Never underestimate the power of being a nice guy in football. You may still finish last, but the amount of credit you’ll bank in the meantime means it’ll take you a good while longer to do so.
Which, for instance, is probably why Roberto Martinez, a manager Evertonians fell for hook, line and sinker, was still cooing over John Stones and championing Gareth Barry as one of England’s greatest ever players long into his tumultuous third Everton season. And conversely, why Ronald Koeman, who caked his Christmas tree in red and persistently made eyes at Barcelona, was out of Goodison Park only nine games into his second term.
Perhaps it’s also why the well of goodwill towards Yerry Mina, a central defender now in his third Everton campaign, only now appears to be running dry. The Colombian didn’t play much in his first year through injury and Kurt Zouma’s imperious form, yet was still crowned the club’s PFA Community Champion for 2018-19. Even the mental image of Mina forming in your head as you read this will be coupled with his trademark ear-to-ear grin. Either that, or his endearing dance moves which make David Brent look like Anton du Beke.
Mina, by all accounts, is a lovely guy, and a terrific ambassador for Everton off the field. But while that’s all well and good, it’s on the pitch where the bread is buttered. And more than two years since Everton forked out almost £30 million to Barcelona for him, we still only have a vague idea of just how good he is at the day job.
It remains only a vague idea because of just how wildly Mina’s performances have fluctuated. At Watford in February, he powered home two headers in first-half injury-time to single-handedly resurrect a lifeless Everton. In October’s win over Brighton, he scored again, won every aerial duel, and made four interceptions and three blocks in a titanic display. Before this weekend, in fact, only Zouma and Harry Maguire had won more aerial battles than Mina this term.
Then you watch him tee up Mohamed Salah to volley home in last month’s derby, or Callum Wilson ghost past him to score Newcastle’s second three weeks ago, and are reminded of why many Evertonians remain firmly on the fence. Against Fulham on Sunday, he waved Bobby Decordova-Reid into the penalty box to equalise for the hosts, then bizarrely knelt for Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s second-half strike, which ultimately deflected off him and past the helpless Jordan Pickford. This, despite Carlo Ancelotti providing him with an extra central defender in Ben Godfrey at Craven Cottage.
Mina’s issues are twofold. Firstly, in Everton’s first seven games of this campaign, the Colombian was partnered with Michael Keane, a more reliable if less interesting defender, but who, like Mina, would give an oil tanker a run for its money in a competition to see which turns slower. Mina and Keane were reunited at Fulham, alongside a third centre-half in Godfrey, and Everton conceded at least two goals for the sixth successive match. Ultimately, they beat the Cottagers in spite of their defending.
Indeed, Mina and Keane have long seemed too alike to ever dovetail as a defensive duo. If one’s glaring sluggishness is exposed by nifty, electric forwards, they cannot expect to be bailed out by the other. There are mitigating factors, namely Pickford simultaneously enduring his own personal hell, but just seven clean sheets in the 32 games Mina and Keane have started together for Everton would suggest this is not a partnership with legs. Certainly not as long as Mina’s, anyway.
Mason Holgate, rushed back for the Manchester United defeat when evidently not ready to return from injury, appears a far more ideal partner in this regard. Neither Keane nor Mina sniff danger with the speed at which Holgate typically does, nor do they match the pace and agility of Holgate, a hare among tortoises. With Keane and Mina both craving a leader as much as an insurance policy, it seems opposites attract in this case.
But the more deep-seated issue with Mina is his tendency to over-complicate, to try and make even the simplest defensive move his own Turner Prize entry, as if heading a barely-airborne loose ball at least earns him points for artistic impression. The wild flailing of his infinite limbs, the infliction of a season-ending injury on himself while attempting a stepover at Wolves last term - yet there is a genuinely good footballer in Mina, as Evertonians have seen enough times in the last two campaigns. You just have to rummage past an array of brain-fades to pick him out.
It’s easy to be drawn into the allure of Mina, not least in these ‘unprecedented’ times when omnipresent football has been billed as the great distraction. After all, any sport is at its most intoxicating when it’s pure, unalloyed fun, and with his knee-slides and Macarena dances, nobody epitomises that quite like the man who has kickabouts in his back garden with his own Everton shirt on.
Yerry Mina playing footy in his back garden with his Everton shirt on. Captain material. pic.twitter.com/NOv6UCn4ru— Darren (@nsno_83) January 24, 2019
But the worry for Ancelotti must be that Mina is becoming increasingly box-office for the wrong audience - either the unsuspecting neutral, or the delirious supporter of Everton’s opponents.
Just how good is Yerry Mina then? The real problem, a quarter of the way through his third Everton season, is nobody can still answer this imponderable with any certainty, nor Mina himself.
Needless to say, a man in a hurry like Ancelotti won’t afford to wait much longer to find out. And with Godfrey on board and Holgate back in contention, Everton’s biggest cheerleader off the pitch feels on borrowed time on it.