Everton midfielder James Garner felt he had no choice but to leave Manchester United last season to avoid being “stuck in the mud”.
Super Sunday sees Sean Dyche’s side in action for the first time since they were slapped with a 10-point penalty for breaching the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules – a punishment they intend to appeal against.
Their severe treatment has stoked the fires at Goodison Park and Manchester United, who have lost nine of their opening 17 games in all competitions, might face a backlash.
Garner, who has been capped by England at every level from U17s to U21s, spent loans at both Watford and Nottingham Forest in the hope it would lead to becoming a first-team regular at United.
But with Everton now second-bottom in the table, the player is ready to take the fight to his former club, live on Sky Sports.
In an interview with the BBC earlier this season, the 22-year-old reflected: “When I came back to United, I felt like I had a good enough season to have a shot.
“But unfortunately I got injured on the first day and it set me back two or three weeks, so the manager did not get to see me in training and games.
“It was a decision where – after having two seasons in men’s football – I wanted to be part of a team and squad, ideally starting too.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get that at United so I made the decision to move here. I could have gone on loan again and come back but I felt I would have been in the exact same position I was then.
“I didn’t want to be stuck in the mud, I needed to make a decision to leave one of the best clubs in the world, which was hard, but it is one I am happy I made.”
It is understandable why Garner is happy with his decision to put pen-to-paper on a £15m deal having played 32 games since signing a four-year contract back in the summer of 2022, with the option of a further year.
Garner joined United’s youth system aged just eight, but while at Old Trafford he made just seven senior appearances – including just twice in the Premier League.
Having been restricted to two substitute cameos last term against his former employees, Garner is expected to keep his place from the start at the weekend.
Dyche has selected him in some capacity in 22 consecutive Premier League games, including 18 starts, after the start to his career on Merseyside was interrupted by a back injury.
Abdoulaye Doucoure’s pressing has meant that Garner is forming a partnership with Amadou Onana in midfield, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting forward.
His two goals in his last eight appearances in all competitions is twice as many as he had managed in his first 24 matches for the Toffees.
Garner emerging as one of Moshiri’s best buys
Everton were hit last week with an unprecedented 10-point penalty after being found to have “taken chances” with the Premier League’s financial rules.
An independent commission found the club’s desire to improve their on-pitch performance had resulted in them acting “irresponsibly” and exceeding permitted losses under the league’s profitability and sustainability rules (PSR).
But Garner’s arrival looks like one of the more astute pieces of business under owner Farhad Moshiri.
His increasing maturity comes after he formed part of the England team that won the 2023 UEFA U21 Championship, in which he was also named in the team of the tournament.
Manager Lee Carsley said his core message to his departing players was to take ownership of the chances that come their way – and Everton’s improvement in the second set of six league matches this season has coincided with Dyche moving Garner into a central role.
Garner began the season featuring on the right flank but with both Jack Harrison and Dwight McNeil now fully fit, Dyche is getting the right balance from his midfield.
Manchester United’s own troubles in that department will only be brought into sharper focus if Garner shines again this weekend.
Christian Eriksen has joined a lengthening injury list that Erik Ten Hag is having to tackle, while Casemiro’s indifferent form has been compounded by a hamstring injury that will keep him out until the New Year.
At Goodison at 4.30pm on Sunday, Garner – backed by a partisan crowd – will be looking to make a statement of his own.
Calvert-Lewin: Everton players united after points deduction
Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has spoken about how the players have reacted to last Friday’s sanction of a 10-point deduction for the club.
The Premier League’s PSR permit losses of £105m over a three-year period. Everton’s losses up to 2021-22 were found to be £124.5m, exceeding the limit by £19.5m even accounting for allowances made for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the club’s website, he said: “I think, given the circumstances, I’ve sensed a lot of unity and togetherness. We were off on the international break when the news broke, but coming back in this week, I don’t feel like it’s fazed us players.
“We know, as a group, we can’t affect that. All we can affect is what’s in front of us, and that’s the game on Sunday, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Thelwell: Points deduction ‘wholly disproportionate’
Everton director of football Kevin Thelwell said his club have extra motivation following their “wholly disproportionate” points deduction.
Thelwell said on the club’s official website: “What does remain in place is the unity, focus and determination that helped earn those points on the field of play – now supplemented by the additional fuel of what we believe is a wholly disproportionate ruling.
“We are rallying in the face of a sporting sanction in the only way we can – and that is our focus and hard work in supporting the team in delivering to their fullest on the pitch.
“Everton is a special football club. It is a special football club because of its people – our players, staff and fans.”
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