It took 19 minutes for French striker Valérie Gauvin to score her first goal in an Everton kit, but her fall from promising striker to National Women's Soccer League-bound outcast illustrates how difficult it is to catch on in professional soccer.
Signed in the summer of 2020 after a prolific three seasons with French side Montpellier, Gauvin arrived on Merseyside with a reputation as one of Europe’s top young forwards; in three seasons with Montpellier, Gauvin made 52 appearances (31 starts) and scored 26 goals with three assists.
Gauvin also has been a mainstay with the French national team since 2015. She was named to the 2019 World Cup squad and was a key member of Les Bleus’ qualification campaign for the 2022 European Championship. In 37 appearances with the senior team, Gauvin has 17 goals.
Through her first five games with the Everton Women, Gauvin scored three goals with one assist and helped her side to a 4-1-0 start. She also netted one of the most important goals in recent memory — the game-winning marker in the FA Cup quarterfinal against Chelsea.
But a muscle injury sustained in the FA Cup Final cost Gauvin two months and ended what had been a phenomenal start to her Women’s Super League career. After returning to the pitch in mid-January of 2021, Gauvin scored just two goals with no assists in her final 10 league fixtures. And both tallies came from the penalty spot in one match against Tottenham.
To start the 2021/22 campaign, Gauvin seemed to have lost the confidence of then-manager Willie Kirk, who opted to call Gauvin off the bench. Before his sacking in mid-October, Kirk played Gauvin just 104 minutes over five matches.
After Jean-Luc Vasseur replaced Kirk, Gauvin started three of six league games for the new manager, and the appearances were her only three starts this season. But after a tumultuous 10 games and a further drop in form, Vasseur departed the club much like his predecessor — with little success.
While the club recently announced the hiring of Danish coach Brian Sorensen on a two-year deal, interim managers Chris Roberts and Claire Ditchburn have been equally reluctant as Kirk to give Gauvin anything more than garbage minutes.
Under Roberts and Ditchburn, Gauvin made three appearances with the club — all coming off the bench for 35 minutes — before agreeing to a one-year deal with the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL.
Gauvin departs Everton having played 27 league matches, with eight goals in all competitions. But after failing to score this season, both Gauvin and the club deemed it time to move on.
With Everton struggling for goals this year — the Blues have scored 15 goals in 19 games — Gauvin’s lack of playing time must point to some underlying issue, whether it was hers or that of management. It’s impossible to know what happened behind the scenes, but losing a 25-year-old player with an eye for goal is yet another failure in a trying season on Merseyside.