Anthony Gordon: My Plans Have Changed

In an interview originally published in Everton’s matchday programme for this month's encounter with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Anthony Gordon talks about a pressing desire to “turn my weaknesses into strengths”, upgrading targets following a breakthrough campaign, the Goodison coach whose football knowledge is “second to none”, an international camp that flicked a switch in mentality, travelling 35 miles to discover the depth of his love for the Club, and the “crazy feeling inside” when supporters sing his name.

Sport at the sharp end is unrivalled for its capacity to expose individuals’ characters to the world.

What you see from a competitor at the height of battle, so often represents a portal into the soul.

Andy Murray’s perseverance and downright refusal to yield on a tennis court, for example, is reflective of a man who grew up in a small central Scottish commuter town, wholly unconducive to the moulding of Wimbledon champions.

Tributes this month to the great Shane Warne invariably touched on an untrammelled zest for life that was illustrated in the brash leg spinner’s ability to theatrically, spellbindingly, orchestrate events on a cricket field.

So, when Anthony Gordon talks about increased media demands in this breakthrough campaign for the young Everton forward, he could equally be detailing the personality we see in a royal blue jersey.

“I actually enjoy interviews,” says Gordon, unprompted and beginning this one on an unexpected footing.

“Speaking publicly is a chance to create relationships with the fans,” reasons Gordon, “for them to learn more about you as a person.

“It is important to me that I am relatable and never seen as distant.

“I feel confident being interviewed, I try to speak to the person directly, to treat it as more of a conversation than an interview.

“I am open and honest and if I approach every interview with that mindset, I will be all right.”

Then comes the line when Gordon really could be discussing the 49 appearances of an Everton career that is generating more excitement with every fearless performance.

“I feel I’ve always been quite good,” says Gordon, in reality addressing a knack for eruditely navigating those interviews. “I haven’t had too many bad ones, I’m happy with my record until now.”

Gordon is understandably bubbling with confidence as a frontline performer for Frank Lampard, who watched the player run riot against Brentford in the manager’s first game, then asserted: “Anthony has all the attributes to do what he wants in the game”.

“I saw the interviews and it was a massive boost to know he had that confidence in me,” says Gordon. “It gives me the belief to go and show what I can do.

“I was really excited when Frank came. He’s had a really good managerial career, already, and is so strong tactically.

“The game plan has been right for every match, in my opinion.

“When it hasn’t worked, it’s because we, as players, have come up short.

“There has never been a doubt about what I and the team had to do.

“The best thing you can do as a coach is give the players the tools to perform. Then it is up to us to do it.”

Lampard conjures those ploys in alliance with a coaching unit that features youthful vitality and enterprise, coupled with a deep well of experience.

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Defender duo Leonie Maier and Rikke Sevecke reflect on their final Everton match as the pair are set to depart the Club this summer.

The collective achievements are vast, encompassing Ashley Cole’s sweep of the game’s major trophies, domestic titles and a Champions League for Paul Clement and, in the case of Joe Edwards, two FA Youth Cups in charge of Chelsea.

Edwards, 35, was an influential figure in both Mason Mount and Reece James’ development from hopeful young shavers to Chelsea and England staples.

“Joe has massively impressed me, his football knowledge is second to none, among the best I’ve known,” says Gordon.

“He is very approachable and I am always trying to learn from him.

“Every day, he’ll speak to me about little details. Ahead of a game, he might tell me to receive the ball on an angle that is different by a few inches. Or that if I run at a particular defender on a different angle, it will make a massive difference.

“As he says it, I am thinking [taps temple with forefinger], ‘That is right’ – and it is really impressive, because I would never have thought of those things.

“He’s told me about top players he worked with who converted weaknesses into strengths – and he wants to help me do the same.”

Watching Everton, your eye is naturally drawn to the rapid, rangy figure on the flank. Gordon is constantly probing, capable of employing one delicate touch and accompanying flash of speed to dumbfound his direct opponent.

He is increasingly consistent, a reliable source of pace and thrust and industry. But three goals and two assists from 24 top-flight appearances – 14 starts – this term are not enough, not in the opinion of a player whose expressed intention is to decide games for his team.

Anthony Gordon
It is down to me to have that bit of composure and knowledge in the final third, to calm myself down and make the right decision.

“I need to improve what leads up to the goals and assists,” says Gordon.

“Joe has been trying to get me to go really quick, really quick, then slow down at the last second.

“To add that bit of composure, to finish the chance.

“I always feel dangerous in a game and know defenders don’t like playing against me.

“Then it is down to me to have that bit of composure and knowledge in the final third, to calm myself down and make the right decision.

