Football: A turn for the worse - Nick Barmby - 'I'm only 23... I've proved in the past what I can do'

Millstones of '97: From the batting idol who remains an enigma to the fighter cornered by calamity
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If 1997 was a bad year for Nick Barmby, 1998 is unlikely to be much better for the erstwhile England starlet who has fallen to terra firma with a mighty bump. It was the struggling Evertonian, lest it be forgotten, who set England fair for France. Barmby's 23rd-minute goal against Moldova in Chisinau in September last year launched both the Glenn Hoddle era and England's World Cup qualifying campaign. He made way for Matt Le Tissier in the 81st minute of that 3-0 victory and has yet to return to the international stage.

The prospect of him doing so at the World Cup finals is almost as remote as a championship celebration at Goodison this year. Fifteen months after his goalscoring contribution on national service in Moldova, Barmby is not even assured of a place in an Everton team fighting relegation. He has spent much of this season either on bench duty or in second-team action in the Pontins League. His name has been on Howard Kendall's last six Premiership team sheets but the possible arrival of Mickael Madar or another striker could push him back down the Goodison pecking order.

Barmby and Kendall have denied claims of a rift, but the Everton manager is known to dislike the formation that would allow the club's record signing to play in his favoured position, behind two main strikers. It seems pretty obvious, too, that Kendall's estimation of Barmby's worth is not the same as that of his predecessor, Joe Royle, who met Middlesbrough's pounds 5.75m valuation 14 months ago.

"It's often the case that when a new manager comes to a club he might not fancy the players who are already there," Barmby acknowledged. "I've been in football long enough to understand the situation. I'm only 23. I've played for England, scored for England. I've proved in the past what I can do. You don't become a bad player overnight."

You can, though, look an average player in a bad team, or at a club where your particular talents might not be appreciated. Goalscoring never has been Barmby's speciality but just two in the Premiership this year - against Nottingham Forest in February and against Chelsea in May - would appear to point towards faltering form. It ought to be pointed out, however, that Barmby has been robbed of three perfectly valid goals. Video evidence has shown that linesmen flagged in ill-judged haste when he sprung flawed offside traps to score at Highbury in January, at St James' Park in September and at Villa Park in November.

At least, then, Barmby has not lost his ability to pierce a defensive line at a speed which can deceive the eye. And he still has time to re- emerge on the international scene, even if he is obliged to endure the frustration of watching the drama of France 98 unfold on television.

That scenario was not quite what Terry Venables envisaged when he called Barmby into his England squad as a 21-year-old understudy to Peter Beardsley. Barmby made his England debut as a substitute for Beardsley in the goalless draw against Uruguay at Wembley in March 1995 and the two goals he scored against China on England's Far East tour last year prompted the termination of his boyhood hero's international career.

Barmby made the Euro 96 squad at Beardsley's expense but has yet to become the fully-fledged successor to the Geordie as an England schemer in the old-fashioned inside-forward mould. "I want to play for England again," he said. "I know I've got it in me. But I've got to concentrate on Everton at the moment." These are sticky times for the Toffees - and for Barmby.