Gordon turns doubters into believers

Anthony Gordon kisses the Newcastle badge on his shirt
Gordon made his England debut in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Brazil at Wembley in March [Getty]

It is January 2023 and Newcastle United are looking to sign an attacking player to boost their push for a return to the Champions League after 20 years away. The most prominent name in recruitment meetings is that of Anthony Gordon.

His £45m move from Everton was met with a mixed reception. Questions were raised over his attitude a few months on from a fiery clash with his new team-mates at St James’ Park when still an Everton player.

Those fears were exacerbated by an angry reaction to being substituted by his new manager Eddie Howe at Brentford, after a frustrating start to life on the pitch for Newcastle, even as the Magpies went on to finish fourth in the Premier League.

Now with 10 Premier League goals and 10 assists in his first full season on Tyneside - the first Newcastle player to achieve that feat since Ruel Fox in 1994-95 - Gordon has a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2024 in his sights. The 23-year-old’s doubters are now believers.

‘He knew what he wanted and what he needed'

It is that commitment to self-improvement that has been the driving force behind Gordon's rise from a skinny, raw prodigy to an England hopeful. His versatility and ability to play anywhere across the front has been a huge asset too.

Neil Dewsnip, now director of football at Plymouth Argyle, signed an 11-year-old Gordon when he was head coach of Everton’s academy, before working more closely with him as manager of England Under-18s.

“Anthony was my last signing at Everton. He was a boy we looked at a few times, as did Liverpool,” Dewsnip tells BBC Sport. “He was a little bit of a late developer, physically immature.”

Another former Everton academy coach, who wished to remain anonymous, insists the club held their nerve with Gordon, whose lack of strength may well have cost him had he emerged a few years earlier.

“We could see he had potential,” he says. “The academy did well to stick with him. It was about being patient and keeping him in the system. In the past, players like Anthony might have been left behind but, as he got stronger, he came into his own.

“He was always very single-minded even back then. He knew what he wanted and what he needed.”

Gordon getting ready to come on as a substitute against Leicester
Gordon made his home debut for Everton aged 18 when he came on as a substitute against Leicester in 2019 [Getty Images]

‘He’s developed himself’

Gordon began his secondary school life at Alsop High School before being moved to one of Everton’s partner schools, Wade Deacon in Widnes, when he was 14. He would travel there from his home in Kirkdale, Liverpool.

“We always thought he’d be a big lad, which he is. We knew he’d be quick, and he’s rapid,” the coach continues. “It’s about looking at the boy and trying to see the man down the road. It is all credit to Anthony - he’s developed himself.”

A reunion with Dewsnip came with England, where Gordon joined an illustrious group of youngsters in winning the Limoges Tournament in France in 2018.

“That team had in it Bukayo Saka, Mason Greenwood, James Garner, Curtis Jones and Folarin Balogun,” adds Dewsnip. “He was part of a group that was full of exciting attacking talent.

“We had a bond together. He would come and speak to me over coffee. I coached his agent when he was younger and there was the Everton connection. I then watched his progress from a distance. I watched him play for the under-21s at Burnley. He was on one side and Cole Palmer was on the other. I thought, ‘my God, wow!’”

Gordon’s early days at Everton somewhat mirror his recent change of fortunes at Newcastle. He’s never been afraid to make his feelings known to staff, but always understood how to turn a setback into a route for progress after a six-month spell at Preston North End in 2021.

His former coach recalls: “I remember doing a finishing session with him once when he was 14. He didn’t look happy and when I spoke to him he said, ‘I don’t need that, I can do it. I need challenging. I need opposition.’ I thought, ‘wow, telling the coaches what he wants at his age’.

“I think the loan he had at Preston helped him a lot. He started well and then he didn’t get his own way. He was in and out. He came back from that loan, worked over the summer and that was the catalyst. He kicked on. If you look at him now and you look at him when he was first breaking in, the difference is massive.”

In an interview last month with former Manchester United defender Gary Neville on The Overlap podcast, Gordon spoke about dictating his own development at Newcastle.

“I stay out all the time [after training] because I feel like it has ended too quickly and I’m not ready to go in," said Gordon.

“The gaffer knows I don’t like gym work. He knows I like to do what makes me feel good and this season I’ve been injury-free. It’s worked.”

‘He’s got talent people are desperate for’

Dewsnip says Gordon’s quality was never in question, but his development has brought consistency.

“He’s done exceedingly well," he says. "His ability to run with the ball was always clear. He could get you from your penalty area when defending to the opponents’ area incredibly quickly. He is also really talented in one-v-one situations.

“The next three or four years could be very exciting for Anthony. He’s got talent people are desperate for: he can score goals and create goals. When you get older and more mature physically, you’re able to do those things more often. Maybe that’s what we are starting to see.”

Dewsnip has worked closely with Southgate and says there is no better man for Gordon to be looking to impress before the summer.

“Gareth and Steve (Holland, assistant manager) are very meticulous in their preparation. They will have watched all the top talent and left no stone unturned. The aim is to win the Euros. If Anthony is in that group, he’ll have earned the right.”

Whatever happens with England, Gordon is looking like a player who can help drive his club on to greater things, and his side visit Manchester United on Wednesday in the race for another European finish.

Howe has certainly been pleased with the way his signing has grown on Tyneside.

“I’m delighted for him,” he said after Gordon's first England call-up in March. “He’s worked so hard. It's what he's wanted since he was a young boy. He’s been outstanding and continues to grow week on week. He has scored goals and he has created goals. He has done brilliantly for the team.”