“There are subtle changes for every game. I play against different full-backs, with different attributes, and I have to exploit the weaknesses.

“I study clips of players doing well against them and try to replicate that.

“If they struggle with wingers inside, I go inside, and if they struggle with a winger going wide and running in behind, I will do that.”

Clement, formerly assistant manager at Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, is tasked with refining Everton’s set pieces at both ends of the field.

He alighted on Gordon as taker-in-chief and, in this sphere, the player – whose dead-ball deliveries have supplied goals for defenders Jarrad Branthwaite and Michael Keane this season – sights ample room for an upgrade.

“Paul has shown me some new things, short corners that have been really interesting,” continues Gordon, who is planning to tap up Leighton Baines for supplementary advice.

“The consistency of my set pieces needs to massively improve.

“At the minute, probably about one in three is good. It should be two in three, at least.

“Every game I watch – and this is new – I look at what players are doing with set pieces.

“I am constantly practising and trying to establish a routine I can rely on, no matter what happens.

“I want to get that right and do Paul proud.”

Gordon celebrated his 21st birthday on 24 February and it is indicative of the Academy graduate’s soaring popularity that “so many fans came to the training ground with cards and presents”.

He is beaming as he relates this episode and equally wide-eyed, a mix of disbelief and elation, expounding on his newly-acquired status as a darling of the Gwladys Street.

We will address Gordon’s standing as a “fans’ favourite”, as his teammates playfully have it.

But first we go back 12 months to something of an awakening for the player, a realisation that caught him off guard.

On the day he turned 20, Gordon delivered a blistering performance for loan team Preston North End, claiming man-of-the-match honours from Sky Sports after terrorising QPR in a televised match.

That, though, was the best of it 35 miles up the road at Deepdale.

Manager Alex Neil soon lost his job and replacement Frankie McAvoy’s 5-3-2 formation didn’t cater for wingers. “I knew I wasn’t going to play, no matter how well I trained,” explains Gordon, “because I was having some of my best sessions”.

All told, Gordon endured a 2020/21 – after signing a new five-year Goodison Park deal on the eve of the campaign – to test the most self-assured of personalities.

He started once in the Premier League and only three times in all competitions for Everton, adding five starts and six appearances off the bench for Championship Preston.

“Preston was such a good experience, but at the time I didn’t enjoy it,” says Gordon.

“It was nothing to do with the club, I can only speak highly of Preston and their fans.

“But, when I got there, I realised how much I loved Everton and loved being here.

“I probably didn’t appreciate that enough and it made me love Everton even more.

“The loan was good for my personal growth, every day I went in with the best possible attitude, despite knowing I wasn’t going to play. 

“I applied the same mindset coming back here.

“Regardless of what anyone else does, or what happens, I am the best version of me every day and feel I can’t go wrong with that.”

Anthony Gordon
When I got there, I realised how much I loved Everton and loved being here. I probably didn’t appreciate that enough and it made me love Everton even more.

Gordon’s unshakeable confidence withstood not only the Preston setback but a beginning to this term when opportunities were desperately thin on the ground.

Consider, too, Everton’s pre-season acquisition of wide players Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend – and that pair’s fabulous start with the Club – and Gordon would have been forgiven for viewing his prospects through a bleak lens.

“People were suggesting I needed to go on loan, including my agent, but I said to him and my family that I was going to play,” says Gordon.

“There was no indication I would, but I backed myself to get in the team and it paid off.

“It was difficult when we signed Andros and Dimi, I wasn’t in the team as it was.

“But I always knew, when I got the chance, I would take it.”

 That cast-iron self-belief is studded through this interview and a hallmark of the player’s incipient career.

Gordon was fresh from playing 90 minutes in the Premier League for the first time when he went away with England Under-21s four months ago and duly told the media: “I see myself as a game-changer and a matchwinner for Everton”.

Anthony Gordon
I have never been shy of aiming very high. I have many aspirations and believe I can achieve them.

“I believe talking publicly about your goals helps,” says Gordon today, “it puts more pressure on you – self-imposed and from others – and I think that is a benefit.

“You will do a lot more to reach those goals.

“I have never been shy of aiming very high. I have many aspirations and believe I can achieve them.

“I understand where my potential can get me… but you need the right mindset to get there. And doing whatever I can to reach those goals has never held any fear.

“I never lost that underlying confidence in myself, even at tough times in my career, which is really fortunate… confidence in your own ability and character is the most important thing you can have as a player.

“I definitely feel more established, like I’ve earned my way as a regular starting player.

“That was always a big goal and now I am here, I want to keep improving.

“Being in the team is not good enough anymore.

