Expectations of Alex Nyarko were sky-high when Walter Smith made him a £4.5 million signing from RC Lens in August 2000. Likened by the Everton manager to the Arsenal midfield powerhouses, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Viera, the 26 year-old had impressed when he came up against the duo in the previous season’s Champions League. Tall, composed and tough, he promised to be the sort of all action midfielder Everton were crying out for.
Although there were glimpses of Nyarko’s unquestioned ability on the few occasions he pulled on an Everton shirt, his languid style seemed to beg questions of his motivation and will to win. Amid high expectation after a busy summer of transfer activity, Smith’s Everton faltered through the 2000/01 season. Nyarko was by no means the only underperfomer, but he was the most expensive of the manager’s white elephants and seemed to symbolise a group of players who cared little about the declining club they played for.
Things came to a head during Everton’s customary hiding at Highbury in April 2001. Losing 3-1 and being toyed with by an impressive Arsenal team, an Everton fan named Stephen Price entered the pitch and offered to exchange shirts with Nyarko – the implication being that he was unfit to wear the blue of Everton. Nyarko was understandably flustered by the intervention and asked to be substituted.
Afterwards an unimpressed Smith did nothing to play down the situation or suppress his bemusement. He said: ‘It is not a good example to set and it raises a lot of questions, not only about his commitment to the club, but also the mentality of the player to handle it. He showed a lack of strength mentally. Not many footballers will go through their careers without receiving a bit of criticism and he's obviously not accepted it too well.’
Nyarko was hawked around Europe and there were loan moves to Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, but nobody would make a permanent move for him – even at a knockdown price.
In 2003/04, he returned to Goodison and there was an attempt at rehabilitation under David Moyes. But at the end of the season, and still with a year remaining on his five-year contract, it emerged that only a four year work permit had been acquired when he signed – a ludicrous situation that meant Everton held his playing registration and were obliged to pay his wages but could not play him.
Now aged 30, Nyarko attempted to revive his career in the Norwegian and Swiss leagues but the damage to his reputation and confidence was seemingly irreparable.