Champions' League kick-off at Goodison: Blond ambition

Everton's return to the European stage offers James Beattie the perfect chance for a fresh start
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Recent European pedigree, a fluent style comparable to Barcelona and greater strength in depth explain why Villarreal are favourite to bring Everton's adventure among the continent's élite to an abrupt end, yet they do not have a monopoly on blond strikers with much to prove in a third-round qualifying tie with a minimum of £10m on offer to the victors.

Diego Forlan returns to the North-west seeking to demonstrate that he truly is the man who finished above Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldo as the leading goalscorer in Spain last season and not the striker who generated more sympathy than fear during his 30 months with Manchester United.

Over in the blue corner stands a centre-forward with a Premiership career that bears no comparison to the maligned Uruguayan but who commences a crucial campaign amid scepticism none the less: James Beattie.

Everton's £6.5m record signing has already risked the wrath of his austere manager by reporting back for pre-season training with shocking blond highlights in his hair. Though aged 27, he has promised to grow them out as quickly as possible following a damning fashion verdict by David Moyes, an act that typifies an Everton career blighted by accidents and now fuelled by a now all-consuming desire to impress.

This is a defining season for Beattie, one that he believes can finish with a place in England's World Cup squad in Germany, and he accepts he must start anew if both he and Everton are to advance their claims at the highest level beyond the two-leg test with Villarreal.

"I hope this will be a new start for me," he says, amid shouts of encouragement from schoolchildren spending their summer holidays at the gates of Everton's Bellefield training ground. "The whole of last season was stop-start for me and, to be honest, it was a disappointment to myself and to the fans how things went from January. Football is all highs and lows, there is never a happy medium. It's all extremes. The high point last year was joining this club and then the lows of the suspension and injuries followed soon after. I never made the impact I, the fans or the gaffer would have wanted.

"I don't think anybody expected me to settle in immediately anyway, though. That is the feedback I've been getting from the fans, they seem to regard me as a new player for this season and with this qualifier against Villarreal and getting into the group stage of the Champions' League it is a very important time. People are looking at me as a new signing and that's how I regard myself. It was the highlight of my career when I signed for Everton and I know if I can stay fit I will score goals. The rest will take care of itself."

Beattie has good cause to write off his first five months on Merseyside. Injuries sandwiched a suspension that lasted almost two months, a dire consequence of an uncharacteristic assault on William Gallas of Chelsea in his seventh game but first major test for the club. It was an act that condemned the striker to an inauspicious start at Goodison, one that was spared further recrimination by his team-mates' success in holding on to the fourth Champions' League place, although his reaction to the dismissal back in February revealed all about the pressures that had surrounded the big-money move from Southampton.

Beattie surprised many, not least the journalists to whom he granted their hopeful request of a post-match interview, with claims of innocence in the corridor that had presented the striker with the longest walk of his professional life following an eighth-minute dismissal by Mike Riley. Yet he also spiked any suspicion that here was a professional with no awareness of his responsibility by waiting for almost an hour outside the match officials' dressing-room for a private audience with Riley, emerging visibly upset and "utterly devastated" as the punishment hit home.

Now, though, he admits: "It was born out of frustration and that is the first time in my career when I can say it has gotten the better of me. I was devastated, completely gutted. I really felt we had a good chance of beating Chelsea that day and I was sent off for the first time in my career. It was the first suspension I had faced, never mind the first sending-off, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and it is how you respond that matters. I think I might have been trying too hard, but that is part of my character. Hopefully, I have learnt from the experience.

"I'd had a few bad seasons with severe injuries before, but everything happened at once last year. The suspension took eight weeks to complete because of internationals and FA Cup rounds that we weren't involved in after being knocked out by Manchester United. It could have been over within a week if we had games on the Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, but it dragged on so long.

"For those first three weeks of the suspension I was training morning and afternoon, working really hard, and then at the end of the suspension I injured my calf.

"It was a bit of bad luck but I'm not making any excuses because if I hadn't have got myself sent off I wouldn't have been in that position in the first place."

A fracas outside a Birmingham nightclub where he celebrated his 27th birthday during the suspension added to those problems, and though he was the innocent party his choice of venue, having rejected Aston Villa's advances in favour of a move to Everton and watched his new club beat David O'Leary's side 3-1 that day, resulted in another Monday morning summons to Moyes' office. Blond highlights are inconsequential in comparison.

