An Everton fan’s view of Francisco Junior

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When Wigan Athletic took the field at Firhill a week ago there were a couple of faces in the starting lineup that I just could not recognise. One of them was to play in front of the back four, in a style reminiscent of Claude Makelele. He looked a cut above most of the players on the pitch.

Francisco Junior had only just been signed on loan from Everton, together with Jonjoe Kenny. During the course of that match against Partick Thistle he must have come close to covering every blade of grass on the pitch, such was his work rate. Moreover he was strong in the tackle and remarkably successful in his distribution given that he had never played with his teammates before. Junior constantly made himself available to receive the ball, even when under pressure. He seemed to float past the Thistle midfieders’ challenges.

To be honest I had never even heard of Francisco Junior. But how could a player of this quality be so relatively unknown? Checking his credentials on the internet after the game made fascinating reading. Junior had clearly had a chequered past – a player with the quality to play at a high level, but one who has failed to do so up to this point in his career.

On completing the loan move Junior was quoted as saying:

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for me to be here to show people what I can do, and most of all to show the gaffer that he can trust me and believe in my talent. I want to learn different things here, and I’ll take any chance they’re going to give me to play in the team in the first team…..My usual position is a forward role in midfield, but on Tuesday I played behind the two other central midfielders.  I feel comfortable in any position in midfield, so it all depends on where the manager wants me to play.”

Francisco Santos da Silva Junior was born in Bissau, capital of the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony. Junior signed for Benfica of Portugal as a 15 year old in 2007. He went on to play for Portugal’s under 19 and under 21 teams.

In 2011 Junior was loaned to U.D.Leiria, a lower division team in Portugal. However, he never showed up to play for them, instead training and playing with Manchester City’s development team, unbeknown to Benfica. The end result was City having to pay €1.5million in compensation to Benfica, where the player returned.

Junior signed for Everton in July 2012 on a free transfer, telling the Guinea-Bissau media that was he was “tired of the impasse between Benfica and Manchester City and businessmen who wanted to win more than they should.” He immediately featured in the pre-season and made his debut for Everton in a 1-0 League cup defeat against Leeds United that September. He was to be sent off on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem in September 2013, where he went on to make just two appearances as a substitute before moving on to Stromsgodset in March 2014. He went on to 9 starts and 2 appearances as a substitute, scoring one goal for the Norwegian club.

Junior returned to Everton in August 2014, being sent on loan to Port Vale In March 2015. However, he was to make just one start after receiving a hamstring injury on his debut.

Junior has clearly had adjustment problems living overseas and adopting the kind of lifestyle one would expect of a professional footballer at a Premier League club. He is in the final year of his contract at Everton. He has not made it at the club and the likelihood is that he will not be offered a new contract. He has signed for Latics on a month’s loan but reports suggest it can be extended.

If he can display that same brand of commitment and skill that we saw on the Scotland tour on a regular basis, Junior will be a player that Gary Caldwell will want to keep. He is still only 23 years old and has the talent to become a highly accomplished professional footballer.

We asked Lyndon Lloyd of Everton fan site Toffeeweb  (http://toffeeweb.com/) for his view on Junior. Here’s over to Lyndon:

To be honest, we know very little about Junior as he’s become one of the forgotten men of our U21s setup.

 He arrived at Everton with a promising pedigree, having come through Benfica’s youth academy and then joined Manchester City, but the furthest he got was a solitary senior appearance under David Moyes in the League Cup three years ago when we lost at Leeds with half the reserves playing. He was hauled off at half time — somewhat harshly in my view, but I know many Blues don’t agree — and hasn’t been seen since.

 It came to light last week that he has been battling the temptations of the party scene and the bad influence of some people he says he thought were his friends following the loss of his mother in 2012 which has clearly affected both his development and his standing at Everton. He says he is determined to put it right and is determined to “make it for sure”, in his words.

On July 20thI I made the following post on our site about the player and his career:

Francisco Junior has opened up on social media about how he almost let drink and partying wreck his career and his belief that he is now focused again on trying to make it at the top level.

Signed from Manchester City’s reserve set-up as a promising midfield prospect, the former Benfica academy graduate has been with Everton since 2012 but remains a largely forgotten figure, as far away from first-team contention as ever.

In that time he has just one senior appearance to his name, a 45-minute showing at Leeds United as one of half a dozen young players thrown into an ill-fated League Cup tie in David Moyes’s final season with the club.

