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Oumar Niasse’s latest comments will only make him more popular

Despite being an outcast last season, Oumar Niasse refuses to criticise his manager

Everton v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Twelve months ago this week, Oumar Niasse was playing - and scoring - for Everton’s U23 side against Manchester United in front of less than 400 fans at Southport’s Haig Avenue Stadium.

Banished from the first-team, stripped of a squad number and (allegedly) a locker, the Senegalese’s future on Merseyside looked bleak.

Fast forward a year however and Niasse is rapidly becoming a cult hero after scoring twice in Saturday’s comeback win over Bournemouth.

It’s a heartwarming story because throughout it all Niasse has maintained a quiet dignity and professionalism.

Lets face it, we all had our doubts about Niasse when he made some distinctly ropy appearances during the tail end of the 2015-16 season.

For many he symbolised the disastrous final few months of the Roberto Martinez era, so few tears were shed when Ronald Koeman decided he had no future at the club after just 45 minutes of pre-season action last summer.

But credit to Niasse, he kept his head down and continued to work with the U23s and did a decent job on loan at Hull given their struggles at the bottom of the table.

Cheltenham Town v Everton - EFL Checkatrade Trophy
Oumar Niasse playing for Everton U23s in the Checkatrade Trophy last season
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

I admit that Everton fans can be quick to get on certain players’ backs. However, the supporters are also very knowledgeable and appreciate players who give 100%, even if that simply makes up for a lack of ability.

Denis Stracqualursi is a case in point. A pretty average player, but one who is warmly thought of given his attitude and commitment during the 2011-12 season.

Niasse’s behaviour is a fine example to any young player enduring a tough time and a refreshing change from what we are used to from footballers these days.

Even in his moment of redemption the 27-year-old refused to have a dig at his manager, who in hindsight looks a little foolish in writing Niasse off so quickly.

When asked about his treatment by Koeman, Niasse said:

"It was a difficult time for me but I wouldn't say anything against anyone here or against the team.

"He [Koeman] just said this was a new opportunity for me. I didn't want to go over the past with him. There is nothing to say about that.

"He said [last year] I wasn't ready and maybe I wasn't ready. I went away, I learned and I have come back stronger.

"Even if I wasn't on the pitch for every game or was with the U23s I was running on the pitch like a dog.

"I tried just to keep my head on me, to not lose it, and the best way to do that is to just keep working hard."

"I signed for Everton for four years and I knew Everton were still my team when the loan finished and I had to come back.

"You have to have a strong mentality. I know where I am from and where I want to go.

"It is not a case of something bad happening and so I give up. I kept saying to myself, 'anything can happen'.

"It was a hard time with the U23s, seeing my team-mates enjoying the games here without me. I was with the U23s instead, travelling and playing at empty stadiums, but that's life."

Despite Niasse’s new-found cult hero status even the most optimistic of Evertonians will admit that he is unlikely to be a long-term replacement for Romelu Lukaku.

Koeman remains determined to bring in a new striker in January and reports are already linking the Toffees with a return bid for Olivier Giroud.

But far from being deflated by the prospect of new competition the ever-optimistic Niasse is emboldened by it, adding:

"Everton is a big club and I don't mind if he [Koeman] has an opportunity to bring in another striker as that will make the competition in the club much better.

"I will keep working hard if I am still here. You don't know what will happen in football - we could play two or three up front, have another striker coming off the bench."

Given Everton’s struggles in front of goal and desperate lack of pace, Niasse’s energy and enthusiasm has been a real bonus.

The crowd were lifted by his presence on Saturday and he helped set up a ferocious finale that belatedly dragged the team to victory.

He may not be the long-term solution but, certainly for the next six months at least, he deserves the chance to cement his cult hero status.