In January 2005 when the twice-yearly transfer window opened, David Moyes made Southampton centre forward James Beattie Everton’s record signing in a £6million deal. Beattie had 18 months earlier finished top English scorer in the Premier League, scoring 23 league goals as Southampton also reached the FA Cup Final. His form earned him the first of five England caps.
And yet as Everton successfully battled to reach fourth spot and claim a coveted Champions League place, the new record signing added little to the cause. Beattie looked slovenly and off the pace, while a red card in one of his first outings for a bizarre head-butt on Chelsea’s William Gallas scarcely endeared him to the Everton faithful.
Beattie, a schoolboy champion swimmer, had started his career with Blackburn Rovers in the mid-1990s as an understudy to Alan Shearer. He made a handful of non-scoring appearances before being sold to Southampton in July 1998 as a £1million makeweight in a deal that brought Kevin Davies to Ewood Park. His five-and-a-half years on the south coast were troubled by injury and inconsistency – Beattie could be brilliant one month and hopeless the next – but by the time he reached his mid-twenties he looked as though he might be realising his potential.
Alas it was not to be. Even when fully fit for Everton during the 2005/06 season, Beattie looked slow and leaden, his first touch ungainly, while the goal-scoring touch that once brought international recognition usually remained elusive. He hit a purple patch in spring 2006, and there were glimpses of previous form: a sublime chip against Fulham hinted at past potential. Beattie talked up his England chances ahead of that summer’s World Cup in Germany, but the forward himself seemed to be the only person who considered this a possibility.
In summer 2006, Andrew Johnson replaced Beattie as Everton’s record signing, and although Moyes tried to perm them as a striking partnership it was clear to all that this was no winning formula. More poor form and injuries had, by the end of the season, relegated Beattie to fourth choice among Everton’s strikers.
Beattie’s parting contribution came on the final day of the 2006/07 season against Chelsea when, straying into an offside position, he led to James McFadden’s late strike being disallowed. McFadden’s goal would have resulted in Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s first home defeat in five years as a manager and elevated Everton to fifth position. The moment seemed to perfectly encapsulate Beattie’s wretched time at Everton.
Beattie was sold to newly relegated Sheffield United in August 2007 for £4million. In 85 appearances he had scored just 15 times, a poor total inflated by four fiercely struck penalties – the only emphatic thing about Beattie’s time at Goodison. In the second tier he seemed to find his level, although his repeated complaints that Moyes never gave him a proper chance continued to ring hollow.