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.”  

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Time to rebuild for beleaguered Wigan as icon Martinez bids farewell

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If a week is a long time in politics, this month has been an eternity in Wigan Athletic’s corner of football history. From that magical day at Wembley to the exhaustion and despair of relegation three days later, to the joy of the victory parade at which 30,000 Wiganers sang for Roberto Martinez to stay.

Ten or so days ago, it appeared the Wigan legend was making demands for further investment in the club’s training facilities and youth development — today, the club has announced that compensation has been officially agreed and he will leave to fill the managerial vacancy at Everton.

Well-deserved tributes to Martinez will follow in due course. He was far more than an employee during his managerial stint at Wigan Athletic — he represented the club as a true ambassador, with passion and pride, always portraying the club in the best possible light. He was a source of pride for most of the club’s supporters, a rarity in football who possesses a real love story with the club and town. He delivered footballing memories we shall never forget, including the club’s greatest achievement FA Cup victory but also the highest quality football the club has ever seen during last season’s great escape. He is and will remain an icon.

But he is gone, officially — and his departure leaves the club in a state of uncertainty. If the blow of relegation has been cushioned for many of us by the knowledge that his tireless work behind the scenes has left the club in strong shape for the long-term, his departure brings with it a wave of fresh concerns.

The immediate concern is a mass exodus. The loss of certain players was inevitable following relegation. But having already lost seven players to the expiration of the their contracts, either full-time or loan, the club now faces the challenge of keeping players who would have stayed loyal to Martinez but may now be tempted to follow his lead and jump ship. How many of the youngsters, especially the Spanish-speakers, will stick around for Championship football if a British manager takes over under a new playing philosophy? How many players — Alcaraz, Maloney and Kone spring to mind — will Martinez try to take with him? How many of the coaching staff will stay?

The longer-term concern is a potential loss of continuity. After four years of successfully revolutionizing the way the club played football from the youth teams upward, the club now faces the possibility of a new manager with a different footballing philosophy. The hope is that Dave Whelan will take a page out of Swansea’s book and prioritize continuity, bringing in a manager with a similar continental philosophy and an emphasis on youth development. Ideally, but impractically, Martinez would act in an advisory role to Whelan in the appointment of his successor to ensure his vision is continued.

The good news is that most of the candidates linked with the Wigan vacancy are promising from a footballing perspective. Gus Poyet is a personal favourite given his style of football, cultural and linguistic understanding, familiarity with the Championship, and relative youth. Rene Meulensteen represents a gamble, as Jakarta Jack recently wrote, but ticks many of the correct boxes with a continental approach, track record working with youth, and big-club pedigree. Karl Robinson is lesser known. Steve McLaren is experienced and did wonderful work at FC Twente and Middlesbrough, but has some blotches on his managerial record as well. Only Owen Coyle’s name sticks out as an unpopular candidacy. And finally, the Daily Mail couldn’t help but report that Whelan is after Steve Bruce for a third stint in the Premier League, this morning. Unlikely.

A swift appointment must be a priority. There will be much rebuilding over the summer. Poyet, Meulensteen and McLaren do inspire hope in the transfer market, something that should prove vital in the immediate future. But it remains to be seen what sort of budget Martinez’s successor is forced to operate within. There is a lingering sense of unfinished business for Martinez given the challenges posed by relegation. The biggest question is what led to the breakdown in talks between Whelan and Martinez, between that Friday when the Spaniard had asked for assurances about investments in the club, and the Monday when Whelan suggested he would be leaving. Did the manager ask the chairman for assurances about keeping certain players? About bringing new players in? Or strictly about investment in facilities and development?

The next few weeks promise to be unpleasant ones for the Wigan faithful. The ecstasy of the FA Cup win has been blunted by relegation and the slow and painful dismantling of the team that achieved it. The list of those to have left the club includes Antolin Alcaraz, Franco Di Santo, Maynor Figueroa, Ronnie Stam, Joel Robles, Angelo Henriquez, Paul Scharner, and now, most damningly, the captain of the ship, Roberto Martinez. Presumably his coaching staff will follow. Whelan’s swift action will be crucial. His managerial appointments in the past have largely been inspired, but this may be the greatest test yet.

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Go for two, Dave

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The classic double act was that of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor working in tandem. Together they won the First Division and two European Cups with an unfashionable club. What a duo!

As expected Roberto Martinez’s move to Everton grows closer and closer, despite the denials of the Liverpool club.

Rene Meulensteen and Karl Robinson are the bookmakers’ favourites. Either one would be a gamble, but an exciting one. It is refreshing to note that Dave Whelan is open to looking at alternative talent.

