There may come a point on Tuesday when Eddie Howe decides he has to manage Callum Wilson’s minutes and a winger, who began 2023 on the bench for an Everton team in a downward spiral that seemed likely to take them into the Championship, will instead be repurposed as a centre-forward in the Champions League.
In front of more than 80,000 people in Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, probably the biggest crowd of his life. Maybe with Newcastle United’s destiny at stake.
The chances are that Anthony Gordon will relish it. A theme of Newcastle’s star-studded fixture list is that Gordon has a refusal to be intimidated by big names or big games.
He harried Paris Saint-Germain, rousing the crowd at St James’ Park in the process. He was outstanding against Liverpool, even if his goal was overshadowed by Darwin Nunez’s late double.
He flourished as an auxiliary centre-forward against Manchester United against Old Trafford. He scored Saturday’s winner against Arsenal, soon after Wilson went off and Gordon adopted his emergency role as a striker.
As many an opponent can testify, Gordon is utterly fearless. “It is one of his best qualities,” said Howe. “I think he plays the game, he doesn’t play the opponent. He wants to play every minute.”
And if opponents who Gordon seems intent on rattling may disagree with part of that analysis, the irritant has come to have an impact that has rendered a bit-part figure in spring a talismanic presence in autumn.
There are ways in which Gordon’s time at Goodison Park has served as an apprenticeship, in which Everton’s struggles may have benefited Newcastle. It ended unhappily, Gordon going on strike to try and force through a move.
Having received a £45m fee that initially looked inflated, Everton then failed to bring in a forward in January which threatened to cost them their top-flight status.
Howe had looked back further in his scouting. Newcastle and Everton – big-city clubs, high-pressure environments – have certain similarities and the Merseysiders’ eventual escape from relegation two seasons ago was a stressful affair. Gordon was pivotal then. “One of the challenges when you come to a club like Newcastle is can you play in the atmosphere, in the stadium, in intense conditions,” Howe said. “I think his experience of Everton helped him adjust to life here.”
With Richarlison sold that summer, Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s injury problems added to the appeal. Gordon was pressed into service as a striker then. “We watched him when recruiting him,” Howe recalled. “I had seen him on the left and right for Everton and really liked him in both positions but I also liked him as a centre-forward.”
Then Gordon was Frank Lampard’s new protégé, the player he compared to Mason Mount; Lampard propelled his rise and, after their paths diverged, the midfielder became a Champions League winner. It is too soon to predict that.