FORTUNATELY Victor Anichebe has especially broad shoulders.
Not just because the 6ft3in striker’s powerful physique continues to endear him to David Moyes, but because he has had to endure some acute criticism in the six years since he made his Everton debut.
The Crosby-raised front-man’s topsy turvy career can be summed up in the space of just two recent games.
Jeered before kick-off by some travelling Toffees supporters at Wigan’s DW stadium, he left the field to a Goodison ovation just seven days later after a tireless performance against Manchester City.
That sustained applause was enthusiastically led by his manager, who has kept the faith in Anichebe – through a difficult season hampered by more injury and contract controversy.
Now the striker is raring to continue his mini personal revival against West Brom tomorrow, coincidentally the team he scored his first Premier League goal against in 2006, and he hopes he has turned a corner with the Goodison faithful.
Anichebe insists vehemently that he knew nothing about the specifics of his contract negotiations in January, when he was reported to have stalled on a lucrative new salary before signing a four-and-a-half year deal.
But he regrets how the saga has haunted his efforts to win over Evertonians, while behind the scenes he has learned a valuable lesson about hard work.
“The applause when I came off against Manchester City was nice. It made me feel wanted,” says a reflective Anichebe who has suffered two serious injuries in as many seasons that have left him frustrated and seriously lacking in first team football.
“I had such a good pre-season and had high hopes, then I got another setback.
“This time it was the hardest to take. At least with my injury last time (a serious knee problem after Kevin Nolan’s x-rated 2009 tackle against Newcastle) it was an impact injury and I knew how long I’d be out. Plus I had Mikel and Jags to help me then.
“But this latest one was worse. It felt like it could be my year, and there was a buzz about the season. I felt strong and confident. I even went on a fitness course in the summer in LA before we went on tour to Australia to try and get myself fitter.
“But I got injured before the season started and was out until nearly December, and the annoying thing was we didn't know how long I’d be out. Sometimes I’d try and come back and break down. It was a bone bruise on my left knee and eventually they had to operate and clean it out.
“I found it hard going to the games and some of the players would say “We need you back” and I'd tell them I'd be back soon, and kept saying it, but it didn’t happen. The thing with me is I find it hard to get back fit anyway.
“But the manager and the staff have helped me a lot. Alan Stubbs has given me reserve games to build myself up. Dave Billows and Steve Tash have helped and kept believing in me.
“Then of course when I finally came back the team was struggling, and it coincided with my contract situation.”
Anichebe says he can understand why some fans were angry at his perceived reluctance to sign, even if it was not true.
“They had a reason because of what they read about my contract,” he says. “I understand in a way where they were coming from. I was injured and then had came back, and the papers were saying I’d rejected £30,000 a week. I didn’t even know what was happening.
“I came to the game against Wigan and went into the changing room to ask what happened? My mate texted me that morning to ask if I’d rejected £30k. I hadn’t even heard about the negotiations.
“I just leave it to my agent and the club. I didn't even know the figures.
“I was only 22 at the time and had been injured so I appreciate it will infuriate the fans if they think someone has knocked back a lot of money. Especially with the economy the way it is. Hopefully everyone has moved on now and they can see I want it.”
Anichebe says his priority now is hard-graft, on the pitch and off. He intends to head to Los Angeles again this summer before Everton’s US pre-season tour for more fitness work, but wants to show his ever-improving stamina in Everton’s last two games.
“People keep telling me to set personal goals, but I've been out for 18 months,” he says. “I simply want to keep fit, keep working hard, and the manager has said to me the goals will come then.
“Lasting 90 minutes is the main thing for me, or at least the later stages of a game. That’s when you get your goals.
“If you come off after 50 or 60 minutes it’s going to be hard, but that’s down to me not the manager. That’s down to my fitness. The manager can play me for as long as he likes and if I’m tiring he has to take me off, but if I can last 85 minutes flat-out working hard, nobody can question you.
“That’s what I’ve learned through my experience being injured - if you work hard nobody can question you.
“Look at Carlos Tevez – as much as he’s a great player he works his socks off. You don’t see Messi stop running either. Even Drogba when he came to the Premier League; he was always bullying defenders and working. In the past I could do that for 30 minutes, but I want to keep building it up. Once I can do it for 90 minutes I can go a lot of places.”
As one of the original founder members of the Football League, Everton are a club steeped in history and tradition and have played more seasons in the top flight of English football than any other club. Their association with the greatest cup competition in the world has thus conjured some wonderful moments, and this offering from Sport Media celebrates a century of memories since their first FA Cup success in 1906. Celebrate a century of memories with 'Everton's FA Cup 100'. Read