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Gravesen: The Maniac in Midfield

By Jon Livesey :  28/12/2007 :  Comments (20) :

The Boxing Day fixture against Bolton Wanderers was a showcase for every side of the multi-faceted Thomas Gravesen. The mercurial midfielder flaunted the good, the bad and the downright ugly in the 80 minutes he was on the pitch, but do we really want to see him line-up against Arsenal?

Gravesen is the antithesis of the contemporary Premiership footballer because he is a character. In pubs all over the country, men from past generations are often heard to complain that the modern game is devoid of personalities. They may reference George Best or Paul Gascoigne as flawed geniuses, smiling affectionately at memories of them finding time to interact with fans somewhere between nut-megging a bemused defender and scoring a 30-yard screamer.

The BBC?s reluctance to show more than 30 seconds of Everton?s matches has seemingly denied these men of the opportunity to witness the fist-waving, face-screwing lunatic who has appeared at Goodison Park on several occasions over the past decade.

In the 6 months before he left us for the Galacticos, Gravesen was nothing short of inspirational. Moyes had devised a system to get the best of him and in that system, Gravesen looked world class. Carsley was performing the same role that he does in the current system, just in front of the back four to break up the opposition?s attacks. We had industrious players on the left and right in Kilbane and Watson or Osman and Cahill in a central midfield role, but with a license to get forward. Bent provided us with a very willing runner up front to work the channels and chase balls into corners, stretching defences. This provided Gravesen with an almost free role and acres of space in which he was rarely required to perform defensive duties. It suited him and benefited the team. He stood out as a player with good technical ability in a team otherwise lacking in craft and guile and when he didn?t play, we struggled to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

In previous seasons, Gravesen was inconsistent to say the least. He would have 1 great game in 5 or 6. More often than not he would keep hold of the ball for too long, turn into trouble and fall over flailing like an idiot. His likeable, if a little peculiar personality though, always maintained his special bond with the Goodison faithful, particularly the Gwladys Street crowd.

In the current squad, Gravesen is no longer the only player with genuine class and ability. Arteta is the magician, Pienaar is capable of unlocking defences and works incredibly hard, Osman has developed into a consistent Premiership performer and then there is the talismanic figure of Cahill.

Against Bolton Gravesen started poorly just as he did against AZ Alkmaar in Holland. He didn?t seem to know what his role was in the team — something that is paramount to being a success in a Moyes side. He wasn?t finding space to receive the ball often enough and when he did receive it he gave it straight back to whoever had passed it to him. He looked like a player low on confidence, lacking match practice and out of his depth.

He still possesses a sublime touch and this was demonstrated in the first half even though he didn?t play well. He has the ability to kill a ball dead with a deftness of touch more akin to a Brazilian than a burly Dane. One first-time volley from 35 yards looked to be headed straight for the top corner until it hit a Bolton defender on the way. However, his tricks against Bolton in the first half were just not effective, he was caught in possession too often and the crowd became increasingly infuriated.

Even in his prime, I always thought Gravesen was better in the second half and the Bolton game was an example of why this is often the case. As the game progressed and the opposition tired, Gravesen had more time on the ball, he wasn?t closed down as quickly and became more involved in the game. He looked to be at his nonchalant best, stroking the ball around for a 15-minute period before he was substituted.

Any game that includes the overweight Kevin Nolan, inexperienced Danny Guthrie and ageing Ivan Campo is likely to open up sooner rather than later and that is exactly what happened. As soon as the whistle blew for the second half we stepped it up a gear and Bolton looked clueless and fatigued. This was Gravesen?s cue to stamp his authority on the game and he took it graciously.

Arsenal on the other hand will be a very different game. Their midfield boasts some of the world?s best, fittest and most athletic midfielders and we will be lucky if the game opens up before the 85th minute. My primary concern is that Gravesen will be made to look like a boy against men. They will no doubt take the ball from him with ease as he is taking his usual minute and a half to shape his body into the perfect pose for playing a pass.

Incidentally, this is something that irritates me beyond belief with professional footballers and even amateur ones who I play against or alongside. David Beckham has a lot to answer for if you ask me. There seems to be an increasing amount of players with more style than substance and an obsession with positioning the left arm at an exact 45-degree angle to stroke the ball with such precision when playing a 5-yard pass. Gravesen is Everton?s biggest culprit of this self-indulgent trait and I am sure Arsenal will capitalise on it.

I can see it now — Flamini, Diaby, Fabregas, Gilberto frequently brushing the bald Dane aside as he dilly-dallies on the ball. I suspect this will result in a frustrated Gravesen acting erratically even by his own standards, unless he is of course sent off.

