Jarrad Branthwaite’s Erling Haaland humiliation a red herring – he is Everton’s best asset

Erling Haaland of Manchester City tussles with Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton FC at Etihad Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Manchester, England
Haaland demolished Everton's young defender before netting the winner - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

For Jarrad Branthwaite, this was about as humiliating as it gets for a centre back – out-muscled, out-paced, knocked over and left in the dirt as the opposition’s centre forward ran in on his unprotected goalkeeper to score.

As Erling Haaland, who had blasted past him in a one-on-one battle with a mixture of speed and brute strength, wheeled away in celebration, Branthwaite looked crestfallen. In fact, he did not really know where to look.

The young defender did not want to make eye contact with his team-mates and certainly not goalkeeper Jordan Pickford behind him. He did not want to dwell on the bouncing, crowing Manchester City supporters in the stands either.

Instead, his gaze was drawn to the grass, as he bent down and readjusted his socks and shin pads. You could imagine the large exhale of air from his lungs as he contemplated what had just happened. It had been embarrassing for sure.

Branthwaite was the last defender when Kevin De Bruyne threaded a perfectly weighted through ball for the already in motion Haaland to run on to. That was the key element in Haaland’s favour. He was facing the right way, running towards the goal. Branthwaite was already trying to recover position when he tried to win the ball.

Haaland’s speed was already too much and Branthwaite sort of fell over his own feet as the big Norwegian galloped past him. He may even have felt flecks of mud spray into his face as he watched him go past like a racehorse building up speed between fences.

We all know Haaland is a thoroughbred. Very few can stop him. Arguably the world’s best centre forward had barely touched the ball all afternoon, but he still scored two goals to win Manchester City the match and, briefly, put the reigning champions back on top of the Premier League.

As much focus as there will be on Branthwaite’s moment to try and forget in the build up to City’s second goal, particularly by those who consume football through neatly packaged highlight reels, we should not lose sight of the fact this is a 21-year-old who has been superb for Everton this season.

So good in fact that Telegraph Sport understands he will be one of the most coveted defensive players in Europe when the transfer window opens in the summer. All of the big clubs have scouted him this season and most have been impressed. Sean Dyche, the Everton manager, knows exactly what he has. We may well be talking about Branthwaite as a thoroughbred too in the not too distant future.

Even in a game where he ended up being exposed and belittled by Haaland, Branthwaite showed his class. He is big and strong and dominant in the air. But he is also quick, mobile and athletic. He can play a bit too. The raw ingredients are there for a very special dish.

Just before City’s goal, there was a moment of class from the former Carlisle United prospect, as he leant on Julian Alvarez and took the ball off him with ease. Not only that, but he then shifted his balance, beating the Argentinian’s attempt to win it back and calmly passed through City’s press which should have sent Everton away on an attack.

In the first half, Branthwaie’s positioning was also perfect as he repeatedly cut out dangerous balls into the box from the electric Jeremy Doku.

Everton have got a jewel but will they have to cash in on him? Carlisle United will certainly hope so. The struggling League One club inserted a sell-on clause between 20 and 25 per cent into the deal that saw the then teenager leave for Everton in 2020 after making just nine appearances for his hometown club.

Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on February 03, 2024 in Liverpool, England
Branthwaite has been a shining light for Everton this season - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Everton will be reluctant sellers and an asking price of around £100 million was being floated around football circles in the January window. Even if he goes for £70 million to £80 million, that is a huge, path-altering sum of money that will be coming Carlisle’s way. Branthwaite will be delighted about that. He has never forgotten where he came from and how he got here.

In an ideal world, Everton would not need to lose a player of Branthwaite’s potential, but their financial issues are well known and rivals will look to exploit them again in the summer.

Just because he was on the receiving end of another goal for Haaland’s Greatest Hits collection, does not make Branthwaite a bad defender. He is arguably the best young English centre back in the Premier League and should be judged on the season as a whole.

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