The former forward was headhunted by Arsene Wenger and scored 24 minutes into his England debut but his career never took off in north London

At half time in the 2003 international friendly at Upton Park between England and Australia, the entire starting XI of the Three Lions team was substituted by manager Sven-Goran Eriksen, with 11 fresh players taking to the field for the second half.

Among them, in the 4-4-2 formation, were two debutant strikers, both of whom had both grown up in Croxteth, Liverpool, and progressed through Evertons academy before moving on to Premier League giants.

One was Arsenal forward Francis Jeffers. The other, five years his junior, was a 17-year-old prospect by the name of Wayne Rooney.

England went on to lose the game 3-1 in one of their most disappointing results of the 21st century, with the only bright spark coming from a young striker scoring on his debut.

However, it wasnt Rooney who netted – it was Jeffers, who met Jermaine Jenas cross at the near post to glance a header past Mark Schwarzer in the 69th minute.

Flash forward nearly 20 years, and the paths of two debutants have diverged to an extreme degree.

Rooney is retired with honour as Englands all-time leading scorer and multiple title-winner with Manchester United, Jeffers has long since faded into obscurity, with his record for England at senior level forever standing still at one game, one goal.

It was not supposed to be this way when Jeffers made his debut for Everton as a 16-year-old in a Premier League game against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1997 – the same age as Rooney would be on his first senior Toffees start five years later.

Jeffers was one of English footballs hottest young properties in the late 90s and early 2000s.

For the national teams Under-21s, he scored 13 goals in just 16 matches – a record that he jointly held with Alan Shearer for 17 years, before Eddie Nketiah surpassed both in 2020.

A fox in the box with an instinctive eye for a goal, he signed for Arsenal in June 2001 after catching the eye of Arsene Wenger.

Jeffers cost the Gunners £8 million ($10.7m), which was a sizable fee at the time for a young, inexperienced striker.

However, his chances were few due to multiple injuries, particularly to his ankle and shoulder, and the irrepressible form of Arsenals first-choice front two, Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord.

The lack of opportunities got to Jeffers, and he admits his attitude at Arsenal was not perfect.

“I was out partying, living life, tossing it off in training because I always thought I wouldn’t play Saturday anyway,” he told the Independent in 2014. “Now, I look back with a lot of regrets.

“That is where I should have been putting it in more. Wenger gave me a fair crack of the whip. I haven’t got a bad word to say about him. He tells you how it is, one of the only managers I played for who did.

“He said there were things going on in my head that shouldn’t have been and that it was an important time in my career. I am not saying I threw it all away, because I had a decent career.

“I fulfilled a lot of ambitions but I always say it, I know how much ability I had. I’m not soft. I know how good a player I was. One England cap wasn’t enough.”

Arsenal won the Premier League in 2001-02, but Jeffers made only six league appearances in that campaign.

He was on the bench as an unused sub when Wiltord scored the goal against Man Utd at Old Trafford that won the Gunners the title.

He made 28 appearances in 2002-03, but only two league starts as Henry and Wiltord proved immovable.

This all came after he had played 60 games for Everton by the age of 20, scoring 20 goals.

Even Jeffers admits turning his back on regular Premier League football as a teenager for a bench-warming role at a bigger club was a major mistake.

He said in 2017: “I went from being a regular at Everton to going down there and not being able to get into the team.

“When you’re sitting at home and think back at how your career’s gone, I feel my head was turned. I was only young. It was difficult because I felt Arsenal were the best team in the league at the time.

“It was a tough decision for me because I’m an Evertonian, I’d been a season-ticket holder all my life. It was a big decision but one that never worked out for me.”

In total, he only played 39 games for the Gunners, scoring eight goals.

Jeffers later career was the definition of nomadic – he played for Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday, before having spells in Australia, Scotland and Malta after a return to the Premier League with Blackpool failed to materialise.

Eventually, Jeffers retired in 2013 aged just 32, after failed trials with non-league clubs Bury and Chester. He even travelled out to Singapore to train with Brunei DPMM, but could not get a deal.

Jeffers then moved into coaching, and was most recently first team coach at Ipswich Town.

On LinkedIn, he describes himself as having had “a successful playing career in the Premier League and Championship, as well as representing England.”

Like so much else on LinkedIn, thats not the full story.

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