Someday somebody should write a football book with no happy endings in it. No proud pictures of the nine-bedroom mansion, the cars in the drive, the stunner wife who wants to develop her own perfume and the kids who have names that would attract schoolyard bullies if the names hadn’t been given to them by footballer fathers.
Everybody knows these stories in some shape or form. Every pro does. On the way up there was always somebody better than you. A nailed on cert to make it. When the scouts came to your place they were looking at him. When the rumours went around they were about him, when the manager gave a teamtalk it was about him, whether he played for you or for them. He was making it. You were hoping for the best.
I was still working in a supermarket when I was in my twenties. The consolation was I’d seen coachloads of local wonderkids come home. Lads whose parents had been about the place letting it be known that he’d just signed forms for some manager who loved him. Ha, they’d say, and we always thought his brother had the talent.
Nobody ever knew why kids brimming with talent didn’t make it. Or why some seemed to be making it and then came home with their tails between their legs. A bad day at a trial, a personality clash with some scout, somebody better in that particular position turns up just when you don’t need him to. A manager with an irrational prejudice against a kid with an earring or white boots or a kid who plays the ball out of defence like a show-off. Or maybe the wonderkid was just never good enough. Nobody ever really knew.
Scouts wearing serious faces had sat in their family parlours persuading parents that didn’t need any persuading that in a few short years junior could be earning more in a week than the annual income coming into this little house. Depending on the parlour he might be earning more in a week than the entire village.
Now the prodigy was back living at home with those same parents and working in a bad job or had no job and he was too bitter and broken to even play Sunday morning football.
From the outside you always assumed there was a reason for all this. There must have been flaws that only the pros could have spotted. Other lads made it. Dark horses. What? Nobody ever gave that geezer a chance? He was never as good as X or Y. He was never as good as me.
But football is so full of fallibilities that it’s a wonder the game survives at all. Ordinary players steal a living, getting picked in first teams. Talented players get frozen out and forgotten and go home and wonder for the first time ever about education.
When Oumar Niasse signed for Everton from Lokomotiv Moscow in February 2016 he cost Roberto Martinez €15million. That was only last year but €15million seemed like a lot of money then. Now it scarcely buys you a Man City academy kid.
Nobody knew much about Niasse. Russian football isn’t on Sky so we don’t know if it actually exists. Niasse came from a suburb of Dakar called Ouakam where people still fish for a living and he defied his old man as a kid and played football for the local club. At 23 he was hardly known beyond his home place but Brann Bergen of Norway came in for him. He flopped and was sent home after playing three games. You can imagine the “I told you so” comments at the front door.
For some reason, Akhisar Belediyespor of Turkey took a punt on him next. He scored 15 goals in his first season and never looked back. Until..
At Everton Martinez was soon gone and Niasse was soon a symbol of all that had gone wrong with his regime. Worse than that… Niasse got himself arrested in May 2016. So far nothing more has been heard and no charges pressed but Everton’s statement at the time announcing that the club “condemns unreservedly any form of abuse” did Niasse no favours in our time of trial by social media.
Ronald Koeman arrived. Part of the Dutchman’s brand is certainty with a strong twist of bluntness. Everybody has a right to Ronald’s opinion. His opinion on Niasse having watched him play football was that he was no good and he had no future at Everton. If this opinion was coloured by back story we will never know.
By October last Niasse was contacting the media like a prisoner getting news out from Guantanamo Bay. Koeman had “changed everything”.
“He took my shirt number and he told me I wasn’t allowed to be in the dressing room for the first team; that I wasn’t going to train with them. I had to go with the second team.”
Niasse had choices. He could go back to Senegal. He could sit his contract out. Or he could get on with it.
He said at the time: “Okay, no problem. When you say you don’t need a player, you don’t have to see him. I’ve just kept working in training. Even if I’m training with the U23s, I give them the respect.
“Anything can change. Koeman just wants the best for him and, in two months, if I can be the best for him, he will take me.”
Back when big Rom Lukaku was doing the business for Koeman that sounded like wishful thinking.
The Dutchman sold Lukaku though, spent all the money and clean forgot to buy a proper replacement. In terms of goalscoring Everton found themselves with a couple of kids and the ageing hero of the redtops Wayne Rooney. It was like going off to war with a couple of sharp sticks and an old rusty sword with a kink in the metal.
There was Niasse though. He’d been banished on loan to Hull with no hint that he would ever be welcomed back to Goodison. That mood only softened when he scored for Hull against Liverpool. Almost anything can be forgiven in a man who scores against Liverpool.
He got a squad number this season. Last week he scored in the Stray Moose League Cup or whatever it is. Two Niasse goals then beat Bournemouth. He looked keen and eager. As well he might. The fans love him. Memories are short.
The striker who came in from the cold is a great story. I watched Koeman when Niasse scored and while the bench erupted in the sort of excitement more associated with Herr Klopp around the corner Koeman remained tightlipped. He was eating his words and didn’t want to drop any I imagine.
“It is not surprising to me because I know him,” Koeman said afterwards. “The boy has that kind of quality and with his aggression and direct play he can create a lot of problems. No one can stop him at the moment, he did well and all the credit is to the player.”
And they all lived happily ever after? We’ll see.