In the late nineties, there was a lot of excitement on Merseyside about two teenage prospects. Liverpool had Michael Owen, Everton had Danny Cadamarteri. They had been born just two months apart and shared the same explosive pace and eye for goal.
They were international team-mates but rivals at club level. While Owen went on to score more than 100 Premier League goals and lift several trophies for Liverpool before injuries caught up with him, Cadamarteri never scaled the heights he was supposed to.
His time at Everton came to an end amid regret and off-field scandal.
“The hardest thing for me as a young player was that I was still going through a massive phase of development,” Cadamarteri says. “That was fast-tracked very early on. A lot of players my age, who I played with for Everton and England, had been in the academy system for a long period of time.
“A good example was Michael Owen. We came through at the same sort of time and played in similar England youth squads as well. He obviously went on to have an unbelievable career.
“He was a very, very talented footballer, but he played in a team that was doing really well, full of confidence and challenging at the top end. Whereas I came into an Everton team that was at the bottom end of the table and having to fight week in, week out.
“The experiences that I had were probably a little bit different to Michael’s at times. I probably lost out on spending a little bit longer in a coached environment at youth and reserve team level.
“There were areas of my game that I needed to improve on, and I didn’t really have the opportunity to because we were playing Saturdays and Tuesdays a lot of time, with rest periods in between.
“Afterwards I felt that I’d lost out on quite a lot of opportunity to develop as a player and really maximise the potential that I had. As I got older I realised that, but at the time you’re just enjoying being in that environment. Being in the first team and being in the limelight.”
Merseyside derby hero
The start of the 1997-98 season was when Cadamarteri first alerted the country to his ability, scoring four goals in five games for Everton. The last of that run was by far the most significant, completing a 2-0 win over Liverpool at Goodison Park.
He had only turned 18 earlier that week but he had raw talent and played with a refreshing fearlessness.
“The rivalry was built up quite a lot within our own dressing room before the actual game,” he says. “Knowing that I was going to play, I was in that mode of just enjoying myself and expressing myself, so I didn’t really have any nerves before the game.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been through it before so I wasn’t prepared for what the occasion would actually be like. That kind of helped me to be settled before the game anyway.
“Being involved in it was an amazing experience. A massive crowd at home and the expectation was on Liverpool to beat us.
“It was a fantastic feeling to be involved in such a big game at such a young age. It was the icing on the cake to score and contribute to a win. It was priceless.”
Everton were already leading through a Neil Ruddock own goal when Cadamarteri made the result safe with 15 minutes remaining.
It was all his own work, as he closed down Bjorn Tore Kvarme just inside the Liverpool half, nicked the ball off him and charged through. He slowed down to beat the covering Ruddock and then fired unerringly past David James. Graham Stuart held him aloft in celebration as the home crowd erupted.
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It all started so brightly before petering out. There were 10 more goals for Cadamarteri in an Everton shirt but another academy graduate increasingly took precedence.
Francis Jeffers was a year younger than him and a local boy. He quickly became the preferred option to play alongside Kevin Campbell, putting Cadamarteri in the shade.
“I’d had a small operation on my ankle and I’d been out the team while I was recovering. While that situation happened, Francis Jeffers had come into the team and struck up a really good relationship with Kevin Campbell. They became a formidable partnership.
“Kev was big and strong and aggressive. He scored goals and could play in many different ways, whereas Francis could feed off the knock-downs. He was a poacher and he was sharp. Probably like me when I first came into the team. Full of energy, enthusiasm and endeavour, and he could finish. They really complemented each other.
“The team’s fortunes improved so I found it very difficult to get back into the frame. The opportunity came up for me to come back home to Bradford. Initially it was just a loan spell. The timing was really good to go home, be closer to my friends and family, play games and see where it went from there.”
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After scoring on his Bradford debut, the move was immediately made permanent in February 2002.
“It was a big decision for me, because I had a year and a half left on my contract but it just felt, with the circumstances of everything on and off the pitch, this was the right thing for me to do. To be able to move home and revitalise my career as much as possible.”
As Cadamarteri acknowledges, he had gone from being Everton’s golden boy to something of an outcast. A year earlier he had been charged with assault after punching a woman who had attacked one of his friends on a night out. He had first denied that he was there before admitting that he had acted in self-defence.
Cadamarteri was found guilty and fined £2,000. His reputation was in tatters and Everton were prepared to let him leave despite his obvious promise. He later received a community service order for admitting conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to the initial offence. It was a humbling period that he still reflects on almost 20 years later.
“I’ve had some unbelievable experiences, both positive and negative,” he says. “The negative ones have made me the person I am now. I’ve drawn on those areas where I haven’t done great, and with the career I’m in now, they’ve made me an experienced coach off the pitch, not just on it, for players and parents that I deal with.
“In some senses, those negative experiences have really broadened my own development long term. Even though they were a negative and a detriment to me at the time, they’re now a positive to me because they’ve allowed me to be better at everything I do now.”
Reflecting on his past
Those mistakes, as well as a subsequent six-month drugs ban, undoubtedly influenced how Cadamarteri was perceived within football, but he doesn’t hold them responsible for the course of his career. Although he didn’t stay at the top level or represent the England senior team, he’s still proud of what he managed to achieve.
“It would be easy for me to say, ‘This is the reason why I didn’t do this, and that’s the reason why I didn’t do that.’ But then I look back now and I still had a 19-year playing career so I didn’t do bad,” he laughs.
“I managed to play for a good chunk of time. I played in the Premier League, the Championship, League One, the Scottish Premier League, the Europa League.
“I had some fantastic experiences, even though I probably didn’t fulfil the potential I might have had. That’s ifs, buts and maybes. I might never have had off-the-field incidents and still not reached those heights. I don’t know.
“You always regret things that don’t go well, or aren’t a positive in your life, of course you do, but as a person I reflect on them a bit differently now.
“I always think that everything happens for a reason and they’ve made me the person I am. The things I was involved in made me a stronger person, a better person and a better coach.”
Looking towards the future
Cadamarteri started off doing fitness coaching while he was still playing for Huddersfield Town. He retired in 2014 and has been involved at many different levels of the game, helping children and first team players alike.
He runs his own academy and is currently the youth-team manager at Oldham Athletic, having previously worked with Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and the England Under-18s.
“I’m 40 years of age now. It’s very difficult for me to set a long-term goal. I used to set targets and goals. I used to say, ‘I want to do this in five years’ time,’ but there are so many that can happen, as we’ve just seen with this pandemic.
I think it’s unrealistic these days to set such a long-term target so, for myself, I look at small micro-targets. What I want to do short term, medium term, long term, and how do you get to them.
“At this moment in time I’m really enjoying being in development. There are a few areas within football development that I really want to explore, whether it be on the coach education side or the youth development side.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and I just want to see where it takes me. I just want to maximise my own knowledge.”
By Sean Cole