The Weird Case of Alex Nyarko

James Williams 09/06/2017 26comments  |  Jump to last

How bad does it get when a fan comes on to trade shirts?

“When I retire, I would like to write a book. A chronicle of my life.”

A statement that may have been intended for the conclusion of Alex Nyarko’s career but that retirement approached sooner than anticipated. Former Everton player, Olivier Dacourt, recommended a player to Everton manager Walter Smith, who supplied the plane ticket for this professional footballer. The Ghanaian brought with him a reputation that offered the impression that he would take the English Premier League by storm.

Alex Nyarko – “The New Patrick Vieira” – was heading to Merseyside but delivered more complications to Goodison Park that many Evertonians to this day cannot understand why it didn’t quite work out. Nyarko had been chased by a number of managers in the English Premier League, including Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and Liverpool’s Gérard Houllier, with Houllier stating Everton had captured an “outstanding” midfielder.

Scotsman Walter Smith signed Alex Nyarko for £4.5 million in the summer of 2000 from Ligue 1 team RC Lens, alongside many other players Everton had managed to convince to come to the blue half of Merseyside in that period. Thomas Gravesen, Duncan Ferguson, Paul Gascoigne, Steve Watson and Niklas Alexandersson joined the Ghanaian off the back of a mediocre season for The Toffees, finishing 13th in the 1999-2000 English Premier League campaign. Walter Smith simply needed replacements throughout the Everton midfield with a number of players leaving Goodison Park that same summer.


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John Collins left for the capital, moving to Fulham; Don Hutchison travelled to the Northeast, signing for Peter Reid’s Sunderland; and the most shocking move was Nick Barmby making the short trip across Stanley Park to join Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool. It cannot be denied that Everton as an organisation were going through a tough patch in the club’s history.

They had survived multiple threats of relegation and many Evertonians had voiced their opinion on the recent running of the club. It appeared for the first time in a while that Everton had some type of direction, with Chairman Bill Kenwright buying 68% of the club from Peter Johnson in 1999 by creating the consortium ‘True Blue Holdings’ in January 2000.

There was no denying that Alex Nyarko brought unique experience to the Everton team due to him previously playing in Switzerland, Germany and France. He earned the £4.5 million price tag and it was a very exciting time for Everton fans, with the prospect of him playing alongside fan favourite, Paul Gascoigne. Nevertheless, Everton started the season slowly, firstly losing 2-0 to Leeds United at Elland Road but managing a 3-0 victory over Charlton Athletic the first home fixture in that Premier league season. However, Everton let a 2-0 lead slip at the hands of Jim Smith’s Derby County. A wobbly start for ‘The Toffees’.

Thenceforth there was the dreaded trip down to the capital to a stadium where Everton had not won a single game throughout the nineties: White Hart Lane. Nyarko was playing alongside Paul Gascoigne, Thomas Gravesen and Stephen Hughes in midfield. The Ghanaian knew that he had to be at his best in this game when competing against the likes of Darren Anderton, Tim Sherwood and Oyvind Leonhardsen.

The game was approaching half-time and at this stage of the match, Nyarko and his Everton associates had demonstrated that they could match the intimidating Spurs crowd with a strong team spirited performance. Local boy Francis Jeffers had already put Everton into the lead and then, just before the half-time whistle, the ball fell loose to Nyarko around 25 yards out, which he struck supremely past Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Neil Sullivan: 2-0. This goal by Nyarko demonstrated the hidden qualities he had as a footballer. A strong stride into space and a thumping right-foot shot into the Tottenham Hotspur net.

Conversely, as it is always said, football is a game of two halves... and Everton let another 2-0 lead slip, falling 3-2 losers in the end with Les Ferdinand initialising the comeback and Sergei Rebrov netting a brace past helpless Everton goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard. This goal by Alex Nyarko was his only goal in an Everton shirt accompanied by a catalogue of performances that validated he simply was not able to cope with the velocity of the English Premier League.

It could be argued presented he was not helped by his Everton teammates as the team was really not performing. Nyarko was verbally singled out by the Goodison faithful and labelled as the main concern for the team’s problems with Everton fanzines openly criticising the Ghanaian midfielder. Nyarko specified that he had been having difficulty adjusting to the physical demands of the English Premier League.

The Ghanaian gestured, "The games are too physical, particularly when you are a midfielder. There is no time for creativity and the ball moves so fast from one goal to another. The coaches want you to send the ball quickly up to the strikers and that probably explains why there are so many goals in English football."

