Oldham's Beckenbauer keen to make his name
Tarkowski hoping to shine against Suarez under cup spotlight, writes Paul Wilson
A visit to Oldham has always been a bit like stepping back in time, but a trip to Boundary Park at the moment can make you feel positively old. You can still park in the same place behind the Broadway stand, only it feels like parking next to the pitch now because the stand has disappeared.
Having one side of the ground completely open to the Pennine weather does not make the old ice box any cosier, and it is impossible to believe that this was a Premier League venue 20 years ago, or that a couple of seasons before that it was the stadium where English football got its first glimpse of Eric Cantona.
Simply recalling Cantona in a Leeds shirt makes you feel old, as does the imperishable memory of Oldham running out to Mouldy Old Dough. They used to do that, honestly, though by the time Joe Royle took them up into the First Division, as the top flight was known at the time, they had changed their tune to the smarter though still homely Fanfare For The Common Man.
Nothing, however, makes you feel quite as old as James Tarkowski explaining why he followed Manchester United as a youth and received The Class of '92 DVD as a Christmas present.
"I always feel like I belong to the class of '92," he says. "That was the year I was born. I quite literally grew up watching Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. They were top players: well, Giggs still is a top player and it is incredible that our playing careers have now overlapped. But as a centre-half more recently I have been watching John Terry and Nemanja Vidic and trying to learn from them."
Tarkowski has evidently been learning well. In addition to picking up the slightly unwieldy nickname of the 'New Moston Beckenbauer' -- New Moston being an area of Oldham near Chadderton, Beckenbauer being a German legend with whom Tarkowski was unfamiliar until checking out his doppelganger on YouTube -- the Latics player has found himself being watched by leading Premier League sides. There have been up to a dozen scouts at Boundary Park for some games, and the managers already aware of his ability include Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes.
The latter had his eye on the 6ft 1in defender while still at Everton, the former will be able to make his own appraisal in the FA Cup third-round tie at Anfield this afternoon.
A decent performance against Liverpool, where his task will be the tiny matter of keeping Luis Suarez quiet, should do Tarkowski's career advancement no harm at all. "I hope Suarez plays," he says. "I don't know what sort of a side Liverpool are going to put out, but if we can beat them it would be nice to say we beat their best team.
"I feel the same about Suarez himself. You don't often get the chance to pit your wits against one of the best players in the world, and it's something I'm looking forward to. I haven't been watching him specially. I watch a lot of Premier League games anyway, I never miss Match of the Day, and if you do that you cannot help but see a lot of Suarez. If you switch on the television or open the papers you can't really miss him."
That may sound like braggadocio, though Oldham did knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup last year, and a 21-year-old who not only still lives with his parents but can be seen escorting his mum around Morrisons in Chadderton most Friday nights is about as grounded a character as can be found in professional football.
One of the reasons Tarkowski is unlikely to get carried away is that he knows how close he came to being rejected by Oldham last summer. He was an unused substitute when Liverpool were beaten 3-2 last January, though he did play against Everton in the following round after Paul Dickov had left and been replaced by caretaker Tony Philliskirk.
Tarkowski's contract was up for renewal last summer and be believes he would have had to leave the club had Dickov stayed, whereas new manager Lee Johnson not only wanted to keep him but was willing to give him a run in the team.
"One manager likes you, another one doesn't," he says. "That's the way the game goes, isn't it? It's all about opinions. If I am playing well enough to attract the attention of bigger clubs then that's very flattering, but after what has happened in the past I am happy enough at Oldham at the present. I believe in my ability and I would like to play at the top level at some point. Hopefully that time will come, but right now I am at a good club with a good manager and I'm playing every week. That's all you can ask as a player. That and a decent FA Cup third-round draw.
"We've had Liverpool three times on the bounce now, and this is my first chance of playing."