Everton’s summer-long search for striker options to augment, and if necessary replace, injury-plagued starting option Dominic Calvert-Lewin and hitherto inadequate back-up Neal Maupay, continues apace. With ten days (at time of writing) to go before the Blues kick off the new season, manager Sean Dyche, director of football Kevin Thelwell and Blues fans are no doubt feeling the pressure quite acutely.
Calvert-Lewin has yet to feature in any preseason matches as he concentrates instead on building up his physical condition in order to give him the best possible platform to hopefully avoid any repetition of the frequent fitness problems that have dogged him now for the last two campaigns. Understandably, this is a concern. He did reportedly play at least 45 minutes of the closed-doors friendly against Serie A side Monza so that will be a relief.
Several suitable targets including El Bilal Toure have been snapped up as the weeks have passed and hopes been dashed, but in recent days and seemingly out of nowhere arrived the news that Everton had approached Sporting CP who - incidentally - the club host at Goodison Park on Saturday, for their teenage striker Youssef Chermiti. A bid of €15m plus add-ons and a sell-on clause has been accepted by the Portuguese giants, but who is the 19-year old?
Following stints at various youth teams, Chermiti joined the Sporting academy at age 12 in 2016. By 2019 he was getting called up for the national youth setup, which he has so far represented at every level up to Portugal under-19s; he is eligible to play for Tunisia via his North African father. Although promoted to the Leões first team in 2021 , injuries delayed him making his debut until last January, when he came off the bench as a late substitute against fierce local rivals Benfica in a 2-2 draw.
Over the next four and a half months, the youngster made a total of 22 appearances, including ten starts, racking up close to a thousand first team minutes. The striker netted three times in the league and added two assists. He also gained valuable continental experience, playing in five of the club’s Europa League matches that term, starting in their 1-0 quarter-final first leg loss to Juventus.
Chermiti is relatively active when it comes to generating shooting opportunities, being in the 67th percentile of forwards across Europe’s top leagues and continental competitions with 2.99 attempts per 90 minutes. He is on target with 42.9% of his efforts, demonstrating a solid level of accuracy (70th percentile), though a shot conversion rate of just 0.11 per attempt (29th) is indicative of relatively weak finishing, or perhaps trying to score when maybe it isn’t on, which is typical for a youngster. By contrast, a non-penalty xG (Expected Goals) of 0.54 lies in the 95th percentile, though this could be partly attributed to shot volume and playing for one of the stronger sides in the Primeira Liga.
In terms of possession, the tall forward sees little of the ball in build-up, with a mere 26.34 touches per 90 (15th percentile), though he manages 6.72 in the opposition area (96th), suggestive of a player who leads the line and pushes up high, rather than dropping deep or drifting wide looking for involvement in general play. He likes to take his man on, attempting 2.56 dribbles per 90 (78th percentile), but a success rate of just 25.0% (9th) demonstrates that he is still adapting to senior football and is probably still over reliant on his physical prowess. A high number of miscontrols (3.09) and dispossessions (1.71) - both in the bottom 24th percentile - show a raw, developing player that is inclined to hang onto the ball under pressure.
Likewise, his passing needs a lot of work. In line with a lack of touches, his number of passes attempted is low at 10.13 per 90 (17th percentile) and his accuracy rate of 68.3% is mediocre (48th). Most of his passes are of the lay-off variety, with his back to goal, or into the path of an open teammate, rather than anything intricate; occasionally, however he will try an elaborate flick. Again, this is most likely an inexperienced player learning his trade, rather than a sign of any technical deficiency, or lack of vision. Aerially, the 6’4 teenager is already imposing, winning 51.7% of his duels, which puts him in the 86th percentile. His 97th minute consolation goal against Porto in February came from meeting a cross with a well-timed back post run and header.
This deal seems done bar the minutiae. On the face of it, a €15m plus fee for a teenager with only half a season of senior football under his belt, for a club with Everton’s limited resources appears to be a big gamble.
Chermiti only turned 19 back in May, so is still in the foothills of a career that could end up reaching the highest peaks. He’s drawn some comparisons with fellow Sporting academy graduate Rafael Leão, which may seem fanciful considering the status of the Milan player and his own humble accomplishments in the game so far. It is worth noting, however that at the same age Leão had actually made less senior appearances for Sporting (five) and had yet to start a match. Despite this, the now 24-year old winger was then signed by French outfit Lille for almost €20m, where he enjoyed a productive debut campaign.
Whilst not every prospect from a top European academy is going to be the next Leão, the young Chermiti has characteristics that give him a much better chance than most and which make him an intriguing signing for Everton. Firstly, his physical profile ticks all the boxes. He has imposing height, gets off the ground very well, an athletic frame, nascent strength that will only increase as he matures - all allied to the pace and agility that many tall strikers lack. He is combative, hard-working, a willing runner and eager to help out defensively: all attributes that will endear him to Dyche — and Blues fans.
The teenager is able to play with his back to goal, shield the ball from defenders and keep possession. He is versatile in his offensive play, capable of running off the defensive line to receive a pass along the ground and also attacking crosses. Clearly, there are rough edges, but there are no obvious critical deficiencies to his game, merely areas that can improve with coaching and playing time and which can add to the things he already does quite well. As a like-for-like understudy for Calvert-Lewin, he is close to ideal. Consider, that at 18-19 years of age, the England man was still cutting his teeth in League One and League Two at Sheffield United and Northampton Town, respectively.
He is unlikely to tear the league up this season, which will be more one of staggered introduction and development, coming in for Calvert-Lewin when required and allowing the club to retain its basic tactical approach, if their first choice is unavailable, or needs spelling. This has not been the case during the last two campaigns and in this regard, the youngster will be invaluable.
Chermiti presents a fantastic opportunity for the Toffees, who have take a chance on a player that, in my opinion has a very high ceiling, the kind of raw talent that the club have so often missed out in the recent past, or have found themselves priced out of competing for a year or two down the line.
Stats provided courtesy of fbref.com