“I want to win and score and assist and make an impact. My plans have changed.”

The narrative around Gordon was formerly dominated by the attacker’s physical endurance.

More than 16 months separated his full Premier League debut and that first 90-minute appearance, against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on 7 November.

Gordon has started and finished a further eight matches. He has reached 75 minutes or beyond in another five games.

Crucially, the increased stamina hasn’t cost Gordon the turn of foot that repeatedly defeats startled defenders.

“I trust I can work on my stamina every day without losing my explosiveness, which is genetic,” says Gordon.

“Stamina is massive for a winger, it gives you the confidence to go at a full-back – and know, even if I am tired, I can quickly recover and go at him again.

“Then, all of a sudden, he is on the back foot and doesn’t want to know.

“I am constantly working in the gym, trying to be bigger and stronger and more explosive.

“I am really quick but nowhere near my peak.”

Gordon edged closer to that high point, nonetheless, when he went away for those England Under-21 games late last year.

He scored twice within 11 minutes of kick-off on his debut, a 3-1 European Championship qualifying victory over Czech Republic in front of elated family and friends at Burnley’s Turf Moor home.

Anthony Gordon
That trip was when I thought, ‘I can be relied on, and be responsible for the team’s performance and one of the main players'.

Five days later, manager Lee Carsley – “A really top coach… and he loves Everton” – sent on Gordon for the closing stages of a friendly in Georgia. England were trailing 3-0 but came within one goal of a comeback.

“That trip was when I thought, ‘I can be relied on, and be responsible for the team’s performance and one of the main players’,” says Gordon.

“Against Czech Republic, I took the initiative and scored two and we were 2-0 up in no time, and I should have had a hat-trick.

“Then, I made a real impact to get us in the Georgia game.

“That camp might have been the switch for me.”

The whispers over Gordon as a candidate for manager Gareth Southgate’s senior England squad are progressively more audible.

“I don’t think I’ve done anywhere near enough yet,” begins Gordon.

“But, if I keep performing at the level, hopefully, I will get more recognition.

“I’ve seen a lot of people saying I could be in with a shout, but, for me, I am not focused on that until I feel I have earned it.

“My focus for now is on performing well and scoring and winning games.”

Gordon’s attention is rarely diverted from football. His birthday celebrations were limited to “taking in some nice cakes for the lads, because my mind was fully on Manchester City [Everton’s opponents two days later]”.

“I don’t think you can ever fully switch off,” continues Gordon.

“But when your mind is so busy and occupied all the time, appreciating the little things, like spending time with family, can go a long way.

“I know it sounds cliched but people, perhaps, don’t appreciate it as much as they could.”

Gordon owns up to an “obsessive personality”, which, as “a man of many hobbies”, can vex those around him.

“If I get into something, I want to do it at 100 per cent and be the best and won’t stop until I am,” he laughs, revealing snooker is the latest sport to conquer.

“The professionals make it look easy, then you go and play and it is not the same, but I will never stop trying,” says Gordon, unwittingly empathising with those who watch him on a football pitch.

A highest break of 30-35 – “clearing up the colours,” he admits – is unlikely to attract much adulation.

In the day job, however, the noisy plaudits are raining down on Gordon. The acclaim began when Evertonians chorused the player’s name as he was substituted in the draw at Manchester United in October – and the volume has been dialled up since.

“When I went to the bench at Old Trafford, I said to Jonjoe [Kenny], ‘Did you hear them singing my name’,” says Gordon.

“He said, ‘Yes, because you played boss’.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“There are no words to tell you how happy that support makes me feel. It is just boss, a crazy feeling inside. Unreal.

“My family love it because so many people out in public are treating me so nicely and saying good things.

“The other players joke with me, saying, ‘Fans’ favourite’.

“But they tell me it is really impressive.

“And it is, some of the videos I am sent after games are unreal.

Anthony Gordon
There are no words to tell you how happy that support makes me feel. It is just boss, a crazy feeling inside. Unreal.

“It is more than I could have wished for and I will never be able to thank the supporters enough.

“But I will try my best by taking responsibility and trying to put in good performances.”

Gordon accepted accountability in adversity when holding up his hands to angry fans following a couple of poor Everton away performances this term.

“At the start of the season, I wasn’t a regular, so could feel everything they were feeling, as a fan” says Gordon.

“I wanted them to know I understood, that I am from here and can relate to their feelings.

“Everton should be a top team and for that to happen we must reach a high level of performance every week.”

Modest and ambitious, competitive and dependable; Anthony Gordon’s character mirrors the qualities we see every time this dynamic Everton Academy alumni steps on a football pitch.