He has been farmed out on loan to Port Vale, Vitesse Arnhem and Stromsgodset while opportunities to push for a place in the first team under Roberto Martinez, like the dead rubber against Krasnodar last December and this summer’s pre-season trip to Singapore, have passed him by.

As David Prentice uncovers in the Liverpool Echo, the 23-year-old has admitted to plenty of reasons for why on his Instagram account, not least the loss in 2012 of his last guiding force in the form of his mother and the distracting influence of people he mistakenly believed were his friends.

“Sometimes is always better later than never,” the Guinea-Bissau-born player wrote in occasionally broken English. “After I lost my mum three years ago I lost my world. I been nearly nine years now living alone with no family and zero support off no-one.

“I stop be profisonal (sic), (party, sleep later, alcohol) because I always think talent is enough. But I was wrong. And that people I call friends now they talk shit about me in my back because am not that person any more and sold history about me.”

Junior has a season remaining on his current contract and has the coming year to get himself back in shape and focused enough to persuade Martinez that he has a future with Everton.

If not, the former Portuguese U21 international is hopeful of doing enough to persuade another club to give a chance to finally make it.

“But just to let you guys know,” he concluded, “am gona (sic) make it for sure. Can be here [at Everton] or somewhere else. thank god for always be there for me and my family and Nojan.”  

Michael Jacobs – fan views from Blackpool and Wolves

 

Wigan Athletic have now confirmed the signing of Michael Jacobs from Wolves.

We reached out to the Wolves Fancast (@WWFCFanCast) for a Wolverhampton based view on Jacobs.

Jacobs was influential for Wolves when we were in League 1. Initially playing on the wing, he truly excelled when given a central attacking role. His close control and shimmies were delightful to watch. 

I, along with many fans were hoping to see him push on last season in the Championship, but sadly wasn’t the case.  He struggled to break into the first team and when he was given the opportunity, he didn’t particularly set the world alight.

From my point of view, it looks like Jackett felt like Jacobs wasn’t quite ready for the step up to the Championship just yet, so a move to Wigan is a good move for himself, just a shame he isn’t going to continue his development at Wolves.

We had previously contacted the Blackpool fan site AVFTT http://fansonline.net/blackpool/ about his loan spell there:

There were very few positives about Lee Clark’s time in charge at Blackpool but there were two loan signings which he brought in who caught the eye. One was Gary Madine who ended up signing for Bolton over the summer and the other was Michael Jacobs from Wolves.

 When he joined the Seasiders practically everything about the side was a mess but the return to form of Jamie O’Hara alongside Andre Orlandi and Jose Cubero gave the side some much needed shape and ability. The addition of Jacobs complemented that and he looked a class above most players who visited Bloomfield Road.

 Surprised in many ways that Wolves have let him go. He has pace, accuracy, a powerful shot on him and really looks the business. Looks like our loss is Wigan’s gain.

A Blackpool fan’s view of Michael Jacobs

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Reports suggest that Michael Jacobs is about to sign for Wigan Athletic from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Jacobs is a 23 year old winger who will add another dimension to Gary Caldwell’s evolving squad.

Jacobs was born in Rothwell in Northamptonshire and played in the Northampton Town youth system. He made his senior team debut as a 17 year old in October 2009 in a Football League Trophy match against Bournemouth. In February 2010 he was loaned out to Nuneaton Town for a month, making four appearances. In 2010-11 Jacobs became a regular in the Cobblers’ lineup, scoring eight goals and being named “Player of the Season”. He was playing alongside Billy Mckay. Jacobs remained a regular the following season when he scored 7 goals. He was to make 87 appearances for Northampton by the time he ran down his contract in June 2012.

In July 2012 he moved to Derby County after the clubs agreed a fee of £400,000 in compensation for the signing of a player who was under 24. Jacobs struggled to find a regular place in the starting lineup, often employed as a substitute. In November 2013 he joined Wolves on a short term loan, which resulted in him signing for the midlands club on a permanent contract in January 2014. During his time at Derby he had made 13 league starts, with 28 appearances off the bench, scoring two goals.

Jacobs played an important part in Wolves’ League 1 title winning team that 2013-14 season, scoring 8 goals. He gradually fell out of favour with Wolves in the Championship, leading to being loaned out to Blackpool in March 2015, making five appearances and scoring a goal, before being called back prematurely to Wolves.  Jacobs made 31 league starts at Wolves, with 11 appearances off the bench, scoring 8 goals.