Experienced and very capable managers are available with the likes of Steve McClaren and Owen Coyle remaining in the running.

When Martinez goes he will almost certainly take Graeme Jones with him.

My message to Whelan is simple – appoint a duo from the applicants.

Agreed that this would be a burden on the wage bill, but compared with what players earn the salary of another senior manager is not so hard to afford.

The prospect of a Meulensteen/Mike Phelan or Meulensteen/Karl Robinson combination is mouth watering.

However, this columnist would ask Whelan to consider Gus Poyet. For me he is the natural successor to Roberto Martinez. The Uruguayan is not so skilled at public relations as the Spaniard, but his Brighton team have played champagne football this season. Moreover he has a fine pedigree as a top Premier League player.

In 1995 Dave Whelan signed the Three Amigos – Diaz, Martinez and Seba – to help Latics play more skillful football.

Now is the time for him to make another bold move.

The bonus is Whelan staying at the club – managers come and go, but his continuing presence is paramount to the club’s success.

Wigan Athletic would be languishing in the lower levels without Dave Whelan. He has made great appointments in the past and one hopes he can make another inspired appointment- or double appointment.

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Towards Europe and Survival

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Roberto Martinez is indeed a brave and unusual man. Who else would turn down lucrative offers to manage Aston Villa or Liverpool to stay with a club that is continually fighting relegation? Who else stays calm and optimistic in the darkest of times when it just does not seem possible for Wigan Athletic to succeed?

The 4-0 home defeat to Liverpool was hard to bear for Wigan Athletic supporters. It was not only the result but the manner in which the team had performed, or one might say, not performed. Then a week later Martinez puts out the most attacking starting lineup we have seen during his tenure, with only one genuine holding midfielder in James McCarthy. The resulting 3-0 victory at ‘Fortress Goodison’ was a revelation. The Everton players must have been shell shocked by not only the result, but in Wigan’s command of the game. A match that will be remembered by Latics fans for years to come.

Sometimes a team struggling in the league does well in a cup competition. So it was to prove on Saturday, when Roberto Martinez took a gamble by putting in most of his first choice players for an FA Cup tie at Goodison Park. Some would say that he risked injury to his senior players at a crucial time and that the FA Cup is an unnecessary diversion in Wigan’s fight against relegation from the Premier League. Better to concentrate on the league and let the second string side deal with Everton. In the event Callum McManaman limped off after 40 minutes and Ryo Miyaichi is now out for the rest for the season, following a tough challenge from Kevin Mirallas.

Whether Martinez was right or wrong to take that risk is a question that would be best answered at the end of the season. The 3-0 win has created a huge amount of interest among Latics followers and has sent shock waves to the other teams embroiled in the relegation battle. Latics face a potential banana skin in the semi final against Championship rivals, but if they can play to their potential then they will not only reach the final, but will probably also qualify for the Europa League.

It is only two years ago since Birmingham City qualified for the Europa League by beating Arsenal in the League Cup final. Three months later they were to lose their final Premier League fixture at Tottenham, condemning them to relegation. They had only won 2 of their final 12 league matches after lifting the cup.

Despite now being in the second tier of English football Birmingham were to perform well in the Europa League, being unlucky to be eliminated in the group stage after winning four, drawing two and losing two matches in the tournament. Their gates averaged 24,431 in the four Europa League games played at St Andrews, compared with 16,451 in the Championship division where they finished in 4th place.

The possibility of Wigan playing in the Europa League is mouth-watering to their loyal fans who have stuck with their club through thick or thin. It would represent the next level of achievement for a club that has come so far since joining the Football League in 1978. At this stage it is only a possibility, depending largely on beating Millwall, but also on whether the other team that reaches the final also qualifies for the Champions League. Given that the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea are the candidates it looks a strong possibility.

In that same 2010-2011 season Bolton Wanderers reached the FA Cup semi final, only to be undone 5-0 by Stoke City. Following that defeat Bolton slid down the table, losing 5 out of their last 6 games.

The experiences of Birmingham and Bolton following big cup ties serve to highlight the knife edge that Wigan Athletic are currently perched on. The main priority has to be Premier League survival, but a win in the FA Cup semi final would provide some icing for the cake and push Wigan into new pastures. The worst case scenario of achieving neither would be a hammer blow for the club.

Roberto Martinez is a shrewd manager and if anyone can guide Latics through the coming weeks it is he. The win at Everton showed the talent he has at his disposal. Despite their lowly league placing Wigan Athletic have the best quality squad they have ever had. Martinez’ main task will be to ensure that such quality continues to shine through consistently in the matches that remain.