The only way Gravesen could be a success in our current side and system is if he refrains from running around like a headless chicken, rarely moves from the centre circle and keeps things ticking over nicely. He could control the pace of the game from this position, which would also present him with an opportunity to display his attributes and mask his limitations. Jan Molby made a career out of it and the highly classy, if a little immobile Campo has done a decent job of impersonating the former for the past 5 years at Bolton.

I would rather see us line-up to face Arsenal without Gravesen in the starting 11, but I accept that Moyes may have his hand forced by injuries and the lack of midfielders with first team experience in our squad.

What are the alternatives to playing Gravesen?

  • Neville in midfield with Hibbert at right back- this would represent a step backwards surely.
  • Jagielka in midfield and Valente at left back with Lescott moved inside- tried and failed earlier in the season.
  • McFadden out wide and Arteta or Pienaar in the middle- there?s a good chance we will not see McFadden in an Everton shirt again.
  • We could even revert to 4-4-2 and play Johnson, but I do not think Moyes is at all convinced by Cahill in midfield 4.

The only other option would be to play one of the fringe players like Anderson who has returned from Barnsley or a youngster like Vidarsson, but there is no way Moyes will experiment with fringe players in game this big.

I think we have the players and resources to beat Arsenal, but it will all depend on the system we implement. If we play the same team and system that we did against Bolton then I am sure our midfield lunatic?s shortcomings will be exposed and punished by a ruthless Arsenal side.

We have moved on as a team and a club since Gravesen left and while he might have been ahead of us back then, I suspect we may have passed the regressing Dane in his fall from grace and our recent ascent. I think the best we can hope for from the midfielder is a swansong and a few laughs. I am praying it is the swansong we see on Saturday and not the antics of the Goodison court jester.

Reader Comments

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Laurence Gifford
1   Posted 29/12/2007 at 06:19:47

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The only way Gravesen could be a success in our current side and system is if he ... rarely moves from the centre circle

Eh? Gravesen’s enterprise and creativity are what makes him special. I thought he was sublime in the 2nd half vs Bolton. Witness the role he played in the second goal. His hard work and spirit lift the team.
Stig Meacham
2   Posted 29/12/2007 at 06:40:09

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Alright Jon!

I loved reading the article, and cheers for it. Well thought out, but I don’t necessarily agree that all your alternatives to playing crazy-man are the only ones we have.

I certainly believe that if we can field the same XI that started the second half a couple of days ago we’ll trash the Arsenal, but didn’t Grav get his bad leg smashed at the end of the Bolton match? He’s hurt again, right? It might just be Pip back in midfield.

Christine Foster
3   Posted 29/12/2007 at 08:16:44

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A well thought out and well penned article Jon, althought I have to admit I don’t hold the same view as you do. Any player without premiership match fitness will struggle to find his feet in a winning team from the word go. I understand that the Bolton game was Grav’s first start to a league match this season. It doesn’t strictly matter if you are super fit, match fitness is about speed of thought, pace and working at your optimum performance. Like tuning a race car, you have to go around the track a few times to set it up correctly!
Now I am NOT saying that he has been around the track once too often, but your right in saying the team has changed and improved since his departure. Players of his class rise to matches like Arsenal, although I doubt he will be in the starting line up due to that injury. I for one would give the guy a chance to prove himself this season. He was never blessed with lightning pace but his footballing brain and skillset he has makes him an asset to the premiership.
Stefan Tosev
4   Posted 29/12/2007 at 08:22:20

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I am amazed how ignorant some punters are:
"Any game that includes the overweight Kevin Nolan, inexperienced Danny Guthrie and ageing Ivan Campo is likely to open up sooner rather than later and that is exactly what happened" - well Jon tell that to Messrs Rooney,Ronaldo,Tevez,Giggs - as far as I remember they couldnt open it 2 weeks ago.

Why should we knock down all our achievements,players and manager, every win is portrated like a fluke, every good run is fortunate,every time I have to enjoy something connected with Everton some idiot will tell me to "keep a perspective"?

We are really bearing our "bitter" tag with pride. I dont know about the rest of you but I will enjoy our contest with Arsenal with pride and expectation of win and not a loss and the possibility to come here bleating about our "inability" to beat a team of the top 4(mind you its still half-away the season,how they predict that we will not beat team of the top 4 until the end of the season is beyond me)

If you take a look at some of Arsenal forums they give us actually credit for holding our own against MU and Chelsea for comming from behind and all are acknowledging the fact that they are up against a very good team
Jon Livesey
5   Posted 29/12/2007 at 09:10:41

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I hope for the team’s sake that you’re right Christine and wish I had your faith in Gravesen.

