For more than two decades successive Everton managers have grappled with the same issue: finding a midfield dynamo who might prove a worthy successor to Peter Reid. Of all the pretenders to have filled that role, Olivier Dacourt may have come closest to filling the boots of his illustrious predecessor. Certainly he had all the technical attributes – steely determination, an unflinching tackle, a keen eye for a pass (not to mention pace and a good shot – qualities never shared by Reid) – to write his name into Everton lore, and in happier times he may well have done.
After impressing Walter Smith while playing for Strasbourg against Rangers in the UEFA Cup, Everton’s new manager made the midfield general one of his first signings in the summer of 1998, paying £3.8million. Displaying a sense of urgency and will to win that was not immediately evident in his team-mates, Dacourt impressed straight away, winning a string of man-of-the-match awards and showing rare pedigree in an otherwise struggling team.
Quickly loved by Evertonians he was, alas, a target for referees and yellow cards came at a rate of one every other game. ‘It has got to the stage where the fear of picking up a yellow card has started to affect my game,’ he admitted later on in the season. ‘In the game at Manchester United, I had to let one of their players go past me as I had already been booked.’
ALTHOUGH EVERTON fought off relegation, Dacourt was one of a few bright lights. Yet as financial troubles beset the club in the summer of 1999, Dacourt, one of the most saleable assets, was among the first to be sold – to RC Lens for £6.5million – in an effort to balance the books.
He returned to the Premiership a year later with Leeds United and spent three injury-hampered years at Elland Road, a period in which he made the step up to the French national team, before he was again sold, this time to AS Roma, to avert financial problems. In Rome he was a key component in one of Serie A’s most formidable powers, before switching to Internazionale in 2006, where he was reunited with Marco Materazzi, winning back-to-back Scudetto in 2007 and 2008.