A place in the Europa League would be fantastic. But avoiding relegation is what Martinez will have in mind above anything else.

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Everton 0 Wigan Athletic 3: Rampant Latics into semi-finals for the first time

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Three goals in four magical minutes highlighted a complete performance by a mixed but well balanced Wigan XI as they reached the FA Cup’s final four for the first time in the club’s history.

However precarious their league position, the accomplishment at Goodison Park shines a light on the progress achieved in the Roberto Martinez era. Not only was this an impressive away win against a strong team hungry for silverware — several of today’s starters were fringe players, and the captain was rested. This sort of depth simply did not exist at the club three years ago.

In a more immediate sense, this was the best possible way to put the Liverpool fracas behind them and bore a lot more resemblance to the success at Reading. There is no hiding that Wigan’s best football is coming away from home in that black strip. Before Figueroa’s opening goal — an achievement in itself as it came from a set piece against one of the biggest teams in the league — Shaun Maloney had hit the post with an excellent curling effort and James McCarthy had been denied by Tim Howard’s replacement in the Everton goal, Jan Mucha. At the other end, Everton had been limited to a single chance well-saved by young Spanish keeper Joel Robles.

The second half was an exercise in resistance, with the sorely missed Antolin Alcaraz comfortably returning to the centre of defence after a season blighted with injury. Everton huffed and puffed but couldn’t create the breakthrough, and Wigan cruised to a second consecutive 3-0 away victory.

The Good:

Performances like this breathe fresh hope into the club’s survival prospects in the league. The return of Antolin Alcaraz brought defensive solidity and an assured presence. Concentration and focus was everything is wasn’t against Liverpool a week ago.

Martinez got his tactics right, deploying a strong back four, with Jean Beausejour and Callum McManaman in more advanced wing positions and Jordi Gomez partnering James McCarthy in midfield. Much of Wigan’s attacking success came down the left wing, where both Beausejour and Gomez were able to find space and deliver left footed crosses into the box. Though comparatively quiet on the right hand side, Callum McManaman looked sharp and took his goal superbly. His presence in a more traditional winger role was probably also intended to keep Leighton Baines pegged back, and was largely effective in doing so.

The finishing was superb and came from different areas of the pitch, from different types of situations. A set piece, a breakaway, and a goal from attacking possession. Header, right-foot, left-foot.

Joel Robles had a very good game in goal and looks a promising young deputy for Ali Al-Habsi.

The Bad:

Injuries to Callum McManaman and his replacement, Ryo Miyaichi, were the only negatives from today’s match. Results elsewhere, however — with victories for QPR and Aston Villa and an away point for Southampton — heap the pressure on Wigan to keep up.

Player Ratings:

Joel Robles: 7.5 — Made several good saves, both high and low, suggesting he is an agile shot stopper. Dealt well with a couple crosses and on the whole looks a decent young keeper. Martinez will be keen to make his loan move permanent this summer.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Focused and disciplined in defense. Didn’t get forward but largely dealt with the significant threat of Baines and Steven Pienaar down the flank.

Antolin Alcaraz: 8 — Strong and composed. Surely the season would have gone quite differently if he had been fit and available. Will captain Gary Caldwell get his place back?

Paul Scharner: 8 — Excellent, with one spectacular tackle to block a Baines cross in the first half, and good work in the air to thwart Marouanne Fellaini.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 — Another excellent performer, strong in defence and among the goalscorers once again.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Steady and carried greater defensive responsibility given his more attacking partner in midfield.

Jordi Gomez: 7.5 — Took his goal extremely well and held his own in a less familiar central midfield role. Not as strong defensively as James McArthur but his left foot offered greater variety in Wigan’s attacking play.

Jean Beausejour: 7.5 — Good performance from the Chilean, who rarely wasted the ball, showed some quick footwork and linked up well with his teammates. Most of Wigan’s attacking play came down his side.

Callum McManaman: 8 — Excellent touch and finish for the goal. Had earlier played a lovely cross-pitch ball to Shaun Maloney, who hit the post. Not terribly involved, but sharp when called into action. Pushing for a league start.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Unlucky not to be on the score sheet. Buzzed about as ever, drawing fouls and causing trouble.

Arouna Kone: 7.5 — Superb hold-up play all match long despite battling two physical central defenders on his own. Headed a decent chance over the bar early in the first half but didn’t have any other opportunities to score himself. Rewarded with an assist for the third goal.

Subs:

Ryo Miyaichi: 6 — Looked a bit rusty after missing several months through injury. Went off injured again after being clattered into the advertising boards.

James McArthur: N/A — Came on for Miyaichi and hold on to the result.