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Everton hope to add a third Belgium international to their ranks on Wednesday, providing Fifa give permission for Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe to move to Goodison Park.
David Moyes's side agreed a season-long loan for the Club Brugge central midfielder on transfer deadline day, but the deal was not finalised before the 11pm cut-off point. Everton require ratification from world football's governing body but are hopeful, with both the English and Belgian football associations having given their approval, of receiving permission to sign the 23-year-old.
Odjidja-Ofoe, who will cost a £1m loan fee, would be Everton's third Belgian recruit following Marouane Fellaini and the recent £5.3m signing from Olympiakos, Kevin Mirallas. He would also be Moyes's sixth summer signing after the arrivals of Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar, Mirallas, Bryan Oviedo and the 17-year-old winger from Kilmarnock, Matthew Kennedy.
The Everton manager's options in central midfield are limited at present, with Fellaini starting the season in a more advanced role and Darron Gibson suffering a thigh injury in Saturday's defeat at West Bromwich Albion. Odjidja-Ofoe was one of three targets Moyes pursued on deadline day; the other two, Steven Nzonzi and Michael Essien, joined Stoke City and Real Madrid respectively.
Fifa's decision on Odjidja-Ofoe, who started his career with Anderlecht and had a brief spell at Hamburg before joining Club Brugge, may determine whether Moyes sends Ross Barkley on loan to give the talented teenager more regular first team football.
Steven Naismith believes that Scotland are in better form than they have been in years as they prepare to start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Scotland host Serbia on Saturday and Macedonia three days later, and the Everton forward senses a new confidence in the squad.
"Nobody can deny that there has been a lot of progress made from where the national squad was before [Craig Levein] took over," Naismith said yesterday.
Group A also contains Belgium and Wales – who play at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday evening – and Croatia. "The group we've got is going to be tough but we think we can get results," Naismith said. "There is enough experience along with youth in the squad to compete against anybody. You've got to be confident – if you're not confident, you shouldn't be in the squad and that's the bottom line."
David Meyler is desperate to shine if he makes an overdue international debut for the Republic of Ireland in Kazakhstan on Friday. "Suffering two serious injuries in the last two years, obviously it's vital I make an impression," Meyler said. "I obviously want to stay here. I don't want to be called up and never get the call again so I have to take every training session like it's my last."
SYLVAIN DISTIN has welcomed the added competition provided by Everton FC’s busy summer in the transfer market – as the Blues hope for the green-light to add Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe to their ranks today.
The veteran central defender is delighted at the new faces which have helped boost a small Toffees squad, and it is hoped that Fifa will not present any late objection to the arrival of another by rubber-stamping the £1m loan swoop for 23-year-old Ofoe.
Everton agreed a season-long switch for the Club Brugge midfielder late on transfer deadline day, but the deal was not finalised before the 11pm cut-off point so became subject to extra scrutiny.
That meant having to wait until today, or tomorrow at the latest, to formalise the deal, and Ofoe has remained at Brugge where he has been training alone.
Ofoe would be Everton’s sixth summer signing after the recent £5.3m capture of Kevin Mirallas alongside Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar, Bryan Oviedo and the 17-year-old Kilmarnock winger Matthew Kennedy.
And Distin says it has given the whole camp a lift. “That is what we want,” he said. “We want our team to get better and for there to be more competition between the players.
“When you see new players coming in you know everything is moving in the right direction. It’s a bit early to say this is the best squad during my time here, but I rarely remember the squad having so much quality.”
Distin is particularly pleased at the arrival of £2m left-sided defender and midfielder Oviedo, who can provide cover for Leighton Baines – something Distin was called upon to do for three games last term.
He added: “I think left-back is a position where we never had anyone to really cover for Bainsey if he had a problem, which hopefully won’t happen because he stays so fit and is such a great player.
“But you never know, and now we have got someone who can play in this position which is good because (last season) it was a bit much for my old legs.”
WHEN HE shot to fame in Costa Rica he was nicknamed El Gallo, ‘The Rooster’, because of his flashy hair-style – but Bryan Oviedo was sporting a more toned-down image when he arrived at Everton last week.
Signed primarily as cover for Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar on the left flank, the 22-year-old is aware he will have to bide his time if he wants to be star of the Goodison flock.
Maybe he knows there is only room for one iconic hair-cut at Finch Farm with Marouane Fellaini’s ‘fro the biggest show in town, but those who have watched his career develop back home predict it will not take him long to catch the attention of Evertonians.