The Goodison crowd were losing patience with manager Walter Smith. His methods not working as he routinely opted for wingbacks in a 5-3-2 formation. The season was coming towards an end with Everton again as they did numerous times throughout their Premier League relationship flirt with the prospect of demotion into the English First Division.

The English Premier League crusade was ‘en route’ to the end of April and Everton were once again travelling to the capital, North London, where Alex Nyarko had started so well against Tottenham Hotspur in September 2000 when scoring with that impressive strike. However, Everton were travelling to play Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal who were fantastic at home.

The Everton crowd had already witnessed some embarrassing defeats throughout that campaign including downfalls at home to Ipswich Town, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Manchester United. Everton struggled when playing away from Goodison Park and there had been apparent suggestions that the players behind the scenes were not enjoying the leadership from Everton assistant Archie Knox.

There had been various physical exchanges between the players and one most famously away to Bradford City when Stephen Hughes had to be separated by his own teammates. Nyarko commented, “Archie was fighting with so many players in the room. I couldn’t understand his attitude.” Everton won that game 1-0.

The Everton squad were travelling to Highbury, low, dejected and mentally drained with a recent result playing on everybody’s minds that may have been the final nail in the coffin for ‘The Toffees’. Everton had recently just competed in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park, where Gary McAllister scored one of the most famous goals you will ever observe between the two Merseyside clubs. Another defeat at home and double victories in the Merseyside Derby for Liverpool. It was the 94th minute and Everton seemed to have secured an important draw. Free kick to Liverpool… Goal! Score… 3-2.

Arsenal were on their way to secure a UEFA Champions League place and were in no mood to provide Everton with sympathy after just being knocked out by Spaniards Valencia in the quarter finals. A stupendous 4-1 victory and another defeat for Walter Smith’s Everton on the road. Sylvain Wiltord scored ‘The Gunners’ third goal in the 67th minute with a 20-yard strike off the underside of the crossbar that left Paul Gerrard picking the ball out of his net yet again.

This was the final straw for an annoyed Evertonian who managed to enter the Highbury field of play. The Everton supporter offered to replace his shirt for Nyarko’s as it was obvious he thought he could have done a better job and implying that he was giving more commitment to the team than the Ghanaian. Baffled, embarrassed and confused Nyarko discussed with the Everton manager whether it was wise he was substituted. Five minutes later his wish was granted with Israeli Idan Tal replacing the Ghanaian. The Everton supporter was led away by Arsenal captain Tony Adams and Metropolitan Police officers but quite similar to Nyarko, as he was directed to the Away Dressing Room by Everton backroom staff.

A short time after the game, Alex Nyarko had announced his retirement from football at the age of 27, explaining that this Everton fan had been a common tormentor throughout his troubled campaign. When you may have thought Alex Nyarko was going to be delivered with support you would be mistaken as Everton Manager Walter Smith commented, "He showed a lack of strength," said the Scotsman.

"Lots of questions come up - commitment, mentality. He gave up, which is not a great example to set." It was announced on local radio, that Alex Nyarko said he was retiring from football, but Everton indicated that the Ghanaian wanted to make clear that he would never play for ‘The Toffees’ again. The Everton manager added to his recent remarks, "I’ll need time to think about that …… about five seconds."

Alex Nyarko was given the opportunity to comment on his current status, "Even without football I can live all right. I'm not going to start playing for the club again. I can't live my life like that. I'm quitting football. That's the end of it." Everton released Nyarko to Claude Puel’s, “Les rouges et blancs” AS Monaco on loan representing the French side 26 times scoring 2 goals.

After affirming that he would never play for ‘The Toffees’ again he did in fact, for another Scotsman, David Moyes. Everton were struggling through their campaign and again were flirting with relegation. Nyarko returned and he famously struck the bar in front of the Park End at Goodison Park were he displayed one of his thunderous strikes he had demonstrated in that early season fixture at White Hart Lane in 2000. He left Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini flatfooted and clattered the bar but again Everton came out as losers to a questionable goal by Romanian, Adrian Mutu.

He achieved another 11 appearances for Everton under Moyes but was eventually released as his work permit expired and could not be renewed. He went on to represent, IK Start and Yverdon-Sport FC later on his career but to conclude his career in short it was a clear disappointment and one with so much potential. Alex Nyarko – the next Patrick Vieira. Whoever decided that, needs sacking.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Matt Griffin
1 Posted 10/06/2017 at 07:47:35
Nyarko was a very good player. I think he demonstrated that in the few games he played under Moyes.

