After a month of “will they, won’t they” deliberations, FC Barcelona has finally made a decision regarding Gerard Deulofeu — the Spanish club will exercise its €12 million option on the 23-year-old.
When Barcelona and Everton initially negotiated the winger’s permanent move to Merseyside in July 2015 (for £4.2 million), Barcelona insisted upon an option to buy the player back from Everton in either of the two subsequent summers — an option they’ve chosen to utilize following Deulofeu’s solid 2017 at AC Milan of Serie A.
Deulofeu departs Everton with 8 goals and 11 assists over the course of three seasons on Merseyside. The Spanish winger was initially brought in on loan by Roberto Martinez in the 2013-14 season, when he impressed as a high-potential, though unpolished, attacking player.
The Spaniard returned to Barcelona at the end of the 2013-14 season. He was loaned to Sevilla in the 2014-15 season before returning to Everton on a permanent deal ahead of the 2015-16 season.
His lone full season at the club on a permanent basis was a mixed bag. Deulofeu accumulated 2 goals and 8 assists in 1385 minutes of action, a more than respectable return.
He proved to be a good crosser, dangerous with the ball in his feet, and a constant threat in wide areas. He created chances at a better rate than any other Everton player — perhaps not quite as big an accomplishment as it sounds, given the club’s struggles that season, but important nonetheless.
But Deulofeu still struggled to overcome bad habits, which ultimately cost him a place at Everton in 2016-17. He’s perhaps the most egregious diver at Everton in recent memory, he’s got no sense of defensive awareness or responsibility, and his penchant for the unnecessary stepover and fancy move when a straightforward play would suffice often drew the ire of the Everton faithful.
Given Ronald Koeman’s personality, it perhaps wasn’t a surprise that Deulofeu struggled to get a foothold in the first team at Goodison Park.
Still, when Koeman loaned Deulofeu to AC Milan in January, he flourished. He started 16 matches for the Italian club, putting up 4 goals and 3 assists in half a season. The Italians were reportedly interested in bringing him back on a permanent basis for next season, but Barcelona’s desire to get the player back has squashed that hope.
Before you begin to ponder Barcelona simply selling Deulofeu to Milan themselves, recall this tidbit from Roberto Martinez after signing the Spaniard to a permanent deal.
There are certain things in the deal. They can’t take him back in the winter so they can’t take him back in January. It can only be at the end of the season. It is €9m for the first year and €12m in the second year.
If they take him back they can’t sell him for a season, so he has to stay in the first-team squad for a season. At the end of that if they decide to sell him we have got first rights of getting him back or we have got a big percentage of that deal. There is nothing we can do if they activate it. That was the deal and the only way we could access the player in the terms that we wanted. I’m delighted with the deal
(Quote from The Guardian, emphasis mine)
That’s right, Barcelona is not allowed to sell or loan Deulofeu for a full season after activating his buy-back clause — so the 23-year-old will be stuck behind players like Lionel Messi and Neymar in a search for playing time.
For this reason, Deulofeu reportedly was not keen on a return to Barcelona, but the nature of the buy-back clause takes matters out of his hands. With the 2018 FIFA World Cup upcoming and spots on Spain’s team up for grabs, the Spanish club’s decision may damage Deulofeu’s chances at heading to Russia next summer.
On Merseyside, Deulofeu leaves a complex legacy. At his best, Gerry was the exact type of player the Toffees didn’t have this season after Yannick Bolasie’s injury — a wide player capable of terrorizing defenses, playing crosses for big strikers, and taking players on 1-v-1. At his worst though, he could be petulant, a diver, and a ball-hog.
The move will leave Everton even shorter on dangerous wide players, an area Koeman must fill in before the summer is complete.
All the best to Deulofeu at Barcelona and beyond — I hope he can come to meet the highest levels of his potential, regardless of where he winds up plying his trade in the long run.