In order to find out more about Jacobs we contacted the Blackpool fan site AVFTT http://fansonline.net/blackpool/ about his loan spell there.

Here’s over to them:

There were very few positives about Lee Clark’s time in charge at Blackpool but there were two loan signings which he brought in who caught the eye. One was Gary Madine who ended up signing for Bolton over the summer and the other was Michael Jacobs from Wolves.

 When he joined the Seasiders practically everything about the side was a mess but the return to form of Jamie O’Hara alongside Andre Orlandi and Jose Cubero gave the side some much needed shape and ability. The addition of Jacobs complemented that and he looked a class above most players who visited Bloomfield Road.

 Surprised in many ways that Wolves have let him go. He has pace, accuracy, a powerful shot on him and really looks the business. Looks like our loss is Wigan’s game

Dundee – Match Reaction

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Gary Caldwell’s transformation of Wigan Athletic’s style of play took another step forward in a competitive contest at Dens Park. Dundee and Latics were well matched and the 1-0 result to the home team did not do Latics justice. It was another very competent performance from Caldwell’s new team, with lots of good football supplemented by a determined approach.

Last season’s SPL placings might suggest that Dundee and Partick Thistle were close, but Dundee had finished sixth in the “round robin” part of last season, having to play their final ten matches against the top five teams.  Moreover they had a reputation of being a more physical team than Thistle. This proved to be the case last night when tackles came flying in at times. In a league game the home side would surely have finished with a handful of yellow cards. However, this Wigan team is not to be intimidated as it too often was in the Championship. Latics were prepared to get “stuck in”, although within the latter of the law.

Dundee itself has transformed since my time living there. There is a positive buzz around the city with lots of new building projects going on and a very significant improvement in the standard of housing. It is a city on the up. The same cannot be said of Dundee FC. In the 1970s I enjoyed many visits to Dens Park, when the memory of the club’s lifting of the Scottish League title was still with them. A 2-0 victory over AC Milan at Dens in the UEFA Cup remains a fine memory. But since then the club has fallen on hard times, with seemingly constant financial difficulties. Dens Park is no longer the proud venue it was. Its infrastructure is falling apart, with sections of the ground sealed off and a main stand that is antediluvian.

Caldwell once again opted for a 3-5-2 formation. Richard O’Donnell took over in goal. Donervan Daniels played on the right hand side of the back three, with Chris McCann on the left. Andrew Taylor was surprisingly played in the centre of the back line. Against lower division English teams it would not be such a viable option, but knowing that Dundee were going to play the ball largely on the ground, Taylor’s lack height would not be an issue. Kevin McNaughton and Reece James were at wing back, with Francisco Junior playing in front of the back three and Tim Chow and Max Power further forward in midfield. Caldwell fielded for his potentially optimal front line pairing of Craig Davies and Will Grigg.

Dundee started in a lively manner but Latics’ front men were soon working hard, ruffling the home team defence. Although Wigan generally tried to build up their moves from the back, they were not afraid to put aerial passes through to Davies in particular. The big man was looking lively and managed to evade the home defence after 15 minutes, being stopped by a sliding tackle. However, he continued to be involved and his neat interchange with Grigg led to the latter being fouled as he moved towards goal. Sadly Grigg skied his penalty way over the crossbar.

Caldwell was clearly taking the issue of Davies’ fitness seriously, given the player’s problems last season. The big man was taken off after 30 minutes, with David Perkins coming on, Chow and Power being pushed further forward. Power had been full of enterprise, but some of his moves did not quite come off. The tackles came flying in from the home team, but Latics were undeterred. Power went in for tough 50/50 ball and clearly came off the worst, leading to him going off after 40 minutes, being replaced by Ryan Jennings.

Caldwell continued with the same lineup after half time, with Junior once again oozing with class in holding midfield. James had looked lively on the left and his outswinging corners were causing the home defence problems, McNaughton forcing  a save from the keeper, before heading narrowly over, as did Daniels. The big West Indian had been a little wayward in his passing early in the game, but was a major contributor in defence, his speed and physical strength coming to the fore.

