With a pump of his fists and a wave in the air, Danish international midfielder Thomas Gravesen could whip up the Goodison crowd like few of his contemporaries. On his day the Dane was one of the most exciting players in the Premier League, with his close control and willingness to make runs from midfield a potent attacking weapon. At other times, however, Gravesen looked tactically ill disciplined, his endless enthusiasm making him look like a schoolboy on a playground kickaround, chasing every ball. While his two-spell Goodison career can – perhaps – ultimately be regarded a success, it was, for large parts, undermined by such inconsistency.
Gravesen started his career with his home-town club, Vejle Boldklub (VB), in the mid-1990s, playing as both a sweeper and defensive midfielder. Here he first came to the attention of Walter Smith, then Rangers manager, who considered a move for him, but in 1997 Gravesen joined SV Hamburg. Here he developed a reputation as one of the best foreigners in the Bundesliga and in 1999/2000 helped his club qualify for the Champions League.
Alerted to the fact that Gravesen only had a year remaining on his Hamburg contract, Smith finally made his move for the Dane, paying a cut-price £2.5million to bring him to Goodison in summer 2000.
ALTHOUGH HE would continue to be classed a defensive midfielder throughout his Everton career, it was clear that Gravesen’s abilities were best suited to the final third of the field. From here he would lung-busting marches, showing attributes that were increasingly rare in the modern midfield player: the willingness and ability to run with the ball. All too rarely, however, did Gravesen show this on a consistent basis. His tackling was often reckless, earning him an unenviable disciplinary record, and his passing could be wayward, sometimes marked by an entire lack of concentration. Likewise his positional play was frequently erratic. Nor did he score enough goals. However, it was clear to seasoned Evertonians that despite such lapses, within the 24-year-old was the genesis of a very good player.
Thrown into an almost entirely reconstructed midfield, with the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Alex Nyarko, Gravesen impressed in flashes, but like many of his contemporaries struggled to consistently live up to his potential amid the grimness of Smith’s managerial reign. Within barely a year of his arrival reports began to surface in the Danish and German press that Gravesen was unimpressed by Everton’s lack of ambition and unhappy on Merseyside. By the end of 2001, Smith had seemingly started to freeze Gravesen out of the Everton team.
HE RETURNED to the team for David Moyes’ debut as manager against Fulham in March 2002, but was sent off after just 28 minutes for two bookings – the sort of petulant display that had driven fans to distraction since his arrival. Moyes, however, persisted with him and for the next two years Gravesen frustrated and delighted in equal measure. Off the field and on it, he maintained a good rapport with fans, frequently showing the humour that earned him the sobriquet ‘Mad Dog’. Memorable japes included punching the air while being stretchered off, and joining in the fans’ booing of Tomasz Radzinski on his 2004 return to Goodison with Fulham.
At the start of the 2004/05 season, limited financial resources and dressing room disarray forced Moyes to entirely rejig his line-up. By necessity he adopted a 4-1-4-1 formation that removed many of Gravesen’s defensive responsibilities, enabling him to float around Everton’s lone striker, make charges into the penalty area and serve as Everton’s playmaker. He was anointed Everton’s principal set-piece taker, showing his composure and technical skills to serve up a string of assists. As Everton soared up the Premier League table, Gravesen flourished, playing the best football of his Everton career.
And yet, with his existing deal running out, a new contract lay unsigned. Speculation that agreement was imminent lingered through the last months of 2004. Then in the January transfer window, something entirely unexpected happened: Real Madrid came in for Gravesen. Faced with the option of losing him for nothing the following summer, or selling him for £2.5million, Moyes let Gravesen join up with Zidane, Beckham, Figo and the rest of the Galacticos.
His spell in Spain lasted 18 months before he returned to Britain with Celtic in August 2006. His time at Parkhead was less than happy, amid discord between Gravesen and manager Gordon Strachan. Persistent rumours linked him with a move to England, but not until the August 2007 transfer deadline did this happen, when, to widespread delight, he rejoined Everton on a season-long loan.
WITHIN days of his return, a Gravesen corner had set up a last-minute winner against Bolton, but hopes of an Indian summer were never realised. Gravesen, now aged 31, looked shorn of the athleticism that had propelled him to such heights three years previous, and his appearances in a blue shirt were limited to cameos. At the end of the 2007/08 season, Moyes announced that he would not be taking up an option to buy the midfielder, who returned to Parkhead. Here his contract was promptly paid up, and Gravesen released. After being unable to find another club, in January 2009 he announced his retirement from the game, aged 32.A Danish international, Gravesen made 66 appearances for his country, appearing at the 2002 World Cup Finals and the 2000 and 2004 European Championships.