Although Mike Walker’s troubled managerial reign yielded just five wins, one unquestionable triumph was the £1.6 million capture of Swedish wing wizard Anders Limpar. On his day, Limpar was a hark back to the golden era of the 1960s; a slight, but sublimely gifted player whose impish, impudent skills were occasionally redolent of such predecessors as Alex Young and Tommy Ring.
Brought up watching Everton on Swedish television in the early-1980s, Limpar, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, evidently saw something of himself in the blues’ half-Hungarian striker Imre Varadi and so adopted the blues as his team. The journey that took him to Goodison from Stockholm’s suburbs was nevertheless long and exotic. Beginning his career in the mid-1980s with Gothenburg’s second club, Orgyte, he split his time between football and university where he studied for an economics degree. Making his international debut in 1987, he attracted the notice of Swiss club, Young Boys of Berne, signing as a professional in 1988.
In 1989 he joined Cremonese, and despite his team’s relegation from Serie A was considered an individual success, named third best foreigner in a league which boasted the likes of Maradona, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit. After the 1990 World Cup Finals he joined Arsenal, an early forerunner of the magnificently talented foreigners who would dominate the club’s ranks from the mid-1990s, and inspired them to the 1991 First Division title. Differences with manager, George Graham, subsequently left him a marginalised figure, leading to his departure on transfer deadline day 1994.
Immediately pitched into an Everton side dangerously close to the relegation zone, his class in a side lacking finesse was immediately apparent. Just two games into his Everton career he was dubbed the ‘Blue Brazilian’ after an audacious lob over the Aston Villa goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, missed by inches.
Yet when Everton faced Wimbledon on the last day of the 1994/95 season, needing a win to avoid relegation, Limpar was both hero and villain. Just four minutes in he inexplicably handled the ball in his own area leading to a penalty, which Dean Holdsworth converted. But when Everton slipped 2-0 behind, Limpar led the comeback, winning a dubious penalty that Graham Stuart converted.
An unhappy substitute through the summer’s World Cup in the United States as Sweden finished third (but Limpar played just 17 minutes), on his return he subsequently fell out with the calamitous Mike Walker. By the time Joe Royle became manager in November, speculation linked the Swede to moves to the continent and Japan, but the new boss persuaded him to stay. ‘When I first came here I was amazed by what I saw,’ said Royle. ‘He is incredible. In terms of pure skill I have never worked with anyone like him.’ This was high praise indeed from a man who once played alongside Alex Young and Colin Harvey.
Arguably Limpar’s two best games in an Everton shirt came in the 1995 FA Cup run. In the semi final against Tottenham, he made a mockery of Stuart Nethercott’s attempts to mark him, inspiring a crushing 4-1 victory. In the final against Manchester United, it was Limpar who robbed Paul Ince of the ball before running fifty yards and releasing Matt Jackson who set up Paul Rideout’s winner. It was, he later said, ‘probably my best performance for Everton’ – despite hobbling off after an hour due to injury.
During the 1995/96 season Limpar was unquestionably at his best when playing with new signing Andrei Kanchelskis on the opposite wing. An entirely different player to the Swede, he added the power and pace of an express train and thrived on Limpar’s searching passes. Never was this better evidenced than when Limpar danced past three defenders to feed the Ukrainian for his second, decisive, goal in the Anfield derby in November.
Troubled by inconsistency towards the end of the 1995/96 season, at the campaign’s conclusion Royle brought in Gary Speed after trying to offload Limpar to Marseilles. There was always a nagging sense that the Everton manager preferred the solid over the spectacular, or the physically imperious Kanchelskis to the somewhat slight Limpar. From hereon his chances were limited, and with the addition of Nick Barmby in November 1996 his days at Everton were all but over. He made his last appearance as a substitute in a lacklustre game against Wimbledon in December 1996, briefly adding flair to a team devoid of invention. Royle had decided that he no longer required the services of the man who, in his own words, was ‘occasionally reminiscent of Cruyff’ and offloaded him to Birmingham City the following month for £100,000. It was an unsatisfactory end for a dazzling talent.