One of the rare bright spots in a depressingly gloomy season to date has been the emergence of Muhamed Besic.
The Balkan destroyer, a £4million summer buy from Hungarian side Ferencvaros, is the sort of player Evertonians love to take to their hearts.
For all the adulation the supporters afford to the club’s legendary number nines such as Duncan Ferguson and Bob Latchford, or skilful wingers such as Alan Ball or Kevin Sheedy, Everton fans love a player who can go in with a good, solid, bone-crunching tackle.
Goodison Park is at its best when it is angry, with the supporters growling and snarling at every tackle, just inches from the players’ faces.
The driving force of that anger comes from the centre of the park, in the engine room. Players like Peter Reid, Barry Horne and Joe Parkinson, hard men who would literally bleed for the cause.
Not that Besic is simply a Vinnie Jones-style nut case. Very much the modern footballer he also possesses finesse and skill, an honorary member of Joe Royle’s ‘Dogs of War’ but with a modern, 21st century twist.
His passion, aggression and 100% commitment is a refreshing throwback in an era where tackling is slowly being ostracised. Though his eight yellow cards to date suggest the authorities take a more dim view of his actions.
The performances of such a player are magnified when the team is struggling, as Everton have been recently. Flair and fancy tricks are usually the first things to go when confidence is low, so the least the supporters want to see – especially in the Premier League – is 100% commitment.
They want to see players that play like they care, that the team matters, and are prepared to put their body on the line for the cause. It is little wonder then that Besic has been a shining beacon in the dark frozen wastes of a winter run that has seen the club win just twice in their last 14 matches.
Saturday’s derby, and the much-hyped final appearance by Mr Gerrard, seems like the perfect occasion for Besic to tackle his way further into Evertonian affections.
Roberto Martinez has already revealed he is not going to ask the 22-year-old to rein in his aggressive instincts as it would limit his impact on the game. Though such an approach does carry with it an inherent risk – this is after all the Merseyside derby, the fixture that has seen more sending offs in the Premier League than any other.
Despite that Evertonians don’t want him to change either. Besic plays with his heart as much as with his head and the fans love him for it. If anyone carries with him onto the pitch the heart and spirit of derby hero Duncan Ferguson, its Mo.
For all the pace and attacking trickery on show at Goodison on Saturday, with the likes of Mirallas, Barkley, Coutinho and Sterling. It is the likes of Besic who could dictate where this latest local tussle will fall.
Derby matches traditionally kick-off at 100 miles an hour, with the players barely given room to breathe let alone think and play a pass. Everton cannot afford to sit back and let Liverpool play in front of them so they will need to win those early tussles in order to gain a foothold in the game. There are few players in the Everton squad you would pick before Besic to lead you into such a battle.
It is the sort of game he is made for and could well be his defining moment in an Everton shirt.