No matter who Marcel Brands signs during his tenure as Everton’s Director of Football, bringing in Lucas Digne from Barcelona will remain one of his greatest achievements in terms of overall value.
Some of his moves will likely be lauded more loudly for years to come - World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez, on a free - but for the transfer fee the Blues paid for him, the wages they are paying him and the consistent output he has provided on the pitch, the France international left-back is pound for pound the best at the position.
In just the two and a half years he has been on Merseyside, he has maintained his high level of performance at the position both as a solid defender as well as providing the attacking thrust the Toffees have needed and missed since Leighton Baines’ heydays. While the goals have mysteriously dried up after that impactful first season, his chance creation numbers continue to be right at the top for the position, and that is even accounting for the slight drop-off this season.
Physically as well he’s been pretty much injury-free and a constant fixture in the lineup no matter how many games a week Everton play, until this season when an ankle issue saw him miss the entire December and first half of January. Including a red card suspension for Digne (incurred in a loss to Southampton) that saw the Blues lose to away to Newcastle, Everton lost four times, drew once and won four games (Chelsea, Leicester City, Arsenal & Sheffield United) playing a much more conservative brand of football when he was out.
Yesterday the 27-year-old signed a new four-and-a-half year contract that will see him stay at Everton until 2024-25, thereby solidifying that position for the near future and allowing Niels Nkounkou more time to develop with superhuman Swiss knife Ben Godfrey providing additional cover.
Premier League Left Backs 20/21
Salary details of his new contract are yet to be released, but when he joined from Barca in 2018 his wages were at £90,000 per week, close to the highest paid at the club. Comparatively, that put him outside the top 20 highest wages for defenders, but considering he is one of the key creators for the Toffees, is still a reasonable salary. In terms of transfer fees and current wages, Andy Robertson of Liverpool would be a close comparable, but they do have different playing styles with Jurgen Klopp preferring to have his fullbacks forego playing defence and shielding his centrehalves with the midfield.
Carlo Ancelotti would love the luxury of having Allan sweep in front of the defence and keep Digne upfront, but his ambitions are limited in that Everton more often than not cede possession to the top teams in the league and instead require the Frenchman to perform his defensive duties, which he does admirably. Digne has consistently been the best (or close to) in the key defensive action metrics of tackles, clearances, interceptions and blocks for all three seasons he’s been with Everton.
However, it is when the Blues are in possession that Digne’s quality really tells. His crossing accuracy is one of the best in the league (until Luke Shaw finally showed up this season), but so are his long pass accuracy numbers as he looks to released Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin upfield. In previous seasons he has led the chances created performance indicator, but this season he’s also set the assists provided standard despite missing a number of games due to injury.
There are some interesting trends to be seen when looking at Digne’s performances over the three seasons as well - primarily, his key passes metric has dropped, and very specifically it’s the long passes that have gone down. This is explicable when you consider that with the addition of James Rodriguez to the squad, less is expected of Digne to be the chief creator for this side. So this season he’s not having to play as many long balls as in the past and with teams pressing the Blues high, his accuracy has suffered a little too when the Blues have tried the aerial route to break out.
When the Blues do gain a foothold in the opposing half though from a long ball, they’ve tended to not go vertical especially in games where they have been able to get a significant chunk of possession, instead choosing to set up and try to work their way through in a more balanced manner than previous seasons when there was little central presence.
Most of the teams at the top of the table spend closer to about 20% of the playing time in their own third of the pitch, an area where Everton still have trouble breaking out of at 31%. The return of Allan matched with the recent resurgence of Tom Davies should help keep out opponents going forward, as well as aid transitions out of the back.
Rather than make too much of trends with just three data points for Digne across the time he has been at Everton, it is instead quite appreciable that he has maintained his consistency throughout. As the oldest in the group of left backs considered among the top tier in the league, the Blues are betting on Digne to continue his high level of performance for a further four seasons after this current campaign.
It’s not just that though, as under Brands we’ve seen an added impetus to bring in high-character players and they don’t come much better than Digne. It is not for nothing that Everton are known as “the People’s Club”, and Digne is one of us. He maintains a strong social media presence and has an excellent rapport with the fans, but it is his humanity that has earned him plaudits around the world.
In the summer of 2017, 14 people were killed and more than 100 injured after a man drove a van down La Rambla boulevard, which was closed to vehicular traffic and packed full of tourists. Digne, who resided at nearby Plaça Catalunya at the time, was reported to have rushed out after hearing screams with bottles of water and towels for tourniquets for those in need on the street. The Frenchman has not commented on the incident publicly, though local paper Mundo Deportivo claimed he said he did not want to be termed a hero for his actions.
His teammates and coaches have certainly noticed his command and authority though, and he was named as one of the vice-captains for the season by both Marco Silva and Ancelotti. Digne is closing in on a hundred games played for the Blues, and can be fiery at times on the pitch. He plays with a level of intensity that his younger teammates can certainly learn from and is a good influence with his work ethic too.
So far everything we have seen from him says that there’s no reason he can’t continue his brilliance for a few more years, much like his fullbacking predecessors Seamus Coleman and Baines have done in recent years.
It’s been a good few weeks for the Digne family, with him and his wife Tiziri welcoming their second child to the world, and now the extension that Ancelotti has spoken of recently. Digne appeared to be as elated as the fans are, saying yesterday after extending his time with the Blues -
“When you sign for Everton, it is like an amazing wedding.
“You just have to do your best every day to show Evertonians the love you have for them. That is what I do.”
His elite playing level and leadership both on and off the pitch have made his transfer worth every penny, and we can only be grateful to have Lucas Digne here at Everton.