It's not easy to adjust to a new country and league. Both professionally and personally. Neither Bergkamp nor Henry hit the ground running when joining Arsenal.

I also understood that Nyarko was forced to play through injury by the hardline approach of Smith and Knox . Similar to what affected Michael Ball I believe.

Martin Nicholls
2 Posted 10/06/2017 at 08:52:39
I saw very little evidence to convince me that he was "a very good footballer". He couldn't cope with the physical side of our game and in giving up, also demonstrated an inner weakness.
Phil Sammon
3 Posted 10/06/2017 at 09:01:28
Great article, James, about a player who I always felt sorry for.

He was well paid and was afforded the luxury of pulling on the Royal opportunity limited to hundreds(?). But the moment that prick offered to swap shirts, I felt like I was watching an innocent little kitten being told he wasn't wanted.

The lad did have talent. He was a physical specimen... but lacked aerobic fitness. Consequently, he often looked a bit of a lump. The odd glimpse of quality far outweighed by long periods of invisibility. Being invisible is always a problem when everyone can see you.

Smith didn't help. Wrong manager for the wrong player. Not a bad guy but maybe somebody could have put an arm around the lad. I wonder how Ozil's career would have panned out under the likes of Smith.

So, anybody know what Alex is up to these days?

Dave Abrahams
4 Posted 10/06/2017 at 09:34:19
James. O/P, that wasn't a famous goal by Gary McCallister but very much an infamous goal!!!

As for Nyarko... It's best to let sleeping dogs lie, I think.

Colin Glassar
5 Posted 10/06/2017 at 09:36:56
God, I've tried my best to forget those dark days of Smith and Knox. This has ruined my weekend.
Peter Howard
6 Posted 10/06/2017 at 10:00:36
Reminding me about that McAllister goal got me thinking .

The RedShite have probably been inadvertently responsible for the three biggest and most positive changes in football :

1. The back pass rule.

2. Three points for a win.

3. The ref marking the position of the ball for the taking of a free kick.

So, hats off to their negativity and cheating which has led to the above changes!

Steve Hogan
7 Posted 10/06/2017 at 11:39:58
I was working in London that week and went to the night match at White Hart Lane, and watched an absolutely dominant display by Nyarko, he was technically astute with a physique like a middle weight boxer.

I thought he had everything a top class midfielder should possess, pace, power, box-to-box ability.

Sadly, it all went slowly downhill from that point, leading up to the infamous Highbury incident; in the end the guy was simply mentally weak and just couldn't cope.

Just shows how wrong you can be?

Terence Connell
8 Posted 10/06/2017 at 12:12:35
I was at that game at Highbury and it was one of the strangest incidents I've seen in a field of play. Alex seemed really spooked by this topless fan being able to get on the pitch and approach within a yard or two and offer him his shirt.

He gestured to the bench to be subbed immediately and I can understand Walter being pissed off with the player but Alex was really spooked. You would have thought that someone had put the voodoo on him.

Peter Gorman
9 Posted 10/06/2017 at 14:23:47
The goals against Spurs and that shot against the bar (which would have been goal of the season) showed what he could have been.

Sadly, he was mentally weak, as evidenced by the comments about retirement. Nothing wrong with that as a man, but not somebody you can use during the dire Walter Smith era.

Dave Williams
10 Posted 10/06/2017 at 22:05:47
I saw him in the pre-season friendly against Plymouth when he scored one or two goals and looked awesome – that said, Gazza scored a beauty and, apart from one game against Leicester, never showed what he could do.

That midfield had potential with Tommy and Alexandersson but the latter never did it for us either. Alex looked the part and clearly had ability but, as others say above, was not mentally strong enough to adapt and cope.

Steve Ferns
11 Posted 12/06/2017 at 14:46:18
I thought Nyarko looked a very good player early in his career. I'm sure there is a parallel universe out there where Nyarko had a bit more luck and time to settle and went from strength to strength.

As for his mental "weakness", surely that's too much of a 1970s thing to say. In this day and age, the club should have a sports psychologist on hand to help players through that side of things and to make them more mentally robust. It's the job of the manager to build players up and get the very best out of them. I believe Smith was a dinosaur and Nyarko was his failure as much as the player's.

As for the other mentally weak player, I hope he comes back well over the summer and still has a future at the club.

We've had far too many players suffer mentally over the years, and instead of just castigating them as "Shandy Andy" or whatever, we should be employing people to help them. We spend a lot of time on training, conditioning and nutrition, so why not spend time on the mental side of it?

