There’s a bite of arrogance to Anthony Gordon’s play that wrangles the British media in just the right way. Dele Alli had it and lost it amidst his frenzied rise to stardom. You have to play the game, and Gordon has been treading the tightrope his whole career.
From diving to deserting, Gordon’s never been far from scandal, but under the guidance of Eddie Howe, he’s controlling his own narrative again, adding substance to the swagger. Newcastle may be struggling with expectations this season, but Gordon is rising to them, and he’ll be integral to turning around the Magpies’s campaign.
Newcastle have lost their last four Premier League games, and for the first time since taking charge in November 2021, Howe is beginning to feel the pressure. Gordon, though, is stepping up. Where results have been erratic, Gordon’s numbers have been steady – he has yet to go longer than two games without a goal or an assist this season.
The back pages will tell you Gordon enjoys the limelight (a little too much). They wouldn’t be wrong. Winning goals against Arsenal and Manchester United talk for themselves. Far from the tabloid tittle-tattle that engulfed his unceremonious exit from boyhood club Everton, the 22-year-old is letting his football do the talking.
Unwaveringly confident, he takes kicks for his antics – the Kirkdale-born winger has drawn the fifth most fouls in the Premier League this season, but he’s been taking kicks his whole career. From accusations that he forced a move away from Everton in the midst of a relegation battle to talk of persistent diving, Gordon has been kicked from pillar to post on and off the pitch.
Is he bothered? Not in the slightest.
“I’m getting kicked quite a lot. I’ll take it as a compliment because I must be doing something well,” he told PA Sport in 2022 after he coaxed midfielder Armando Dobra into picking up two yellow cards in an England U-21 game against Albania.
Gordon is never far away from a booking himself and his temperament can get the better of him, as showcased by his one-game suspension earlier this season. It’s the behaviour of a boy coming of age in the spotlight, and this is where Howe’s revered man management comes into play. After five yellows in his first seven games, Gordon has picked up just two in his last 12 games. Gordon is temperamental but supremely talented, and Howe knows this.
Channelling all that energy into something productive has been a struggle, though. Gordon arrived on Tyneside with more than just the clothes on his back for baggage, and in 16 appearances, he mustered just one goal – on the final day of the season away to Chelsea in something of a dead rubber contest.
Despite a historic season for Newcastle, which included a League Cup final, Champions League qualification and a run of 14 games unbeaten from March to May, Gordon’s place in the side was very much in question. The £45m transfer fee had already drawn its critics, but he was never quite trusted by Howe following his January arrival. It seemed as though his head was still on Merseyside.
Howe never lost faith, though, and in his post-match press conference following a 3-1 victory over Southampton in April, in which Gordon was replaced at half-time, the former Bournemouth manager reasserted his belief in the nippy young winger.
“We’ve seen glimpses of unbelievable potential. I’ve got no doubts – I’ve said this previously – that he’ll be a top player for us. Sometimes these things take a little bit longer for everyone else to see, but I’ve got no doubts.”
Gordon has always been able to harness words and use them to his advantage. Many of the challenges he’s faced in his career have come in this form. Few have been exposed to the mental rigmarole of being a young footballer in England quite like Gordon, and so when he exploded at the U-21 European Championship last summer, it felt like a release of so much pent-up potential.
England won every game en route to lifting the title, with Gordon playing a starring role and scoring the winning goal against Portugal in the quarter-finals. His daring performances were a response to all the talk, and when he arrived back in Newcastle for pre-season he looked ready to put everything behind him and embrace his talent.
Gordon hasn’t looked back since, growing in stature and influence with every game that passes. But with injuries continuing to stack up for Newcastle, Gordon, so often one to revel in the responsibility, may have got more than he bargained for as he looks to propel the Magpies back up the table after a difficult winter period. Doubtless, though, Gordon will relish the opportunity.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tony McArdle – Everton FC