Five years before a 16 year old Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene with a goal on his debut against Arsenal, Everton had a young striker who showed bags of promise: making his debut for the club aged 16, a striker who became the joint top scorer for England U21’s, a player who has a record of one game and one goal for England and who impressed Arsene Wenger enough that the Frenchman spent £8 million to bring the youngster to Highbury. What happened to Francis Jeffers?
Jeffers showed a lot of early promise and talent at Goodison Park, scoring 20 goals in 60 games for the Toffees. A well-publicised fall out with Walter Smith over a pay rise brought his spell at Everton to an end, but Arsene Wenger saw enough promise in Jeffers to spend £8 million on the striker in 2001. A rich vein of form where Jeffers matched Alan Shearer’s record of 13 goals in 16 games for the England U21’s led Wenger to describe Jeffers as a “fox in the box”. But Jeffers struggled at Arsenal, dogged by injuries and stuck behind Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord in the pecking order meant he only found the net 4 times in 4 years (£2 million a goal), and made 22 appearances for the Gunners.
Arsenal loaned Jeffers back to Everton in 2003, but the striker only scored twice in 22 games and was mainly used as a substitute before falling out with David Moyes and being sent back to London. Spells at Charlton (5 goals in 24 games), a disastrous loan spell at Rangers where he couldn’t even score in the SPL, and an ill-fated stint at Blackburn where he scored only one goal followed.
Jeffers then dropped down to the Championship with a loan move to Ipswich where he fared better, scoring 4 goals in 9 games before securing a permanent move to current club Sheffield Wednesday. Once again Jeffers has had an injury-plagued stint in Sheffield, was sent off for headbutting Port Vale player Tommy Fraser last August, which led to Jeffers being transfer-listed and former Wednesday boss Brian Laws condemning his actions, “His conduct was totally unacceptable and something this club will not tolerate”, said Laws.
Jeffers’ failures as a player can be attributed to injuries, specifically a recurring ankle injury that blighted his career with Arsenal. A loss of form (Since leaving Arsenal in 2004, Jeffers has scored only 17 goals for 6 different clubs in the last 5 years) and rumours of a disinterested attitude and occasional belligerence towards former managers like David Moyes and Walter Smith have ruined what was a promising career. Still only 29, Jeffers still has a few years left and if he can remain injury-free, he can still contribute to teams in the lower leagues. But at £8 million, Francis Jeffers must still go down as one of Wenger’s biggest mistakes in the transfer market ever.