The £2m signing from FC Copenhagen is one of a generation of bright young things in Central America, and shone for his country in the 2009 U20 World Cup before going on to become a regular for the full senior side.
And with his wholesome image and exciting skills making him a hero in his home capital San Jose, Costa Rican journalist Esteban Valverde, of Al Dia newspaper, expects big things.
“In Costa Rica the people thinks that Bryan is a great player,” says Esteban. “He played very well in the World Cup U20 in 2009, when Costa Rica won the third place, and this generation of players are heroes.
“He never had a social scandal, so when it comes to the national team he is one of the most respected and loved.
“Also, Bryan always delivers 100% when he plays, which is essential if you want the fans of Costa Rica to appreciate you.”
Esteban believes Oviedo’s attacking prowess is his major asset, but warns he will have to work on the defensive side of his game in England.
“His strengths are definitely speed, power, and getting forward,” he says. “He’s good in the one versus one situation, passes nicely and has a great shot with his left leg.
“Defensively he adheres to a system and is good but sometimes he does not go back quickly enough when he has gone forward and he must work on his heading, and distribution with his right foot too.”
Esteban believes Everton’s matches will become suddenly more popular in Costa Rica this season.
“People will be keen to see on TV when Bryan plays games,” he says. “In our country, football is the main sport, and with this step to Everton, Bryan will be followed every weekend, especially when you have big games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
“I think it will be similar as when Bryan Ruiz plays for Fulham and the whole country cheers him on in the matches.
“Bryan came very young to San Jose to play for Deportivo Saprissa, so his life in San Carlos was quiet.
“A big test for him was becoming a father. In Al Día we interviewed his wife and she said Bryan is actually an excellent husband and father, he taught her how to change the diaper, and bathe their one-year-old Frederick who was born in Denmark.”
Blues legend Graeme Sharp believes the added level of competition represented by signings like Oviedo’s is good news.
“I think the 14 or 15 players we had are top quality but there’s always the worry that there could be injuries and I think it was important the manager could strengthen his squad,” he said.
“I think the players he’s brought in have certainly done that and I’m looking forward to seeing them.
“Now there’s competition for places and that’s what every manager says they strive for - a big squad where nobody can rest on their laurels.”
Oviedo, who will be hoping to win his 18th international cap against Mexico on Friday, and Sharp added: “I think it was important that we got cover in that area.
“Sylvain Distin and Phil Neville can both do a job there but if you’ve got somebody who’s naturally left-footed who can play in that position and is comfortable in that position, that’s what you want, and I think that’s a good piece of business from the manager.
“Over the years Leighton Baines has hardly missed a game, he’s so consistent. But I think every now and then you need somebody to come in when needed and be there to step up, and I’m sure Oviedo will be able to do that.”
HE WON the respect of his Everton FC team-mates and supporters alike with his ceaseless work-rate and touching eagerness to make a career at Goodison Park.
Ultimately, despite a clutch of important goals last season, Denis Stracqualursi fell just short of securing a long-term contract, and was allowed to return to Argentina in May.
But the 24-year-old striker – who memorably scored during the 2-0 win over Chelsea at Goodison last term – clearly has no intention of forgetting about his happy spell on Merseyside.
“Playing in that stadium was like a beautiful dream and something which I will never forget,” said the forward who has since signed for Argentinean giants San Lorenzo. I will be grateful all my life for the kindness with which I was treated. Some of the nicest things that happened in my life happened there.
“The year at Everton was the best year of my career and I will never forget those amazing fans.”
Even though he missed out on a permanent deal, Stracqualursi impressed David Moyes and in turn feels he benefited from top-level coaching in the Premier League.
“I loved my time there and I enjoyed every single training session,” he explained. “I was surrounded by top, top players who were all really nice guys as well and they all helped me to feel part of the group.
“I was also lucky to have a great manager in David Moyes and I learnt so much from him.
“He is also a great person and he was always really straight with me and told me exactly what he was thinking.
“It was something which was really useful while I was there and something that will really help me in my future career.”
Stracqualursi made 28 first-team appearances as the Blues finished seventh in the table and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup.
And he played his part in the cup run, scoring in the earlier rounds against Fulham and Blackpool, before the highlight of that goal against Chelsea and his memorably ecstatic celebration.
“Scoring that goal was the sweetest thing that happened and I felt a huge rush of emotion as a result of all the effort I had put in to reach that moment,” he recalled. “Reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup was fantastic as well and again highly emotional when you consider all the work the squad had put in to get there.”
