Gravesen's Goodison grooming

Alex Hayes suggests Everton's Dane might well upstage Gascoigne
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The Independent Online

Just for a second, the small crowd of reporters who had gathered outside Everton's Bellefield training ground on Friday found themselves distracted by a bulky, slightly balding figure. Only after closer examination did they realise this was not Paul Gascoigne.

Just for a second, the small crowd of reporters who had gathered outside Everton's Bellefield training ground on Friday found themselves distracted by a bulky, slightly balding figure. Only after closer examination did they realise this was not Paul Gascoigne.

The midfielder's arrival promised to be the biggest story of the summer; instead it is a 24-year-old Dane who is proving to be the most talked about transfer of the close-season. He may not be as famous as Gazza, but Thomas Gravesen is clearly turning quite a few heads on Merseyside. "I think people confuse us because we're both going bald," he joked.

Such has been the quality of his performances in the first four weeks of the campaign, you could be forgiven for thinking Gravesen has been gracing the Premiership for longer than his more illustrious team-mate. In fact, he was only signed during the summer, joining for £2.5m from Hamburg. One of five new Everton players, it is little wonder it has taken the club a little time to settle down as a unit.

"I feel we're finally coming into form," he said ahead of today's match against the unbeaten Leicester City. "With so many new arrivals, it was always going to take a while for the team to bed in. Now, though, we're starting to click."

Walter Smith - who Gravesen prefers to call "the gaffer" although his pronounced Danish accent makes it sound more like "gaiffeur" - has had to change his ways. While at Rangers, money was of little concern. At Everton, the purse strings are significantly tighter, which leaves the Scot with no alternative but to trawl through the lower British and European leagues.

Gravesen was one of thelittle-known players to return in Smith's shopping bag after a scouting mission in Germany. "The gaffer spoke to me last season, when I was at Hamburg, and I was thrilled," Gravesen said. "England was always my dream; this is where I wanted to play. It doesn't get better than this. I had seen a lot of young Danes come over here too early in their careers and mess things up.

"That's why I was determined to go to Germany first. I wanted to sign my first contract in the Bundesliga, get better and then come to the Premiership. To be honest, I wasn't sure I was ready, but then the gaffer told me what he expected and I was sold."

Gravesen, who was brought up in Jylland, is used to difficult conditions, as snow and long winters are the norm in the small town in the south of Denmark. Nothing, though, had prepared him for the demands of the Premiership. "Oh yeah," he said, "this is hard, tough and fast. When I first arrived, I thought this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I felt it would be too difficult for me, but I'm enjoying it now. I'm getting used to the speed of the game." His need to acclimatise might explain that sending-off in a pre-season friendly. Significantly, there has not been a single booking since then.

One of Gravesen's majorattributes is his versatility. So far this season, he has played in defence, midfield and attack. He has also scored twice, which is encouraging for a team who struggle to find goals on a regular basis. "I don't know why it is that managers make me play in different positions," Gravesen said, "but I don't mind it. In fact, I enjoy trying things out because it teaches me so much. There is no better way of understandingexactly what a the needs of other players are than by playing in their role."

After six disappointing years, the feeling is that Everton may at last be about to make an impact in the Premiership. Slowly but surely, Smith has assembled a strong and experienced squad. "It took us three years at Hamburg to become a top-five team," Gravesen said. "We're not quite on our way to winning the championship, but I think we have the right ingredients to fulfil the club's ambitions.

"Everything is in place here for us to succeed, so there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to turn things around. The team spirit is good, the players are experienced, the fans are amazing and thefacilities are first-class. It's very encouraging."

Gravesen believes that English football has now caught up with other European leagues. Diet, training and recuperation are all as meticulous in this country as they were for the Dane during his time in the Bundesliga. "We had a doctor from the local John Moores University come to talk to us about food and how we should treat our bodies," said Grave-sen, who remembers spending every Sunday watching his fellow countryman, Jan Molby, play for the city's other team. "The days of the long ball or rough-and-tumble football are gone. I've been very impressed with England, especialy the quality of the stadiums."

Goodison Park has always been an imposing venue. Perhaps now it will play host to the strongest Everton team for a decade. "I would not be here if I did not think so," Gravesen said. "But you can't just buy a team. You have to let it develop and blossom. It might take a year, maybe two. It doesn't worry me, because I want to get it right. I'm in no hurry."

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