With his lurid haircuts and bleached blond beard, Portuguese international Abel Xavier added some colour to Goodison during pallid times. The Mozambique-born utility man was a £1.5million signing from PSV Eindhoven in September 1999. Tall, pacy and sound in the air, he slotted into a variety of positions across the Everton defence and midfield through his 30 months at the club, but was at his best when deployed as centre half.
Xavier arrived at Goodison with an eclectic CV. Having started out in the Portuguese leagues, he had from the mid-1990s become something of a wandering minstrel – playing in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands before his move to England. A sound, technically accomplished player, Xavier was let down by a series of niggling injuries and illnesses as well as a tendency to go missing from games. As such, he was never a cast iron selection in the Everton team.
His form through the 1999/2000 season was, nevertheless, enough for him to earn selection for Portugal’s European Championship squad at the season’s end. Xavier attracted Europe wide notoriety when a penalty area hand ball was harshly given against him in extra time against France; Xavier’s lengthy and aggressive protests earned him UEFA’s opprobrium, who fined him £8,000 and banned him from European and international competition for nine months. Xavier announced his disappointment at the ban, because it limited his chances of a move away from Everton!
Invariably Walter Smith took a dim view of this and in 2000/01 excluded him from the first team, until an injury crisis took hold. Xavier continued to fill in as a squad player, impressing in flashes. But with his contract running down, in January 2002 Smith decided that an £800,000 offer from Liverpool was too good to refuse.
Xavier never really settled at Anfield, and thereafter resumed his nomadic career with spells in Turkey, Germany and Italy. In 2005 he returned to the Premier League with Middlesbrough, but was banned for a year after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. Later, there was a spell in the MLS with David Beckham’s LA Galaxy. It seemed fitting that one of football’s last eccentrics should end up in Hollywood.