Nyarko's need is just to be wanted

Everton's Ghanaian recruit has taken an odd route to his fourth club in five years
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The Independent Online

To Ruud Gullit they are "world footballers". To some at the Professional Footballers' Association, they are mercenaries with no loyalty to or understanding of the clubs they serve.

To Ruud Gullit they are "world footballers". To some at the Professional Footballers' Association, they are mercenaries with no loyalty to or understanding of the clubs they serve.

It would be hard to call Alex Nyarko a mercenary - he is too open, too passionate about the game. But since leaving his native Ghana, Everton will be his fourth club in as many countries in five years.

On Saturday he scored his first goal at Goodison, a little back-heel in Joe Parkinson's testimonial. There was something symbolic that a match for the benefit of a footballer who represented a more traditional route in the game (Wigan, Bournemouth, Everton) should have been settled by someone whose CV reads: Ashanti Kotoko, Dawu Youngsters, Basle, Karlsruhe, Lens and now Everton. This is the modern age.

In his two years at the helm, Nyarko's new manager, Walter Smith, has bought and sold 54 players with a combined value of £83m and, as the Bosman ruling deepens its impact, he believes these kind of figures, not unusual in France or Spain, will become almost the norm. This summer Everton's entire midfield has had to be replaced.

It leaves footballers such as Alex Nyarko like the old Teutonic knights, wandering around Europe offering their services from warlord to warlord. Nyarko has not been home to Accra for more than a year, having remained in Switzerland with his wife,Barbara, and their three-year-old son while his future wasdecided.

"I was told I would be moving to Arsenal," said Nyarko. "I don't know why that didn't happen. In this life you can be certain of something today and then tomorrow it can change. I was told Arsÿne Wenger wanted me and then later it turned out he was unsure. I was left not knowing where I was going to play football and I decided to take my own decision.

"I called my agent and gave him two or three days to find me a club because I couldn't keep waiting for Highbury."

He did not even have time to discuss the move with Olivier Dacourt, his team-mate at Lens and a former Everton player who had recommended him to Smith. Nyarko had never heard of Walter Smith, but said he had the impression the Everton manager "cared about me". After all the moves, you sense a desire in the midfielder to settle down and a hunger to make a real impact in the game.

"Sometimes I would be alone in a hotel room and feel I hadn't really achieved anything in my career," he said. "Sometimes I would fight with my conscience; sometimes I'd think to myself: 'What am I doing here at this club so far away?' I need something, a medal or a cup to show for it all."

You might cynically say that Nyarko would have had more chances of medals had he remained at the Felix Bollaert, the home of Lens, an extraordinary club which holds together the mining communities of northern France and can be best described as a Gallic Newcastle. They won the French title in 1998, sold most of the team, won the League Cup and are now third in the First Division. But while Nyarko coped with the language, although he had to go shopping in nearby Lille to escape the adulation, his wife, from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, did not.

"Lens is a little town surrounded by villages and all they talk about is football. There is no life outside the club," said Nyarko. "My wife did not like it and now our son is three and there is another one on the way we needed to move and I wanted my son [Alex Jnr] to grow up speaking English well."

He says he was happiest at Basle, where he was the club's first black player and, though he encountered dressing-room racism there, it died down as quickly as it flared up. Significantly, he says the players at Basle are the only ones he expects to keep in touch with. There is little point in making deep friendships in the game because you never know in what country you might be playing next year.

"I don't know when I'll go back to Ghana," he says. "It is unreal to think that there will be a time when a young footballer can stay in Africa rather than making their living in Europe."

His parents did not want Nyarko to play football. Not so much because once he proved himself in the local leagues they would hardly ever see him again, but because they thought he would not get on in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dressing-room. He was an intelligent child, who would have been a mechanical engineer were it not for football, but he often preferred his own company.

"It is difficult for me to be with a group; sometimes I like to be on my own," he said. "If I have to put up with something bad, I can't keep it in and if someone gives me shit, I react very quickly.

"My family knew about that but I didn't believe it until I started travelling in Switzerland, Germany and France and found it was not easy for me to fit in with other footballers; I used to fight with colleagues all the time. Sometimes I can control myself but sometimes I can't. Perhaps here at Everton I can be left alone to be quiet and happy."

Someone should tell Paul Gascoigne.

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