x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Beckford climbs all the way to the top

Goals and goals alone catapulted the Leeds United player to Everton in the Premier League. One in particular springs to mind.

Everton hope that Jermaine Beckford, left, the striker, can emulate his goalscoring feats for Leeds United in England's top tier of football.
Everton hope that Jermaine Beckford, left, the striker, can emulate his goalscoring feats for Leeds United in England's top tier of football.

It is the glamour of the occasion, the global audience, the chance to upset the odds. Matches with Manchester United tend to acquire a prominence in many players' careers. Rarely, however, do they have such significance. Rarely can a footballer have achieved as much in one encounter.

On Saturday, Jermaine Beckford prepares to face Sir Alex Ferguson's side for a second time. It is no exaggeration to say his first meeting was unforgettable. Eight months ago, Beckford's goal eliminated Manchester United from the FA Cup and earned Leeds United their first win at Old Trafford for almost three decades, a gulf of two divisions between the Yorkshire club and their fierce rivals overcome in an instant.

It propelled Beckford to prominence. It may have accounted for the striker's summer move to Everton. Because, although David Moyes has long signed intelligently from lower divisions and the striker's prolific form there was no secret, this suggested that he could go from non-league to Premier League. Beckford's is the sort of tale that has become a rarity these days: released by Chelsea at 17, rescued from the drudgery of a dull job and catapulted back to the top by goals, and goals alone. It is a story with sufficient colour - he was a windscreen fitter for the RAC while playing part-time football - but one with resonance across the ages.

His rehabilitation began at Wealdstone, the north London club that produced Stuart Pearce and Vinnie Jones. He was spotted by Gordon Bartlett, the veteran manager who also discovered Les Ferdinand. "He stood out straight away," he told the Yorkshire Post in 2008. "He had a great touch, bags of pace and was so relaxed that if he missed a chance, he never worried about the next one. Nothing fazed him at all."

"He was the most natural finisher I have ever seen," he added in the Liverpool Echo. "He is confident beyond belief and I would say that's one of his biggest assets." Beckford's record at Wealdstone persuaded Kevin Blackwell, another with a grounding in non-league, to sign him for Leeds in 2006. The Yorkshire side's subsequent descent encompassed relegation and administration, but benefitted Beckford. As a raft of senior strikers left the club, fringe player became first choice. Beckford's speed, predatory instincts and incessant desire brought 85 goals in three seasons, 65 of them in his final two years at Elland Road.

Twice named League One Player of the Year at the Football League awards, he scored the goal that clinched Leeds promotion after their three-season exile in the third tier. As he captained the team on his farewell appearance, it amounted to a fairy-tale finale. It was created, however, by ambition. Beckford had rejected offers of a new contract and was transfer-listed when he struck at Old Trafford. Leeds, in turn, had spurned offers from Newcastle United - Alan Shearer, no mean goalscorer himself, had recommended the 26-year-old - and eventually lost their prize asset on a free transfer.

Moyes's move for him seemed the culmination of a climb up the divisions. It was also an indication of Everton's lack of spending power and reflected upon the concerns about the fitness and future of Louis Saha and Yakubu respectively. A record of 72 goals in 110 starts for Leeds in League One is auspicious, but Moyes said last month: "Jermaine has terrific movement in and around the box. He offers us something different. He is a hungry player.

"What will be different for him is other parts of his game which will be required in the Premier League. Can he link us up, hold the ball up and help us out in other situations?" That was apparent when Beckford squandered his clearest chance to create a goal so far, ignoring three teammates to pursue a solitary cause against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It would have been more excusable at Leeds, where his status as the likeliest goalscorer was established.

At Everton it is different; a brashness riled some at Elland Road, but, at Goodison Park, Beckford showed a hitherto unrevealed modest streak by refusing the club's famous No 9 shirt in favour of the less pressurised No 16. And as he encounters Manchester United again, his most memorable goal shows the two sides of Beckford; the over-hit first touch, from Jonny Howson's pass, and the sublime finish, rolled in at the far post. Which, the raw newcomer or the accomplished finisher, is his role in the Premier League?