Everton, to date, have shown an incredible amount of willpower and ambition during the 2017 summer transfer window. They’ve known who they want and how to get him, pushing deals over the line with impressive speed. Except for one.
The Blues’ pursuit of Swansea City’s Icelandic playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson has been...drawn out, to say the least. Numerous bids (confirmed and unconfirmed) have been reportedly submitted and summarily rejected by the Welsh side, but Everton have, so far, been undeterred.
Swansea are somewhat justified in holding out for the maximum possible fee. Sigurdsson is by some distance their best player, and an argument can even be made that he was the difference between relegation and survival last season. For a team like the Swans, that’s nearly priceless.
For Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh, though, there are numerous red flags concerning this potential transfer.
Sigurdsson turns 28 in September, shortly after the league season begins. He’s durable, but Everton would be getting him in what can be termed his post-prime years. What’s worse, though, is that Gylfi may be a one-trick pony.
Football scout Ted Knutson recently evaluated the expected move:
Even in an inflated market, for £40-50M you expect a midfield dynamo capable of defending and who carves open the opposition from open play. Gylfi doesn't do that.
Take out the dead ball stats, and the shine comes off. Defending has always been an afterthought in his game, and while he has flashes of brilliance - the backheel flick that created a goal against Burnley comes to mind - they don't happen often enough to merit a massive price tag. You end up with an attacking midfielder who doesn't defend much and had 4 goals and 5 assists in 38 appearances last season.
There’s no doubt that Sigurdsson can caress a dead ball like almost nobody else in Europe. However, Everton were sorely lacking in open play creativity last season, almost always relying on Romelu Lukaku to do something magical.
Allowing for the fact that Gylfi was on a bad team, with limited resources in terms of attacking help, his output during open play was simply not very good.
Gylffi Sigurdsson, Swansea 16-17. Interesting lack of open play key passes - a lot of his value seems to be set pieces nowadays. pic.twitter.com/nEpRtSazNu— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) April 7, 2017
Using Knutson’s radar above, we can glean that Sigurdsson is not a particularly good dribbler, isn’t a dangerous goalscorer outside of dead ball situations, and his passing metrics are just mediocre.
Don’t misunderstand - set pieces are an extremely important part of a football match, and an area in which Everton were very bad last season. But given that the Blues recently acquired both Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez - both of whom are dangerous on set plays - does it really make sense to spend £50 million on an aging specialist?
Of course, it’s not all bad news. Sigurdsson is a consistent, proven Premier League player, and there’s something to be said for that. There’s also something to be said for trusting the evaluation and recruitment strategies of Koeman and Walsh. There’s an elephant in the room, though, in the form of Ross Barkley.
Who knows if the bridges burned between Barkley and the club can be rebuilt. Ross isn’t fit, though, and has a grand total of one slightly uninterested suitor in Tottenham Hotspur. Would it be at all surprising if he stays on the roster past the transfer deadline in August?
Barkley’s best position is undefined, but he’s pacier than Sigurdsson, more invested defensively, and more physically powerful. He’s also a better passer during the run of a match.
The difference is a stark one. The caveats are there - notably, that Lukaku is worlds better than Fernando Llorente - but Barkley’s talent cannot be doubted, and he had a very good season in his own right last year.
If the relationship between Ross and Ronald can be mended, it seems plausible that choosing Barkley over Sigurdsson as Everton’s creative outlet is by far the more prudent decision. Such a course of action does not mean the Blues can abandon attacking help in the transfer market, far from it. They still need another striker, and ideally a new winger, too.
In the end, if it seems silly for Everton to be held hostage by a club the size of Swansea City, for a one dimensional player, well, that’s because it is. Everton have shown too much forward thinking this summer to get caught in a saga like this. Farhad Moshiri and company have too many financial resources to be shoehorned into a single target to fill out their attacking midfield.
There are many, many players around Europe that are better than Gylfi Sigurdsson, and cheaper too. When it comes to this particular player pursuit, it’s time for Everton to call off the dogs.