With a new manager and new investment, it's no surprise that there have already been plenty of Everton-related transfer rumors flying around the internet this month. While more often than not these rumors turn out to be nothing, it's still interesting and potentially worthwhile to consider how rumored targets might fit in and what they could contribute if signed. For the first of what could be a summer-long series, we'll take a look at Manchester United attacker Juan Mata, FC Porto striker Vincent Aboubakar, and Galatasaray midfielder Wesley Sneijder.
Despite being Chelsea's player of the year in 2012-13, José Mourinho did not take a liking to the Spanish midfielder and eventually sold him to Manchester United in January of 2014 for £37,000,000. With Mourinho now the manager of United, it is unclear if they will be able to work together and according to SkyBet, Everton are currently favorites to sign him.
Mata has been an elite playmaker for some time now and his name will undoubtedly cause a stir for that reason. However, his offensive production has for the most part been dropping steadily since that wonderful 2012/13 campaign:
Last season his numbers were quite similar to those of Ross Barkley but with fewer shots, though one needs to keep in mind that he was playing in a very restrictive system under Louis van Gaal. Mata has never been known for his defensive work, though his interception/tackle numbers are still respectable for his position and are also comparable to Barkley.
The Spaniard remains a top talent and his inclusion would certainly improve Everton’s midfield. Another plus is his versatility, as he could play centrally, on the left, or on the right depending on the situation. However, his market value is a very steep £34,000,000 according to Transfermarkt.com, and he is 28 years old.
If his production is similar to that of Barkley but with an extra 6 years of age, one wonders if the price is worth it. This is no slight on Mata himself—he is still an excellent talent and a likable person—but generally speaking, spending that amount of money on a player the wrong side of the aging curve is a poor idea, especially when there are other options, some of which internal.
Aboubakar’s name has cropped up recently as a potential replacement for Romelu Lukaku, whose future is very much still up in the air. He is a 24-year-old striker for FC Porto and the Cameroon national team.
On the plus side, Aboubakar has been scoring fairly consistently for the last three seasons (I threw in some other names for context; keep in mind that it’s more difficult to score in the Premier League than it is in the Primeira Liga or in Ligue 1):
On the minus side, his creation and defensive numbers don’t measure up quite as well. But he is definitely physically powerful and has both Champions League and international experience.
In 2014, Ted Knutson called him “pretty average outside of of the scoring,” and for the most part I think that’s still true. You might say, “hey, he’s a striker, it’s his job to score,” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but when scouting forwards in their mid-20s from lesser leagues I think you generally want to see more than just goals. Top forwards in the Premier League are asked to quite a bit of non-scoring work, and you want to know before splashing the cash that a transfer target has a reasonable chance of adapting. With Aboubakar I’m not sure.
The Dutch attacking midfielder is the latest high profile player to be linked to the Blues, with some reports suggesting that Everton have already agreed to trigger his release clause.
Sneijder comes with two fairly immediate red flags: his age (32), and his current league of play (Turkey). The age is probably the bigger concern—despite the relative weakness of the Turkish League, Sneijder does have plenty of Serie A, Champions League, and International football under his belt.
At their peaks, Mata and Sneijder both put in seasons of 3.0+ KP/90 and 0.6+ SC/90 ( where SC = scoring contribution = non-penalty goals + assists). Those are really good numbers for attacking midfielders (3-4+ KP is Özil/Eriksen/Silva range), but the worry from an Everton perspective is that neither player has been quite that good within the last two seasons. Sneijder’s last season at Galatasary was close but the overall trend is downwards.
Speaking of Mata, a quick side by side of him and Sneijder is interesting. Let’s throw in Barkley again as well as he is currently Everton’s best attacking midfielder:
While Sneijder and Mata have produced very similar assists and goal numbers, two stylistic differences stick out: (1) Sneijder loves to shoot, Mata not so much, and (2) Sneijder tends to play many more through balls. (1) generally reflects poorly on the Dutchman (given the same goal output) and (2) generally reflects well but the utility and interpretation of both have a lot to do with the style of play in which each player has been employed, as well as the style of play Everton will look to deploy under Koeman. Sneijder’s numbers reflect a more open and direct style of play (see also his lower pass%), whereas Mata’s reflect a slower possesion-based style, though without watching too much Galatasaray over the last few seasons it’s really hard to say too much more in that regard. In any case, it’s worth considering when imagining either in the Everton XI.
On a side note, check out Barkley’s dribbling numbers—as the game film bears out as well, he is a much more mobile attacker than either of the above. Of course this comes with its downsides: more dispossessions and a greater chance of being caught out of shape.
As always, so much of this hinges on Sneijder’s transfer fee and wages. At £5,800,000, Everton have seemed to have nailed the former (his Transfermarkt.com value is £10,300,000), but the latter remains a concern. It seems likely that Sneijder would command heavy wages. Everton can probably handle them with their new budget but my main concern would be (1) the effect of an unequal wage structure in the dressing room and (2) the fact that Sneijder has failed to play 75%+ of league minutes during any of the last 6 seasons.
I’ve always liked Sneijder, but this is one where expectations need to be managed. If he does sign, he will not play every game, and he probably won’t do a lot of running or defensive work. That being said, if the money is right, he remains a classy playmaker who can unlock a defense with a key pass here and there.