffees’ in which they ended the season 13th in the 1999/00 English Premier League campaign.

Alongside wanting to improve on the previous season’s lacklustre performances, Everton also needed replacements throughout the midfield with a number of players leaving Goodison Park that same summer – John Collins left for the capital moving to Fulham; Don Hutchison travelled to the North East signing for Peter Reid’s Sunderland and, the most shocking of all, Nick Barmby made the short trip across Stanley Park to join Liverpool.

Although Everton had survived multiple relegations close-calls, it appeared for the first time in a long while that the club had some type of direction with Chairman Bill Kenwright buying 68% of the club from Peter Johnson in 1999. There was a desire, from both Kenwright and the fans, that the club pushed on from mid-table mediocrity.

There was no denying that Alex Nyarko brought unique experience to the Everton team due to him previously playing in Switzerland, Germany and France.

He earned the £4.5 million price tag and it was a very exciting time for Everton fans with the prospect of him playing alongside fan favourite, Paul Gascoigne.

Nevertheless, Everton started the season slowly, losing 2-0 to Leeds United at Elland Road; managed a 3-0 victory over Charlton Athletic the first league home fixture and then let a 2-0 lead slip at the hands of Jim Smith’s Derby County.

A wobbly start for ‘The Toffees’.

Coming up was the dreaded trip down to the capital to a stadium where Everton had not won a single game throughout the nineties – White Hart Lane.

Nyarko was playing alongside Paul Gascoigne, Thomas Gravesen and Stephen Hughes in midfield. The Ghanaian knew that he had to be at his best in this game when competing against the experience of Darren Anderton, Tim Sherwood and Oyvind Leonhardsen.

The game was approaching half time and at this stage of the match, Nyarko and his Everton associates had demonstrated that they could match the intimidating Spurs crowd with a  spirited performance.

Local boy Francis Jeffers had already put Everton into the lead and then, just before half time whistle, the ball fell loose to Nyarko around 25 yards out, which he struck supremely past Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, 2-0.

This goal by Nyarko demonstrated the qualities he had as a footballer – A strong stride into space and a thumping right foot shot into the Tottenham Hotspur net.

However, as it is always said, football is a game of two halves and Everton let another 2-0 lead slip, falling 3-2 losers in the end with Les Ferdinand equalling the comeback and Sergei Rebrov netting a brace past helpless Everton goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard.

That goal was Alex Nyarko’s one and only goal in an Everton shirt accompanied by a catalogue of performances that validated he simply was not able to cope with the velocity of the English Premier League.

It could be argued that he was not helped by his Everton teammates, as the team were really not performing, but Nyarko was singled out by the Goodison faithful and labelled as the main concern for the team’s problems with Everton fanzines openly criticising the Ghanaian.

Nyarko specified that he had been having difficulty adjusting to the physical demands of the English Premier League.

The games are too physical, particularly when you are a midfielder. There is no time for creativity and the ball moves so fast from one goal to another. The coaches want you to send the ball quickly up to the strikers and that probably explains why there are so many goals in English football.

The Goodison crowd were losing patience with manager Walter Smith. His methods were not working as he routinely opted for wingbacks in a 5-3-2 formation and, with the season drawing to a close, Everton again were again flirting with the prospect of demotion into the First Division.

At the end of April Everton were once again travelling to North London, where Alex Nyarko had started so well against Tottenham Hotspur in September. However, Everton were travelling to play Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal who were fantastic at home.

The Everton crowd had already witnessed some embarrassing defeats throughout that campaign including downfalls at home to Ipswich Town, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Everton struggled away from Goodison Park and there had been apparent suggestions that the players behind the scenes were not enjoying the leadership from Everton assistant Archie Knox behind the scenes.

There had been various physical exchanges between the players, one most famously away to Bradford City when Stephen Hughes had to be separated by his own teammates.

Nyarko had commented:

Archie was fighting with so many players in the room. I couldn’t understand his attitude.

Everton won that game 1-0.

The Everton squad were travelling to Highbury in April, low, dejected and mentally drained with a recent result playing on everybody’s minds that may have been the final nail in the coffin.

Everton had just competed in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park, where Gary McAllister scored one of the most famous goals you will ever observe between the two Merseyside clubs.

It was the 94th minute and Everton seemed to have secured an important draw. Free kick to Liverpool…3-2.

At this time, Arsenal were on their way to securing a UEFA Champions League place and were in no mood to provide Everton with sympathy after just being knocked out by Spaniards, Valencia in the quarter finals.

A stupendous 4-1 victory and another defeat for Walter Smith’s Everton on the road.

Sylvain Wiltord scored ‘The Gunners’ third goal in the 67th minute with a 20-yard strike off the underside of the crossbar that left Paul Gerrard with no involvement except for picking the ball out of his net.

This was the final straw for one travelling Evertonian who managed to enter the Highbury field of play.

The Everton supporter offered to replace his shirt for Nyarko’s, implying that he was giving more commitment to the team than Nyarko.

Baffled, embarrassed and confused Nyarko discussed with the Everton manager whether it was wise he was substituted.

Five minutes later his wish was granted with Israeli Idan Tal replacing the Ghanaian.

The Everton supporter was led away by Arsenal captain Tony Adams and Metropolitan Police officers; Nyarko himself, ushered to the away dressing room by Everton backroom staff.

Shortly after the game had ended, Alex Nyarko had announced his retirement from football at the age of 27, explaining that this Everton fan who had stormed onto the pitch had been a final straw.

Rather than back his player, Everton Manager Walter Smith commented:

He showed a lack of strength. Lots of questions come up – commitment, mentality. He gave up, which is not a great example to set.

It was later announced on local radio that Alex Nyarko said he was retiring from football, but Everton indicated that the Ghanaian wanted to make clear that he would never play for ‘The Toffees’ again.

The Everton manager added to his remarks:

I’ll need time to think about that…about five seconds.

Alex Nyarko was given the opportunity to comment on his current status:

Even without football I can live all right. I’m not going to start playing for the club again. I can’t live my life like that. I’m quitting football. That’s the end of it.

Everton released Nyarko to Claude Puel’s AS Monaco on loan, where he represented Les rouges et blancs 26 times scoring two goals.

After affirming that Nyarko would never play for ‘The Toffees’ again he did in fact turn out for another Scotsman, David Moyes.

Everton were struggling through their campaign, once again were flirting with relegation.

Nyarko returned and he struck the bar in front of the Park End at Goodison Park were he displayed one of his thunderous strikes he had demonstrated in that early season fixture at White Hart Lane in 2000.

He left Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini flatfooted and clattering the bar. However, Everton came out as losers to a questionable goal by Romanian, Adrian Mutu.

Alex Nyarko achieved another eleven appearances for Everton under Moyes but was eventually released as his work permit expired and could not be renewed.

He went on to represent, IK Start and Yverdon-Sport FC later on his career never came near to reaching the heights promised at the start.

Alex Nyarko – not quite the next Patrick Vieira.

The Author

James Williams

A football fanatic who enjoys to discuss strange areas of football and a huge Everton fan.

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