On 60 minutes Caldwell replaced Chow, Grigg, Junior and McNaughton with Jonjoe Kenny, John Lundstram, Billy Mckay and Samni Odelusi.  Odelusi sadly strayed offside with a chance being wasted. Kenny was soon to show his blistering pace in a counterattack, with neither Mckay nor Odelusi able to convert his excellent cross. Latics’ wing backs had been pushed far forward, acting almost as wingers. Lundstram was gradually getting into the game and Odelusi looked lively. Mckay was not at his best with his final touch. Perkins was lively as ever, winning the ball and moving forward.  Jennings could not repeat his fine performance at Partick, but will surely challenge for a place.

Dundee were to get the breakthrough on 70 minutes as an exposed Latics defence left a gap on the right, with Loy converting. Daniels was replaced by Craig Morgan after 77 minutes after putting in a good shift. Dundee were restricted to long range efforts from outside the box. Odelusi went close with a left footed drive in the last minute, but Dundee were to hang on for a win they scarcely deserved.

Apart from the goal, Latics’ defence has been solid. Indeed O’Donnell’s first save came in the 90th minute. McCann was excellent once again, as he had been against Partick Thistle. The much maligned Taylor gave a professional performance in the centre of defence. In front of his home town crowd, McNaughton had seemed subdued in the first half, but was more involved in the second until taken off. He and Kenny are very different kinds of players and it gives Caldwell options in the right wing back position. It remains to be seen whether McNaughton will be offered a contract.

Caldwell will be getting closer to deciding on his first choice lineup. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with his midfield formation with one player sitting in front of the defence and two pushed further forward. Junior and Perkins are the prime candidates for the role in front of the defence, with Power the most likely in the role of midfield creator. Chow, Flores, Jennings  and Lundstram and are also candidates for midfield places, as is McCann if he stays at the club.

Davies will be carefully nurtured, but one wonders if he will be fit for the opening league game at Coventry. Although he has not yet taken advantage of scoring opportunities, Grigg looks a fine player for League 1 and will surely make his mark. Mckay remains a work in progress, his confidence surely damaged by the shoddy treatment he received under Malky Mackay. Playing just a hundred yards from Tannadice Park there would surely have been a Dundee United presence at Dens Park last night. Mckay was regularly scoring goals at Inverness, playing as a lone centre forward. The Dundee United interest is therefore no surprise.

James Perch has not appeared in either match in Scotland, leading to speculation of an imminent departure. But the player might well be injured.

Although Caldwell already has the nucleus of a useful squad in place there may well be more surprises to come. Reports suggest that Wolves winger Michael Jacobs is close to signing and rumours persist about Swindon wing back Nathan Byrne.

The failure of the new players to gel was to eventually prove fatal to Latics last season. It will be a major issue for Caldwell, but having a clearly defined style of play is surely helping his players to adapt. The current mood is clearly positive and there are grounds for optimism. However, no matter how well the pre-season has gone it is going to take time for the team to fully gel and the results to come. We need to be prepared for some ups and downs over the coming weeks.

As the saying goes “Rome was not built in a day”.

An enjoyable evening at Firhill – Partick Thistle 1 Wigan Athletic 1

Photo courtesy of Tim Attree.

Photo courtesy of Tim Attree.

What an enjoyable time it was last night at Firhill. The pleasant and friendly atmosphere at the stadium was lifted even further by a bright performance from a young Latics team.  They played not only with organisation and enterprise, but with no mean level of skill.

The last time I went to watch a football match in Glasgow was not long after England had won the World Cup. I had travelled down from Dundee with a couple of friends from university to watch a tense England-Scotland game at Hampden Park. The atmosphere was totally intimidating for an England fan. Being naïve at the time we had not realized that the tickets we had bought were at the Celtic end, where we stood among fans wearing colours of both club and country. We were perhaps wise to keep a low profile as the crowd was to constantly jeer the German referee, Rudolf Kreitlein, whom they thought was allowing England too much leeway. It ended in a 0-0 draw.

Hampden Park was certainly a scary venue to visit at the time for an Englishman living in Scotland. But that was a long time ago, so when one of those same two friends told me a week ago he would join me on a trip to our old haunts in Dundee I suggested we combine it with a trip to Firhill. I had watched Partick Thistle play at Dens Park and Tannadice so many times during my seven years in the port city. They were one of my favourite visiting teams, always seemingly intent on playing good football, easily identified by their distinctive red and yellow shirts.

