“Our second top scorer is Kevin [Mirallas] or Ross [Barkley] on four or five goals, we have nobody from midfield scoring ten goals. We need more players scoring goals other than strikers. We talk about players who are really more productive than we have, that’s important.”
Those were the words of Ronald Koeman even before he sold Romelu Lukaku, the man who scored an astonishing 42% of Everton’s Premier League goals last season. At that juncture, we can safely say that Koeman was “talking about” Gylfi Sigurdsson, top of any list of attacking midfielders who was a) available and b) within Everton’s price range. No other non-striker outside of the top six scored more than the Icelander’s nine goals last season.
The key word from Koeman there is “productive”; in his quest to bridge the gap to the top six, the Dutchman did not need the most skillful players nor the most aesthetically pleasing, but the most effective.
When he bought Davy Klaasen and his 14 Eredivisie goals and ten assists, he was buying productivity. When he bought Sandro Ramirez and his 14 La Liga goals, he was buying productivity. At this stage of Everton’s development, they are investing in measurables. They needed goals from somebody other than Lukaku and they have bought goals; Sigurdsson exactly fits that philosophy.
Those who focus on Sigurdsson’s set-piece prowess and prefix that phrase with the word ‘just’ are entirely missing the point of buying a player being bought for exactly that prowess. It is a proven weapon. It is as close as you can get to a guarantee in Premier League football. Nobody else notched eight assists from set-pieces last season; nobody got close to his 52 chances created from set-pieces. For a side that relied heavily on set-piece situations last season (only two clubs created more such chances), buying a set-piece specialist far better than any they have got is as square peg/hole as Manchester United’s move for Lukaku.
Some will question a fee likely to be above £40m for a player soon to be 28, but Everton’s new-found largesse means that they need not worry too much about sell-on value. If Sigurdsson helps turn a top six into a top seven, then it matters not a jot if he is worth only a Jack Cork in three years’ time. Everton dream of being a big club again and this is what big clubs do – pay an inflated price for a footballer from a smaller club whose skill set exactly matches a gap in their squad.
You may instinctively believe that Barkley is a better footballer than Sigurdsson – many who have banged the ‘next Gascoigne’ drum are on their third or fourth set of drumsticks – but Koeman has long since lost patience with the enigmatic and unpredictable; he needs end product. He does not want the new Gascoigne, he wants the cheap version of Christian Eriksen. He wants goals and he wants assists because he wants the points that will make a dent in that 15-point gap to the top four.
Of the 13 footballers to notch a combined 20 Premier League goals and assists last season, only two played for clubs outside the top six. Everton have just sold one of those players, and they are about to buy the other. Both deals make perfect sense at just about any price.