I hope he proves me wrong and goes on to recapture the form of the first half of the 2004/05 season.
Jon Livesey
6   Posted 29/12/2007 at 09:26:36

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Stefan, there is no denying that the game opened up very soon into the second half against Bolton and in their fixture against Man Utd a couple of weeks ago the same things happened. The difference was that the Red Devils just couldn’t score. Sometimes teams rise to the occasion of a massive game, ride their luck and fortune favours the brave. This combined with the fact that Utd had an off day meant that Bolton won that game.

I am not being pessimistic, bitter or at all cynical. I do honestly believe that we have the resources to beat Arsenal, but I also think that if Gravesen plays, he will be outshone by his midfield counterparts. I have celebrated our progress on countless occasions this season, but for me Gravesen doesn’t figure in that progression.
Ajamu Mutumwa
7   Posted 29/12/2007 at 09:58:49

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One telling point for me.

The players were more than willing to pass to Gravesen, and in many ways he dictated play from the middle.

Clearly he has lost his "talismatic" aura, but he has better players around him. Give him a few more games, assuming he’s fit enough and you’ll see what I am seeing.

A Gravesen who passes mainly to his own players, who keeps his position, who can spray a range of passes, and can finally tackle someone without risk of injuring them and earning a red card.

Its a more mature, but perhaps a less exciting Gravesen that has returned to us.
Santosh Benjamin
8   Posted 29/12/2007 at 10:10:04

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I too like a few others in here have faith that with a few more games under his belt, Mad Dog will be better.
I agree that his defensive skills arent the best but he did bring a certain quality to our midfield.Ideally id like Ossie back or one of the youngsters to be ready to face the big test now...but we wont see either coz if Gravesen is fit..he should play..if not...will probably see Neville(again,if fit!) in midfield...hope we can work thorough it and win today....COYB
Blake Welton
9   Posted 29/12/2007 at 10:48:32

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Paragraph 4: Industrious? Zinedine No-Skilbane. Cahill has always had craft and guile even in his Millwall days - What are you on about Jon?!!!

Would you tell Tommy to his face that he is a little boy or court jester...I doubt it.

I agree that he may be a bit long in the tooth but he’s a big game player who’s physical presence will intimidate Arsenal.

It is a weakness the Gunners are still susceptible too and for this reason Everton to win 2-1 with Gravesen’s burly build centre to success!!
Peter McCann
10   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:13:15

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Basically Tommy’s problem 2 starts in 4 months!! even ronaldo would look rusty after that!!
Connor Rohrer
11   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:15:53

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I’d rather us stick with the 4-5-1 formation and keep Gravesen in the side. Its our best system and Gravesen is the nearest like for like player we have to Leon Osman.

Every time we revert back to 4-4-2 I’m disappointed. We seem unable to keep the ball and we try the long punt to often. A midfield of Cahill and Carsley would give you lots of energy, drive, determination, strength and aggression but it wouldn’t give us any composure. Neither Cahill or Carsley can put there foot on the ball and and compose us when the pressure’s on whereas Gravesen can. Like Fernandes did in the exact game last season he got on the ball and sprayed passes and dictated periods of the game.

As people have said Tommy will get better with games. He was rusty in the first 20 minutes but once he got going he played well. He and Arteta seemed to be linking well, he hardly gave the ball away, his passes where crisp and he looked more mobile than he did against AZ Alkmaar.

He’s certainly not past it like some people think. If Moyes’s gets him for a proper pre-season next season and gets him to peak fitness he could be a very important player. At 31 he’s hardly old and the mad dog still has a chance to prove himself.
Jon Livesey
12   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:27:33

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Blake, Kilbane was very industrious and did as you point out in his humourous pseudonym have a limited amount of skill.

Cahill is a hard working player with a great eye for goal, but does not possess an excessive amount of craft, which is one of the reasons he doesn’t work in a midfield 4. He very rarely unlocks defences with a pass.

Peter, Gravesen had his fair share of starts at Celtic and was performing in a similar fashion for them more often than not. Again, I hope you and Tommy prove me wrong and a lack of match practice as opposed to being over the hill is the reason for his ring-rustiness.
Stefan Tosev
13   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:30:19

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I am not having a go at you, you are making valid points and I agree with most of them, its maybe that I am going frustrated with some overly negative contributions of late.