Some clubs (Man Utd for one) employ a sleeping coach to make sure players get enough sleep. Sleep is a big thing, as people who sleep poorly are more prone to suffer with mental health. Liverpool employ the Team Sky Sports Psychologist (Steve Peters of the Inner Chimp fame). I hope Everton are looking more into 21st century coaching and player support. We fans need to lay off people like Nyarko for being "mentally weak".

Steve Ferns
12 Posted 12/06/2017 at 15:00:37
After watching a lot of Politics over the last week, Alistair Campbell has been someone coming back to prominence as he was forever on TV giving his opinion. For a supposedly accurate but Comedic portrayal of him, watch BBC's "The Thick Of It" available on Netflix, to see the strong-willed and domineering "Malcolm Tucker".

I mention this as Alistair Campbell was clearly a very strong-willed and dominant man who imposed his will on nearly everyone he met. He was up against some of the countries most strong-willed and determined people, in newspaper owners, editors, and journalists, but for a long time got his way. He was anything but "mentally weak".

Yet Mr Campbell had a breakdown, coupled with alcoholism or alcohol problems, that led to a short period in rehabilitation, which all happened in his late 20s, and well before his rise to prominence as Blair's Rottweiler.

So, mental weakness can be a temporary state and is something that can be dealt with. Rather than just dismiss someone, we would need to work with them and help them. There is no reason why Aaron Lennon cannot be back to flying down the wing next season.

Tom Bowers
13 Posted 12/06/2017 at 15:00:57
The Nyarko story is one of too many about failed signings at Goodison. So many talented players came and never lived up to expectations for diverse reasons but mostly because they never produced the goods often enough.

Attacking midfielders and forwards need to do more than produce the odd moment of magic which is what many of them did. Consistency is what makes the better teams and too many Everton players had been devoid of it during the Smith and Moyes eras especially the so-called big signings.

Yes, we have a few in the squad now but I am hoping that Koeman will sort this out for next season.

Steve Ferns
14 Posted 12/06/2017 at 15:15:13
I was also thinking about the Everton dressing room at the time of Walter Smith, Archie Knox and Alex Nyarko. I recall stories about Knox and his baseball bat. How he would be fighting with players and the like.

Here is Knox confirming something like that, albeit at Aberdeen:

"Archie Knox admits it was not an atmosphere in which a player could ever find a "shoulder to cry on" and they were expected to pick themselves up after a verbal battering and carry on.

He adds: "I had a baseball bat. I would sometimes go into the boot room with a baseball bat and let fly at a few of them."

And Nyarko himself on the Everton dressing room at the time:

"Nyarko said Knox came to blows with midfielder Stephen Hughes during a game against Bradford and that Knox later insulted him.

"Archie was fighting with Stephen Hughes and the other players separated them," the midfielder told The Mirror newspaper.

"It was not the first time. I couldn't understand this attitude. We have to go and win a game, I can't cope with this.

"Archie was fighting with so many players in the room. In the end I could not be in the same room as him."

If my employer treated me like this, I would not be able to give 100% and my performances would suffer, and of course I would be looking for a new job.

Dave Abrahams
15 Posted 12/06/2017 at 15:45:26
Archie's baseball bat must have been made out of sponge, he never improved any of the players' performances while he was here and it looked like they were not afraid to have a go back at him.

I think Walter Smith had mostly been an assistant manager for most of his career in Scotland, he was assistant to Grahame Souness at Rangers before taking over when Souness left, and then he came to Everton, unfortunately, and then went to Man Utd as Ferguson's second in command.

Douglas McClenaghan
16 Posted 13/06/2017 at 12:03:13
Walter Smith, terrible manager.
Lee Courtliff
17 Posted 13/06/2017 at 13:13:51
I'll never forget the pre-season friendly in the summer of 2000, away at Preston.

We'd just signed a whole raft of players and this was my first sight of our new midfield pairing of Gravesen & Nayarko.

Tommy looked good that night...but Alex looked on a whole other level. I've never been so excited about a new signing since we got Kanchelskis!

He looked like he had everything a midfielder needs, we had indeed found the 'New Viera'.

We won that friendly 5-0 and that's about it... I've never been, before or since, as let down and wildly inaccurate about a player's ability as I was with Alex Nyarko!!

Tommy turned out alright, though.