Firhill is nothing like Hampden. It is a small stadium with a capacity of around 10,000. Thistle have not actually played in Partick since 1908, when they moved to the Firhill Stadium in nearby Maryhill. Being less than half an hour’s walk from Sauchiehull Street it is closer to the city centre than Ibrox or Celtic Park. They are a small club in a big city, living within their means, without inflated ambitions.

Gary Caldwell set up his team in a 3-5-2 formation. Lee Nicholls was in goal. There was a return to the starting lineup for both Leon Barnett and Chris McCann, who lined up in a back three marshaled by the dominating Craig Morgan in the centre. Loan singing Jonjo Kenny played at right wing back with Jordan Flores on the left. The second loanee, Francisco Junior, was to play in front of the back four, with Ryan Jennings and trialist John Lundstram pushed a little further forward in midfield. Billy Mckay and Louis Robles played up front.

With such a mixed lineup it seemed inevitable that Latics would lack some cohesion, but they were well organized and every player seemed to know his role. Both teams were there to try to play good football and it was an open contest. As the game progressed Latics were to gain more cohesion. A slow start had been inevitable.

Junior was a tireless worker in midfield, not only through tackles and interceptions, but also in making himself available to receive the ball from the defenders in tight situations. It is the type of midfield play that was lacking last season. Kenny attacked with gusto and looked a fine player, although at times he left Barnett exposed. Flores worked hard in an unfamiliar role.

Morgan was captain for the night and will clearly be the main pillar upon which the defence will be built this season. McCann played with more enthusiasm than we have seen from him for a long time. Uwe Rosler had used him at times in that role on the left of the backline of three, where his steel in the tackle and cultured distribution come to the fore. On the other side Barnett was strong in the air but looked vulnerable under pressure. Like so many other players at the club, Barnett lost his confidence last season and just did not look like the player he was in 2013-14. On the positive side at least he was given some game time to try to get himself back in shape.

Nicholls was dominant in goal, constantly calling for his defenders to get in position. He had no chance for Steven Lawless’ goal not long after half time, the shot passing through Barnett’s legs, with the keeper unsighted.

Lundstram looked useful in patches, but could not impose himself on the game, being taken off at half time for David Perkins. It was Jennings who was to catch the eye in an unfamiliar central midfield role where he had the licence to run at the opposition defence. He scored a fine goal in the 51st minutes following Thistle’s opener, receiving a layoff from Robles on the edge of the area, his low shot beating the keeper. The 20 year old will surely now be challenging for a regular place in the lineup.

Perkins’ signing was hardly greeted with universal approval by fans, looking like another journeyman was arriving as in the days of Malky Mackay. But what we saw last night was a hard working holding midfielder with a nice touch on the ball, fitting seamlessly into Caldwell’s style of play.

Billy Mckay looked lively, willing to run at the defence, but he let himself down by skewing his shot wide of an open goal from Robles’ cut back. Robles himself was industrious and gave a good account of himself.

The second half saw a slew of substitutions for both sides, but the good football continued with Latics getting on top. Will Grigg had come on for Mckay after 60 minutes and came close twice, one shot being smothered by keeper Cerny, another effort going narrowly wide. With a little more match fitness Grigg will surely convert such chances. It is refreshing to see a Latics striker who knows where to position himself to score goals.  Craig Davies came on in the final quarter and his physical presence complemented the bright and intelligent footwork of Grigg. If both can stay fit they will provide Latics with a real cutting edge.

Max Power had come on after 60 minutes and really looked the part. Power is well built, not easy to knock off the ball, and has the kinds of incisive passing skills that have been lacking at Wigan over the past twelve months. The player is only 21, but having played so many times at senior level for Tranmere, he is not afraid to display his considerable skills. He will surely be the main contender for a more creative, advanced midfield role.

In the end a 1-1 result was probably fair to both teams. It was an entertaining game and although Latics employed 16 players during the course of the proceedings their football was good to watch.

Pre-season friendly matches can so often give a skewed view of what is going to happen when the season proper gets underway. But the dominant performances of senior professionals like Morgan, McCann and Perkins together with the youthful promise of Flores, Jennings and Robles augur well for the future.

One wonders if McCann is now back in the fold, or whether he was put in the shop window in this game. Last season was a nightmare for him, but he showed yesterday that he can still represent Wigan Athletic with application and no mean level of skill.

It is likely to be a very different starting eleven at Dundee on Friday. Last night’s display has certainly whetted one’s whistle for what is to follow.