With the James Rodriguez door barely slammed shut, Evertonians would be forgiven for looking back at our poor recent record of signing world renowned superstars. They come to Merseyside amid great initial fanfare, with the lifting of the team and supporters following quickly and then predictably the sour taste that follows soon after and the haste to get rid.
Which brings us to the news that the club is being heavily linked once again with a move for Real Madrid’s attacking midfielder Isco. The former Spain international, who becomes a free agent in June next year, is no doubt available for a modest fee in January and is almost certain to part ways after what would be nine years with Los Blancos. During that time, in 2017 he was named by L’Equipe as being one of the best 30 players in the world and given his mercurial talents on display for club and country few would argue. His ability to work openings out of nothing and escape the attentions of defenders with his twists and turns aided by his low centre of gravity was something to behold. A magnificent player indeed, but then so was one James Rodriguez.
After 238 games for Real scoring an impressive 36 goals, Isco has become a bit-part player in the last few seasons. If you were to disregard the many fantastic years he had with the club and concentrate on “what Everton might be getting now” we see a worrying picture. Much like the later 2019/20 period with Zinedine Zidane in charge and in a below par Real team this season, Isco has managed just 1 start (he lasted 59 minutes) in 9 games, appeared off the bench 4 times for a total of 45 minutes and been an unused substitute in 3 games. A total game time of just over one full match in which he has managed one goal in a 19 minute appearance in the recent mauling of Real Mallorca.
Isco, if it happens, would be joining as a near 30 year old, much like James did last year. Their best years are clearly behind them. There was a well publicised disagreement last year with Sergio Ramos after Isco had complained about his lack of game time and that he was frequently hooked by Zidane on the hour mark. Disharmony in the dressing room was not what Real needed at the time and as for this current Everton squad they need conflict like they do a hole in the head.
His quality on the ball, like James, is no doubt still of a good order. Fitness issues however, be it match fitness (which he clearly does not have) or general fitness (he appears to be maybe carrying a few more pounds than in previous years) are a big deal in the Premier League, and you simply are not afforded the same time on the ball in England.
Looking at James, before he began to struggle with fitness after the fantastic start to the 2020/21 season, he had looked the world-beater we had seen for Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Monaco, Porto and of course the Colombia national team. Talent only slowly fades but the legs do get older. The sacrifices Ancelotti’s 2020 Everton team made in order to compensate for James’ inability or reluctance to defend saw Abdoulaye Doucoure effectively deployed as “mop up” behind James while trying also to play his own game. In 2021/22 under Benitez and without having to cover someone else’s work rate, Doucoure has started the season brilliantly.
Rafa Benitez clearly places great importance on teamwork and workrate, and far less on individual brilliance though as we have already seen we have had those flashes of brilliance from our bargain buys Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray. Both have shown a willingness to work hard off the ball and retrieve the ball if they lose it or simply if “the team” needs them to. The bond within the current squad is clearly apparent, there does not appear to be any disharmony and Benitez works hard to maintain that.
Another consideration is the fact that we fought hard to offload James’ high salary so why would we want to simply put ourselves back in a similar position when the FFP spotlight has not gone away?
A final footnote and a further sense of déjà vu perhaps. When a 33 year old Samuel Eto’o joined Roberto Martinez’s Everton in late August 2014, they had finished fifth the season before playing some of their best football in years with an exciting team including the likes of Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and a certain Romelu Lukaku.
The idea was with Europa League games looming was that this global superstar would add his vast experience, quality and finishing gloss to the squad. He lasted 5 months, played 20 games and scored 4 goals before beating a path to Sampdoria in Serie A. There were strong rumours of discontent in the dressing room during that short time, and Everton couldn’t wait to get him off the payroll, especially since if he had played three more games he would have triggered a one year extension to his £80,000 a week salary, which was considered enormous for the Blues at the time.
To some extent, even prodigal son Wayne Rooney could be added to this category of global superstars who have unbalanced the team with their signings. He returned home in that landmark summer of 2017 when Everton saw fit to sign not one, not two, not three, but four players who were all probably best suited to playing the #10 spot - Rooney eventually ended up playing as striker, but Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen were all signed for eye-watering sums and Nikola Vlasic was wasted out wide.
While Rooney and Sigurdsson did get the goals the Blues needed, the mistakes made in that transfer window still haunt the club and as of today, not one of those four players is on the squad and the Blues are still looking for an attacking midfielder.
It’s an over-used expression to say one man does not make a team but it has never been more true than with Everton.
The Everton of 2021/22 no longer has a superstar. History will tell you that is not a bad position. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin perhaps our two biggest “names” put in the hard yards as well as putting fear into opposition defences. When Richarlison, for instance, appears to sulk it is more often that he wants to play every second of every game and score at every opportunity even if occasionally the opportunity doesn’t really belong to him —as Calvert-Lewin can well attest to! We regularly see on social media that Richarlison celebrates with the team (both Everton and Brazil) even if he has not played and is fully engaged at all times, even going so far as to say that he if and when he does leave he wants to make sure he does right by the fans and the Club.
Great as he has been in the past, and with our track record with galacticos, why then would we seriously consider signing Isco given our experiences?