Now Stracqualursi is hoping to be a hit in Buenos Aires with San Lorenzo, although he can’t shake his lingering sadness at securing a permanent Toffees move.
He added: “My ambitions with San Lorenzo are to win the league as it is a massive club in Argentina – and at the same time to score a lot of goals.
“It was disappointing [not to stay at Everton] because I had given my all and I would have liked to have stayed there for many years.
“I would love to come back to England and even more so to come back to Everton.
“The reason is because of all the lovely memories and how well I was treated by the supporters.
“My family absolutely loved living in Liverpool. We enjoyed being at the ground and all the people there – it was a great life experience for all of us.
“I really love Everton and will always have a soft spot for the place. I send all my best wishes to the club and its supporters for the new season.”
STEVEN NAISMITH believes Scotland are in their best shape since Craig Levein took over as manager as they aim to kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign with maximum points at Hampden Park.
The Scots play host to Serbia on Saturday, before facing Macedonia three days later at the same venue.
Everton attacker Naismith is confident the national team is as ready to deliver the goods now as they have been since Levein replaced George Burley at the helm in December 2009.
He said: “Nobody can deny that there has been a lot of progress made from where the national squad was before he took over. We’ve all now had experience in qualifiers.
“It’s not as though we are a new squad coming together, we’ve been together for a while now, which goes a long way.
“Now we need to turn it into performances at the qualifying stage, not doing it in friendlies and things like that.
“We now need to show that we are capable and that what the manager has been working towards has paid off.”
Scotland face a tough group, which also includes Belgium, Wales and Croatia.
But Naismith added: “We are confident.
“The group we’ve got is going to be tough but we think we can get results.
“There is enough experience along with youth in the squad to compete against anybody.
“You’ve got to be confident - if you’re not confident, you shouldn’t be in the squad and that’s the bottom line.”
“We will go into the game confident and hopefully we can get the three points on Saturday.”
EVERTON FC will hope Vadis Odjidja Ofoe brings his growing sense of maturity to Goodison once his Merseyside loan move is approved.
The 23-year-old midfielder will come highly recommended should FIFA green-light his £1m switch today, after drawing praise from Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany last week.
Kompany has played alongside Odjidja-Ofoe for the Belgian national team and Hamburg, and after it emerged David Moyes had swooped late on Friday, he tweeted: ‘Everton fans might not even know it but their club has done an incredible bit of business. Vadis Odjija is a top player, mark my words’.
Moyes has been aware of the six-foot tall midfielder for some time, as an avowed admirer of Belgium’s shining crop of young players, and Ofoe would be the third member of that golden generation to sign for Everton after Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas.
But the Blues boss will also be keen to ensure that Ofoe continues to mature, after his early career has been marred by accusations of an attitude-problem and inability to settle at a club.
Everton would be the Gent-born player’s fourth club at the age of just 23, and he struggled to adapt the first time he left Belgium in a high-profile move to Hamburg, although by his own admission he has grown up since.
“I told myself to put all side projects aside,” he told Club Brugge’s website about his preparations for last season. “I worked hard, and my focus was 100% on football, and it paid off.
“Physically, I feel better this season, I recover more quickly; feel less tired during games and training sessions. Maybe I was putting too much energy in the things that weren’t all that important. Because I had trouble handling criticism.
Because I wasn’t entirely living for my career like I do now. The things I now handle differently are not earth shattering, you know. Just getting to bed on time or minding my diet more efficiently.
“I’ll never become thin, but I did work on my weight. The only think I gained was muscles. I have also read that many people, also close to me, reckon I have grown more mature this season. I guess that must be the right conclusion.”
If he can maintain that maturity, Ofoe could be a huge asset for the Blues. Primarily a defensive midfielder, has been nominated for the Jupiler Pro Player of the Year while at Brugge, and has scored 12 times in 100 games since 2009.
He also has the ability to flourish further upfield, and can drive from box to box with the ball - a trait Moyes tried to add to his team with his ambitious move for Michael Essien last Friday.
“It’s only logical that I can play more directly forward,” Ofoe said. “Self-confidence plays its part too, of course. Making an action leading to the first goal in our home game against AA Gent, getting past five opponents that can only happen when you feel sure of yourself as a player.
“It doesn’t matter that much to me where in midfield I play. That certainly hasn’t made a difference to me, and I have no trouble playing a bit higher or lower at times”.
Should he join the Blues this week, Ofoe has an opportunity to prove himself in one of the top leagues in the world.
If he finds the focus and maturity to do that, Moyes could find that the deal he attempted to push through the wire last Friday will have been truly worth the hassle.