It’s been so long that Jean-Philippe Gbamin has donned an Everton shirt that we don’t actually have any pictures of the midfielder in the new hummel kit, conspicuous with the Cazoo logo instead of SportPesa, and no Angry Birds imprinted on the sleeve.
After joining Everton in early August 2019, he played a game and a half early in the season before picking up a thigh injury that saw him go under the knife, and then require a second surgery months later after the first one failed to rectify the issue.
Finally returning to the training pitch in May 2020, he then ruptured his achilles tendon with the season stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That required a further surgery and he has was close to returning towards the end of the year with Carlo Ancelotti providing a hopeful update in November 2020 -
“He is in the last part of his recovery and will be ready in two or three weeks to train and play.”
However, clearly something was amiss because the year turned and still there has been no sign of Gbamin practising with the team. Despite a number of journalists posing the question about once a week during his pre-match press conferences asking about the Ivory Coast international’s status, Ancelotti has maintained that everything is well.
With the Blues hosting Fulham on Sunday, the Italian manager was once against asked if he could provide some updated information on Gbamin’s return date.
“No, I can’t give specific and precise details, no.
“He is working, he is training individually. Everything is going well, we have to start to think about when to start training with the team in the next fifteen days, and to start playing within one month.”
At this point there is a significant portion of the fanbase that are quite certain that the 25-year-old will not play for the Blues this season, or ever really, and who can blame them? Who is Gbamin, and how does he fit into this team?
Signed by Marco Silva just days after the long-expected departure of Idrissa Gueye, the objective at the time was that Gbamin would settle into his Senegalese predecessor’s midfield destroyer role, though with the added bonus of proving more attacking oomph and passing finesse.
What we saw was a player who was not up to speed quite yet with his new teammates, the game seeming to evade him and his passing scratchy in a draw against Crystal Palace and a victory over Watford FC, when ironically his soon-to-be teammate Abdoulaye Doucoure had a dominant game in the middle.
Now with Ancelotti in charge and midfield reinforcements available, where and how does Gbamin fit in? Allan is a must-start when fit, no questions there. The same can be said about Abdoulaye Doucoure, who has raised his superhuman workrate to even higher levels after his Brazilian teammate got injured. That leaves one open spot in the three-man midfield of the manager’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
Tom Davies has raised his game to such a level recently that we barely recognize him any more. Even Andre Gomes has had a couple of very good games, which is a change from his middling performances that he seems to revert to ever so often. The fans’ favourite punching bag Gylfi Sigurdsson has revelled when being played as the central man in the 4-2-3-1 and that’s not a position Gbamin would play anyway. When the Icelander has played in the midfield in a 4-3-3 though, he has been inadequate and at this point it’s unlikely Ancelotti will use him there again unless for short spells in a game.
Gbamin is expected to be brought back into the flow of things in a very regulated manner, but having him, Allan and Doucoure on the pitch together seems to be overkill in the defensive department, and definitely not enough creativity on the pitch between the three of them. However, playing a team that attacks rampantly from all over like Manchester City might need that kind of treatment.
Before we learned that Davies was actually quite decent in the defensive midfielder role, the only other contender for that spot was Fabian Delph. The Englishman though has had his own injury woes, and has also been lacklustre in the few appearances he has made, earning the fans’ ire more often than not with his spats with supporters and berating of young players going against his much-vaunted leadership qualities. Delph will also turn 32 next season which is the last one on his contract, and with his £80,000 per week wages burning a huge hole in Marcel Brands’ pocket, getting Gbamin back on the pitch on a regular basis will allow Delph to be sold or loaned out next summer.
To sum it all up, should Gbamin make a return to the pitch this season, he really will be like a new signing as he’ll give Ancelotti and Brands another opportunity to see what he is capable of, and whether they can then jettison Delph this summer or indeed if Gbamin is the player that needs to be sold.
Until then though, we can only wish the player a speedy recovery and a quick, safe return to playing again.