Paul Mackay
18 Posted 13/06/2017 at 23:42:13
He looked a better player under Moyes than he did under Smith. From memory, his permit ran out yet we still had him tied for another 24 months or so under contract so we had to pay out his contract given we couldn't get a new permit. Expensive mistake.
Stewart Oakes
19 Posted 14/06/2017 at 00:09:21
I remember that game at Bradford, we won with a late winner from Gary Naysmith, and after the final whistle Nyarko threw his shirt into the away end, we thought he'd found out what it meant to be an Evertonian, when in fact it was because he never wanted to play for Walter Smith again.

The goings on in the dressing room at half time between Knox and Steven Hughes was one fight to many for him. I had a friend who worked at the clubs box office at the time, so I used to hear about a lot of things that were going on, and he told me that, on the Monday after the Bradford game Nyarko put in the first of the 5 transfer requests he placed before the Arsenal game, each being rejected by Smith, who allegedly told him that he'll be sold when Smith wants to sell him.

With a different management team, I truly believe Alex would have been an Everton superstar.

Steve Ferns
20 Posted 14/06/2017 at 15:22:07
I believe you are right, Stewart. He'd probably find it a lot better in the present era, or indeed under the last manager or the present one.

As for Knox's sponge baseball bat, I believe it was walls, bags, boots, and belongings that he hit. He clearly came from the "throw all the china tea cups at the wall if you're losing" style of management. It's interesting that Ferguson was a main proponent of this in the 80s and yet he developed with the game to still be an effective man-manager only 4 seasons ago when he retired after winning the league for the last time.

Personally, I don't subscribe to him being the greatest manager of all time, but his ability to change with the times, adapt to new situations and to always stay current, was second to none.

When Wenger came in and changed the Premier League forever, lesser managers would and did fall by the way-side, but he clearly learnt, adapted, and changed his style. The Ferguson at the end of his tenure was a very different beast from the hands on guy of the 80s and 90s, with enforcers like Knox by his side.

David Currie
21 Posted 15/06/2017 at 05:54:24
Would be interesting to get interviews from the players when Knox was there, seems like he was a bully type of coach.
Will Mabon
22 Posted 15/06/2017 at 07:25:28
I bet Knox somehow never felt the need to go after Dunc with the baseball bat.
Ste Traverse
23 Posted 15/06/2017 at 19:03:26
I was at Leeds when he made his debut and he had a really good game despite us losing and I thought we had a real gem on our hands. Coming away from that game, I could see why he'd been compared to Vieira and was excited at the prospect of him in the side.

That didn't last and he soon acquired the dreaded 'Boo-Boy' status.

I was at the New Year's Day game at Derby and he was getting absolutely slaughtered by what seemed every Blue around me for his laziness and lack of commitment. We lost and I'm sure he was dragged off at half-time.

With what many fans had been saying about him the Highbury incident was probably inevitable. But he did have a few half decent games when he eventually came in the disastrous 03-04 season.

He had ability no doubt, but just didn't fit in with the English style of game, and played in some poor Everton sides too.

Danny Broderick
24 Posted 23/06/2017 at 22:16:09
Nyarko will never be remembered fondly at Everton, but it's clear we were a shambles of a club back then. I'd moved on from the Walter Smith era, but this article has brought it all back.

We didn't score a league goal at the Gwladys Street End for about the first 9 games one season. I was so sick of sitting in the Street End that I sat in the Park End for a League Cup tie (I think it was when we got beat on pens by Sunderland), and we duly scored a few in the Gwladys Street End!

I remember us fielding the most negative teams ever. We had a back 4 of centre halves (Weir and Unsworth in the full back positions) with full backs playing as wingers. We Had a squad of ageing players (Ginola, Gascoigne, Gough, Cleland) combined with cheap, poor quality players from Europe (Bakayoko, Nyarko).

Nyarko was crap, but let's face it, he wasn't the only one!

Simon Jones
25 Posted 29/06/2017 at 10:25:34
I was at that game at Spurs, my memory was of how mad the home fans went for Gazza, all fucking game it went on. You'd think they had 12 players and we had 10.

As to Nyarko, I'd pretty much forgotten him, in fact all this talk of Walter Smith's Everton has made me want to have a lie down.

Craig Walker
26 Posted 08/07/2017 at 09:22:57
Stephen Hughes. Niclas Alexandersson. Paul Gerard. Alec Cleland. Aging Ginola and Gazza. God they were dark days!

I remember when we signed John Collins thinking we were back in the big time. There's been some false dawns supporting the Blues hasn't there?

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