FOOTBALL: Limpar finds love comes in blue flashes

The mercurial Swede has found a place -and understanding -at Everton. Derick Allsop talks to his manager
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The Independent Online
Tottenham v Everton: the loved and the unloved; sophistication and fundamentalism. The Elland Road semi-final is neatly pigeon-holed.

The quality, the creativity is, after all, Spurs'. Jrgen Klinsmann and his highly glossed colleagues will surely be a cut above Everton and their basic instincts. Now you would not, of course, expect Joe Royle, the Everton manager, to say he sees it quite like that, but you might be surprised to hear his nomination for the most gifted player on view: Anders Limpar.

"I'm sure we'll be told plenty about the skills of Klinsmann, Barmby and Sheringham," Royle said. "And rightly so. They're all tremendous players and we are fully aware of the potential threat they pose to us. We all know what people think of us. But I honestly believe that in terms of sheer ability, Anders Limpar will be the most talented player on the park.

"It's a latent ability, yes, but it is there. It's there in his ball control, his ability on the ball, the way he can run at people and go past them, his ability to pass and cross, and it's there in his shooting. He is two-footed, although he's more naturally right-footed. He can use both to stunning effect. He's capable of almost anything, even reaching world superstar level."

Everton seemed an unlikely escape route for Limpar when his strained relationship with Arsenal finally broke last year. Unlikely for the player, and for the club. This was a relegation scrap, no place for fancy dans with questionable stomach for a fight.

Royle inherited from Mike Walker another struggle to stay in the Premiership and, you might reasonably have imagined, would have no faith or first team place for the likes of the Swedish winger. Clearly Royle was unsure, as he willingly concedes.

"I'd watched him from afar and wondered about him, as I'm sure a lot of other people did," Royle said. "I'd seen the flashes of brilliance but somehow you felt it was never sustained. So, yes, you have your doubts. But when I came here I was prepared to give everyone a fair hearing. What I never realised was just how good he was."

At 29, Limpar was in danger of being one of the Premiership's under-achievers. Royle sensed a paternal embrace might encourage greater consistency and productivity. Royle explained: "There are many, many things that make up a player, things aside from actual ability, and with Anders it's very much a confidence thing. He needs to feel you appreciate him. He needs to be understood. Everyone likes to be liked, so in that sense he's not really so different. But perhaps more than most, he does need to be given that confidence.

"He is without doubt the most talented player I have ever worked with but he knows we need him to produce that talent on the park. Equally important, I think, is the fact that he is now confident we know what he can do.

"We've seen this season that he has a vital, important role to play for us. We look at him to produce that telling cross or that superb strike. If his confidence is sustained then there is no reason why he should not continue to deliver for us."

Above all, Royle hopes Limpar will play his part in steering Everton clear of relegation. And the manager has deliberately talked down the cup run. But this close to Wembley?

"Oh, no question about it,"Royle said, "we want it and in Anders we have a potential match-winner. Big game, big occasion - he has the chance to show that it's made for him."

Royle walked this tightrope only 12 months ago, when his Oldham players were denied a place in the final by Mark Hughes' late strike for Manchester United. Oldham lost the replay and lost the campaign for Premiership survival.

"This time it's very different," Royle said. "At Oldham we didn't have the resources to change things for those last League games. We had no one else to bring in.

"I still say next week's league match against Newcastle is more important than the semi-final, but don't doubt our appetite for the Cup. We keep hearing the dream final is Man United v Spurs but it's not our dream. That's our nightmare.

"Spurs are a greatly improved side and Gerry Francis has done tremendously well with them. But we've given a good account of ourselves against the top teams. Semi-finals are predictably unpredictable; you don't often get goal feasts. It will be frantic and hard fought. Whoever can get hold of it will be on a winner.

"If Tottenham's name is on the Cup so be it, but I don't think it is."