The striker begins his "new" Everton career in the club's first experience of European Cup football since the 1970-71 quarter-final when a Panathinaikos team managed by a Mighty Magyar, Ferenc Puskas, won on the away goals rule. Villarreal present an equally daunting prospect 34 years on, though are perfect opponents for an Everton side who defied all expectations of a collapse last season.

"Over the course of a season you achieve what you deserve and I think we are happy giving recognition amongst ourselves rather than wanting any from outside," Beattie said. "The gaffer praised us for what we achieved last season, as did the chairman, and obviously our fans were happy. I think a lot of neutral fans were happy that Everton clinched that fourth place as well.

"What we did offered hope to everyone else. People can say it's a one-off if they like, but look at the predictions at the start of every season, they are mostly always wrong and most people had Everton to go down last season. For a team to be written off before a season has even started and respond by claiming the fourth Champions' League place illustrates that point.

"There is a feeling that we are Champions' League players now. The lads deserve tremendous credit for what they achieved last season and within the club, and within the game, they have got it. I've spoken to a lot of players from other Premiership clubs this summer who have been delighted at what Everton have done and have wished us all the best for getting into the Champions' League. They are pleased another club have shown the way.

"It means expectations have gone up, absolutely. We have to rise up to that level now and from what I've seen from the Everton fans if we give it everything, they will be satisfied. There should be that expectation at a club like Everton." As there should be about an England international with a one-in-three Premiership goalscoring record who now carries hopes, not excuses, into what promises to be a raucous European night at Goodison Park.

Beattie adds: "If I can recreate what I did at Southampton then I know the Everton fans will love me. If I can get the No 9 shirt here and start doing what I did towards the end of my time at Southampton where I was captain and scoring goals freely, and I know I can, everything - the price tag, the expectations on an Everton No 9 and the problems of last season - will disappear."

Toffee papers: Key entries in the European archive for Everton

Last time in European Cup: 1970-71 v Panathinaikos

Everton beat Borussia Mönchengladbach on penalties to move into the last eight. There, they were expected to beat the Greeks by everyone, including Ferenc Puskas, the opposition manager. Everton dominated the first leg but managed only one goal, scored by David Johnson, and conceded a disastrous away goal. Panathinaikos played out a goalless draw in Athens to go through.

The Greeks went on to the Wembley final, where they lost to Ajax. With Alan Ball (above) moving on to Arsenal, Everton went into a slow decline .

Everton: Rankin; Wright, Labone, Hurst, K Newton; Kendall, Ball, Harvey; Whittle, Royle, Morrissey (Johnson). Manager: Harry Catterick.

Greatest night: 15 May, 1985 v Rapid Vienna (Cup-Winners' Cup Final)

Having blown away Bayern Munich in the semi-final, and then securing the League title, Everton arrived in Rotterdam buoyant. Andy Gray (right) scored Everton's first goal and Trevor Steven doubled the lead. Hans Krankl replied but Kevin Sheedy sealed victory from the restart, from 25 yards.

"They are possibly the best side in Europe," Krankl said. The theory was never tested. Two weeks later Liverpool fans rioted in Heysel and English clubs were banned from Europe, including Everton in the European Cup.

Everton: Southall; Steven, Mountfield, Ratcliffe, Van den Hauwe; Steven, Reid, Bracewell, Sheedy; Sharp, Gray. Manager: Howard Kendall.

Last time in Europe: 2 Nov 1995 v Feyenoord (Cup-Winners' Cup)

Since the Heysel ban was lifted Everton have been in Europe once, qualifying for the Cup-Winners' Cup through their surprise 1995 defeat of Manchester United. They eased past KR Reykjavik in the opening round but then fell to Henrik Larsson's Feyenoord. Neville Southall (right) was the only Everton survivor from 1985.

Everton: Southall; Jackson, Short, Ablett (Barlow), Hinchcliffe; Watson, Stuart, Horne, Ebbrell (Grant); Amokachi, Rideout.

Manager: Joe Royle.

Full record

P 45 W 23 D 12 L 10

Biggest win: 5-0 (both legs) v Finn Harps, 1978-79 Uefa Cup. Biggest defeat: 0-3 v Ujpest Dozsa, 1965-66 Fairs Cup