Yes Gravesen is rusty,yes he sometimes runs like a headless chicken but he is also very good distrubutor of the ball on his day and has a flair and is maybe the only Everton player who went on to play for Real Madrid and this itself is achievement

Bring on Arsenal
Brian Waring
14   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:23:08

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Gravesen is a decent player,that’s all.In all the time he was with us in his first stint,as you say Jon,he had a very good 6 months,thats it.All in all not a good return for the 5yrs with us.He spent most of his time on the bench for Madrid,and couldn’t cut it for Celtic.And since he has been back with us again,he has either been on the bench or injured.He is a charachter,I will give you that.But,when world class and quality are thrown at him,I think not.
James Elworthy
15   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:43:21

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He is injured so he wont play anyway
Danny Mullally
16   Posted 29/12/2007 at 11:40:39

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Maybe your time and energy would be better filling a CV out for the current vacancy as David Moyes number 2. You sound as if you know exactly what you are talking about, and I think moysie would really benefit from your observant nature. I am of course being a bit sarcastic.
Tommy Graveson was signed to add depth for reasons exactly like the one we are facing.
He is a seasoned professional and without a doubt the best man to replace Osman. You referred to him as running around like a headless chicken and also dallying before passing-but as another poster pointed out he has been out of practice for real match sharpness due to the success of our side. Oppertunities now dictate this scenario and It is now his time to prove what he can do, and I have every confidence that he will show YOU and every other fan what quality he still is.

I would love to see him given the go ahead for this game because I actually believe that he will be one of our biggest players when he regains some sharpness.

Would love to see you post again too after todays match if he plays.....
Peter Fearon
17   Posted 29/12/2007 at 21:33:45

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I like Tommy. He is a charging bull of a player, hard as nails and a motivational charismatic personality. You need players like that. Our midfield is more skilfull and guileful these days but I think it lacks bite. Graveson - at his best - can give it bite, even if only later in games when need to kill the opposition off. If he can’t, we need someone else who can.
Chris Cunningham
18   Posted 30/12/2007 at 16:53:52

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I'll be totally honest with you: I think the article itself is bollox. You have spent a lot of time and effort in trying to compare the side from then to now and then focusing on the poorer parts of Tommy's game. A fully fit Thomas Gravesen would play an important role in the majority of the teams in the league, including our own; his touch his first class, his passing ability is second to none and the driving force which he gives you from midfield is priceless.

The pressure Gravesen used to take off us when he would go on a run with the ball, take a few on and draw the foul is what he is about. He is a clever footballer and people don't give credit where credit is due. Personally I just dont think you like Gravesen, and in the current 4-5-1 formation he would easily take the place of Osman who is somewhat of the same mould as Gravesen with less ability and pace!

Steve Ferns
19   Posted 31/12/2007 at 00:11:15

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Brian Waring,

Tommy Gravesen was only good for 6 months? What a load of shit. Tommy was our outstanding player throughout his time here. Yes he had bad games now and again and yes it took him time to settle.

The thing with Tommy when he first came was that he had to adapt from the German game. There he played in the Beckenbauer / Matthaus role. A sweeper in front of the back four. In Germany, this is not your chief tackler like Carsley is for us, but rather someone to take the ball off the defenders and spray passes about. Hardly tackling at all. It took everyone a while to figure out that Tommy was not a tackler, which anyone who watched him play for more than ten minutes could tell you.

Tommy?s problem has always been how he looks and his mad facial expressions. Everyone expects him to be a hard as nails Stig Tofting type. For Denmark he was always immense. Why? Because Tofting did the Carsely role and Gravesen roamed the pitch dictating play.

I?ve heard him called a headless chicken countless times. Did you people even go the game in under Smith? Unsworth and the entire back line would launch it, and no one in the midfield got a sniff. If you are the playmaker, not seeing the ball, not getting a pass, a passionate player and losing but feel that you can do something about it, then I?m sure you would charge about and try and grab the game by the scruff of the neck.

Why did Tommy look so much better in the that last 6 month spell? Because we had Cahill and Bent. Finally there was a runner for Tommy?s passes rather than a lazy beanpole or the clueless Radzinski. He could now hit a brilliant ball into space and someone would be clever enough to run onto it rather than watching it.

Tommy is a truly magical player, and the most entertaining player I have ever watched. He made me happy throughout many of those dark times. I rebuff any suggestion that he was only good for 6 months. And yes, he was our only world class player since Big Nev, why else did money bags Madrid want him? They could have had anyone.

By the way, look at our team for Smith?s last game in charge: Simonsen; Pistone, Stubbs, Weir, Unsworth, Clarke; Gascoigne, Gemmill (76? Blomqvist), Linderoth (46? Alexandersson); Radzinski, Moore (46? Chadwick). Gravesen was suspended. How on earth would a finesse player do well in that side? Is it any coincidence that it is only now that Osman is starting to come good? Flair players need other such flair players to play with, and Gravesen is not different.

I do not think we will see anymore of Gravesen charging about the pitch, because he does not need to. He will get fit again and he will come good. I am looking forward to seeing one-touch interplay from Tommy, Ossie, Pienaar and Arteta that has so far been hinted at. And at 31 he?s hardly past it. He?s got a few years left yet.

Jeff Hassandro
20   Posted 04/09/2008 at 08:14:52

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U guys are joke-as Everton have let themselves down this summer and despite the cash they have to blow on good players, were left with some guy from Belgium who probably wont even get a game.


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