Football: Ivory power can sing for the Blues

Everton are crying out for a proven goalscorer. Ibrahim Bakayoko fits the bill.
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The Independent Online
IT HAS NOT required the brain of a rocket scientist to work out that a vital element has been missing from the one-time school of soccer science. The Everton equation at Goodison Park this season reads: four games, no goals, no wins. Not since Gareth Farrelly settled 40,000 nerves with his early breakthrough in the last-day decider against Coventry City on 10 May has Goodison beheld a home goal in the Premiership. In 443 minutes of play Everton have failed to plot successfully a course through to the opposition's net.

Ibrahim Bakayoko hopes he will be the solution to a problem that has not been confined to home for Everton in recent years. The Toffees have been consistently stuck in the Premiership nether regions because of a perennial striking deficiency. In the past two seasons Duncan Ferguson has barely scraped into double figures as the club's leading scorer. In Bakayoko, Everton now have the natural goalscorer they have been lacking since Tony Cottee's time at Goodison - according to John Collins, at any rate.

"He can score 20 goals a season in the Premiership - no problem," Collins proclaimed last week when Walter Smith, Everton's manager, travelled to France to complete the pounds 4.5m signing of Bakayoko from Montpellier. As a midfielder with Monaco for two seasons, Collins can offer a first-hand testimony to the 21-year-old's talents.

"I played against him three times," Collins said, "and three times he impressed me. He's the kind of player who's always dangerous. We always used to put a man-marker on him. He's quick. He's powerful. He's very skilful. And, most importantly, he scores goals.

"People in France compared him to George Weah and he's that type of player. He can get the ball and turn and run past two or three defenders. And he can hold it up and play other people in. For me he's an all-round striker. That's not just my opinion. My team-mates at Monaco played against him longer than I did and they spoke very highly of him. Olivier Dacourt thinks he's a terrific player too."

Dacourt speaks from even closer experience of Bakayoko. "I had to mark him when Strasbourg played Montpellier," Everton's summer arrival from France revealed. "And I can tell you he was a very tough opponent. He's very quick. He's very powerful. I rated him as the best striker in French football."

Bakayoko, though, is not a French footballer. Last weekend he was playing for his native Ivory Coast against Mali. He started his playing career with Yani Sports in Seguela, the Ivory Coast mining town in which he was born. He joined Montpellier in 1995, forging his reputation in the team that won the French youth cup before breaking into the first team and scoring 24 goals in 76 league games. His form in the season before last attracted interest from Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester United, but Manchester City were the only bidders during a less impressive campaign last term.

The word on the French grapevine was that Babayoko was seriously huffed, disgruntled that Montpellier had resisted all offers for him the previous summer. "It was said that my mind was not on Montpellier, but that was not the case," he insisted last week. "It's true that I had some difficult moments last year. I was whistled at after one game, against Chateau Roux. That was very unfair. Success had not gone to my head. It had not changed me.

"I have worked very hard for this move and I am looking forward to success with Everton now. I am moving on to the next stage of my career and I'm looking forward to playing with Everton in England. I've always wanted to join a big club."

So why, the cynics will doubtless inquire, has the West African joined the big club that has almost taken the big drop in four of the past five seasons ? Certainly, Everton were not Bakayoko's first choice of a big club in England. He wanted to join Arsenal and would have done so, after a week at Highbury in August, had Montpellier not baulked at the Gunners' insistence on a sell-back guarantee if he failed to make his mark in the Premiership this season. Since then, having made an impressive start to the French season, Bakayoko's valuation has risen from the pounds 2.5m Arsene Wenger offered two months ago to the pounds 4.5m Smith paid last week.

Whether it has been money well spent by the Everton manager will become clear by the time Bakayoko returns to Highbury with his big club on 7 November. In the meantime, though, Smith's investment has his debut to prepare for - the small matter of the the local dispute at Goodison Park on Saturday. "To come across here and play against Liverpool in his first game..." Collins mused. "It's going to be unbelievable." It will be barely believable for Evertonians too if the new boy in blue actually brings a debut goal with him to Goodison.

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