Wayne Rooney is not the only Everton academy graduate to have reminded the world recently what he can do. His former youth-team strike partner at Goodison Park, Michael Symes, scored for Burton Albion against Fulham in the Capital One Cup while, over at Huddersfield Town, James Vaughan – the man who replaced Rooney as Everton's youngest-ever goalscorer – hit a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Bournemouth on Saturday that maintained his team's bright start to the Championship campaign.
In the case of Vaughan, his treble underlined a rich vein of form that suggests the one-time teenage prodigy is finally poised to fulfil his considerable promise. He has seven goals already this term for seventh-placed Huddersfield, building on the 14 he struck on loan last season which helped the west Yorkshire club escape relegation – and earned him their Player of the Year award and a permanent £600,000 transfer from Norwich City. "I've always felt if I can get a run of games together and start playing regularly I can start trying to show people what I am about," he tells The Independent.
For Vaughan, getting that run of games was the problem. Now 25, he was 16 years and 271 days old when his goal against Crystal Palace in April 2005 set not just a club but a Premier League scoring record. What happened next was an awful run of luck with injuries. There were several knee operations, the severed artery in his ankle he suffered one Easter Monday at Bolton and, as he recalls with particular dismay, the dislocated shoulder which stopped him just as he looked poised for a breakthrough season in 2007.
"I'd scored on the last day of the [2006-07] season at Chelsea, I went away with the Under-21s [to the European Championship] and came back to Everton ready to play. In the first pre-season game I dislocated my shoulder and subsequently Everton went out and bought Yakubu for £11m so it was quite hard to get in after that. That was a really low point."
All in all he made only 11 starts for Everton and, after a season on loan at Crystal Palace, moved on to Norwich in 2011. Once there, though, his injury jinx struck again: he suffered a cartilage injury in only his third substitute appearance after his £2.5m transfer and ended up making just one start for the club. "I spent a tough year at Norwich. It wasn't easy – I was away from all my friends and family and wasn't playing."
Happily, two years on, he is fully fit and scoring goals, so what is the difference for a player once described by David Moyes as "too brave for his own good"? He replies: "It's about knowing my body a bit better, so if I am feeling tired or tight I will let the physios know. I've learned to manage my body better, I've kept myself in better condition but ultimately it was about a run of games. I've got used to playing regularly – at Everton I wasn't playing regularly and was coming off the bench." And when he did, as he concedes, he would try too hard to impress.
The influence of Huddersfield manager Mark Robins, the one-time Manchester United striker, is also helping. "If you look at my record since he came in, he has massively helped me out with my goalscoring," Vaughan explains. "He works with me daily on my movement in and around the box. When he first came in he did a lot of work to help me get in better scoring positions."
If he needs any further advice, he can always turn to his new father-in-law, Mike Newell, another ex-Evertonian. Vaughan married Newell's daughter Sophie in the summer and tweeted a photo of their idyllic-looking honeymoon destination, Bora Bora in the south Pacific. "It was a long way but worth it when I got there," he says. A bit like his journey to Huddersfield – even if the similarities end there.Reuse content