As Belgium exited Cardiff City Stadium following their recent 2-0 win over Wales, hundreds of autograph hunters crowded around and hemmed in the team bus. Kevin Mirallas may not quite share the status of team-mates like Eden Hazard or his captain Vincent Kompany just yet, but the shouts of his name from the throng told us that Everton's newest signing is already making an impression. The mania is a sign of the times for Belgium, and Mirallas' new club, with a sizeable buzz surrounding both at present.
The 24-year-old is yet to start a Premier League match for Everton but is already pointing his rapid stride in the right direction. Besides a couple of promising cameos, he dazzled on his full debut for the Toffees in the Capital One Cup, scoring twice and making another two in a 5-0 win over Leyton Orient.
A forward perpetually defined by his speed, Mirallas has never been one for hanging about. On his debut for Saint-Etienne in 2008, he opened the scoring in the derby with Lyons. The former Lille man clearly expects quick results in England, too. "I've been here for two weeks now so I'm adapting to a new country, and a new team," he told The Independent after Belgium's World Cup qualification victory over Wales. "It's going really well." He seems similarly unfazed by Everton's challenge to have him speaking English with his new colleagues within a month.
Still, Mirallas has been on the road for a while now, but it's been a winding route. After leaving his home town of Liège for France as a 16-year-old, the young forward quickly got tongues wagging with his pace and movement. Yet during six years in the Hexagon, there was far more promise than production.
That all changed after his move to Olympiakos in 2010. In a close parallel to Djibril Cissé, who also relaunched his career in Greece, Mirallas found himself. Like Cissé, Mirallas had been shifted all over the front line due to his acceleration, but his new coach Ernesto Valverde used him mainly as centre-forward, to spectacular effect.
Mirallas knew he had a big decision to make when Everton came calling, but it wasn't as simple as some might assume. "No, it wasn't easy," he admitted, "because I felt really good in Greece, and so did my family." After having discussions with David Moyes following his scoring performance in last month's win over the Netherlands, Mirallas flew back to Greece to talk it over with his wife before signing. "It wasn't a straightforward decision, but now I'm very happy to be here."
At least one familiar face awaited at Goodison Park, though Marouane Fellaini's welcome hasn't extended to putting up the newcomers. "With my wife and my daughter, I think we'd take up a bit too much space for him," Mirallas grinned coyly before the match. It's not just his club colleague, of course. He knows a quick look at most Premier League fixtures will remind him that Belgian football appears to be entering a new golden age.
"It's going to be enjoyable," he enthused, "playing almost every weekend against a compatriot, someone from the national team. It already happened to me with Romelu (Lukaku, of West Bromwich Albion). We're very proud that there are a lot of Belgians playing in the best league."
Mirallas was grateful of the timing of Belgium's visit to Wales, which he saw as another step on the way to acclimatising to his new environment – "the Welsh defenders were strong in the individual duels," he said, puffing out his cheeks – but also as an opportunity to prove he can thrive.
"The coach [Marc Wilmots] played me up there to try and find space, but when they went down to 10 [after James Collins' red card], there just wasn't any," he said. "I understand why I was taken off; Romelu's physically much stronger than me in the penalty area. It was even tougher against 10 men, even if we moved the ball around well. We need to up the level of our game, but every point is going to count in this group."
With Mirallas' lofty ambitions for Everton, the same can be said of the Premier League. "We have a really good team," he nodded, "and we've started well. I hope that this season will be even better for the club than last year. The aim is to qualify for Europe, through the Europa League at least. Last year we weren't too far away, and I think this year we'll get there." Everton's new man is in a hurry.
Facts: In figures
20: Goals last season scored by Mirallas for Olympiakos
£6m: Amount Everton paid Olympiakos for the forward in the summer
5: The striker has scored five goals in 29 appearances for Belgium
2: Goals – and assists – on his full Everton debut against Leyton Orient last monthReuse content