Sigurdsson and the case for a number 10?

Having been away for the best part of two weeks there has been ample time to consider ones feelings towards Gylfi Sigurdsson, slightly outside of the bubble that is Everton on social media. I had felt on believing it would be completed by the time I got back, given the ferocious speed we conducted other business, though it currently appears the some clubs are some way apart on figures.

Swansea seem to have dug their heels in a little bit and are keen to keep their star player. As will become clear through the article I have an uneasy ambivalence to the Sigurdsson fee though this shouldn’t be misconstrued and antipathy towards Swansea. After years of having fans of other clubs deride Everton for setting allegedly “unrealistic” fees I would never turn tat accusation on another club. We live in an open market, whereby people can choose to buy or sell players at the figures they wish. If a buying club (or friendly journalists/supporters) don’t like figures quoted they are welcome to look elsewhere.

In defence of Swansea (not that they need it) he is a key player for them and they have also had a bid of 40 million. The idea they would accept a bid of any less or around that figure, with the season that much closer would be highly unrealistic. Acquiring key players is also fiendishly difficult, there will always be a premium on such players, particularly within the English Premier league (EPL). What this has left us with, is Swansea seemingly demanding an eye watering 50 million pounds for their key asset.

In defence of Sigurdsson are a range of stats going round, on assists, goals, opportunities created and a combination of all of these over recent Premier League seasons. Sigurdsson matches up favourably to the leagues leading players such as Ozil, Eriksen and even Coutinho. He has also shown these underlying numbers not for a side challenging at the top end of the season but at perennial strugglers Swansea. Alongside this, you cannot underplay the importance of 10 goals a season from a midfield player, especially at Koeman seeks to spread the responsibility that sat heavily on Lukaku.

Another important consideration with Sigurdsson is that Koeman clearly favours him. He has wanted him for 3 years since his Southampton days. While Walsh’s vision clearly involves more risky (and potentially high reward) approach to recruitment which fits more with Moshiri’s vision of moving the club forward yet this feels like a “Ronald Koeman” signing (alongside Bolasie, Williams and Schneiderlin felt like they had his stamp of approval). The signing has Premier League experience, is in the managers desired age of 27-30 and you would imagine he would give the manager what he wants quickly. If Koeman sticks to his 3 year maximum at a club he needs people ready to make a quick impact. Often these players come with a substantial premium and the debate over the cost of Sigurdsson may go slightly wider than the player themselves.

For any unease I have over the fee involved over Sigurdsson this is balanced against a belief that you need to back a manager broadly with what he wants, they have a right to succeed or fail on their own terms. Alongside this, after a promising first season Koeman has earned the right to have the signings he wants. Lukaku has been sold for upwards of 90 million so we should not be short of money to spend, and if he wishes to spend 50 million of this on Sigurdsson then the arguments goes- good for him.

There is not a lot that can be said to directly counter this logic. To coin a phrase it’s not my money and having received a good fee for Lukaku and bought astutely for players like Sandro and the acquisition of Rooney then paying over the odds on Sigurdsson may be a luxury we can afford. Yet I do think those who comment on the club have a duty to do so honestly and this includes if they fear money is being wasted.

One big worry I have is that his stats are heavily increased by set pieces. He is Swansea’s penalty, corner and free-kick taker. That is not to say set pieces don’t count, but in a team where we have Rooney, Sandro & Baines how much additional value do Sigurdsson’s set piece goals have? There’s no doubt he takes a good free kick but I’m not sure having watched him in open play either the eye test or the underlying stats would be anything akin to a 50 million pound player. Much of the debate reminds me of the Andy Johnson debate, who’s stats were also heavily weighted in favour of the 9 penalties he won that season. While he is something of a cult hero but for the initial start Everton did well to get their money back on a player who was too heavily reliant on penalties for goal output. I worry something similar may be the case with Sigurdsson.

In any discussion around Sigurdssonit is difficult to omit Ross Barkley from the discussion. If previous summer signing Davy Klaassen was an indication to Ross that Koeman was serious about being happy to lose him, then the signing of Sigurdsson would make the point crystal clear to Barkley. It is an interesting question to ask, if the signing of Sigurdsson led to Barkley leaving would that influence people’s perceptions? Why of the two would you prefer at Everton?

My heart very much says Barkley, the local lad who I maintain has more all round ability than Sigurdsson. I have yet to see Sigurdsson “run a game” as Barkley has done on a handful of occasions for Everton. There is some hope with age and experience this could be repeated ore regularly. Yet the numbers Sigurdsson produces far outweigh Barkley’s. I wonder if my sadness at Ross leaving is in some small part a bi-product of my own experience of supporting Everton at a unique time that we haven’t competed to win the league in that time frame. It leads to a fanbase that take enormous pride in younger, more local and more inconsistent players perhaps over ones who can effectively do the job they are being asked to do more consistently? While Barkley I maintain has more talen it may also be true that trophy and championship winning teams you would have to concede are generally filled with more Sigurdsson’s than Barkley’s.

As the discussion has moved forward and Swansea and Everton seem unable to come to a figure both are happy with for Sigurdsson you are seeing other potential 10’s be mentioned. Schick from Sampdoria’s deal has broken down at Juventus, with claims of heart problems and counter claims of ploys to bring the price down. Likewise we have seen some links to Max Meyer the young German, Jonathon Viera from Las Palmas. I do wonder if we might enter the competition for Renato Sanches from Bayern or Keita Balde from Lazio if either can’t get their desired dream move to one of Europe’s elite clubs? With the exception of Viera (who looks to be Swansea’s potential replacement for Sigurdsson and a good player in his own right) all of the above fit more the Walsh category than Koeman- namely younger players with less Premier League experience.

While I have to confess to having seen very little of the above players beyond obligatory youtube clips (and yes some information from computer games) I am certainly open to ridicule when I say the above names sit easier with me. More than just computer games or youtube presentations though my judgement is more informed by numbers and stats. If they are playing regularly, scoring and assisting goals and getting recognition for international teams that generally indicates a football who’s career is going in the right direction. It also seems to fit with a wider vision of what Walsh and Moshiri are looking for and a vision I am on board with-namely get the best younger players you can and mix that with a high class manager who is capable and natural (if at times reluctant) to expose and develop them.

If we were to sign any of Schick, Balde, Meyer or Sanches it is hard to see Everton losing any money on them, even if they were to struggle, yet if the Sigurdsson move fails to work out it will be difficult to claw much money back. Alongside that I also feel all of the above have a higher ceiling than Sigurdsson even if it may take them a little longer to get there.

When we consider signing Sigurdsson perhaps that becomes the key question. What are we looking to build? If it is with a central focus on next season it’s hard to argue against Sigurdsson being the best option available to us. He scores and assists 15-20 league goals per season and would not have the difficulties of settling into a new league. He also covers more ground than most players, which will fit perfectly into Koeman’s tactical approach. If like me you feel this season will be somewhat transitional in nature heading towards a big tilt in Koeman’s third year it may seem right to try and bed in 1 or 2 younger players to potentially watch them fly the following season.

My own feeling is Sigurdsson will be done. When Koeman puts his foot down he tends to get what he wants and I feel he will do so on this transfer. I sense it will be done at around 45 million, some of which will be add ons (akin to the Lukaku deal). As with all new players I will get behind him if he were to come. A final thought though, if it does happen it will mark a qualitative change for any Everton manager, including Koeman in how they are judged. Insisting on a lad for a fee of upwards of 40 million pounds puts you into a category where “best of the rest” will unlikely be deemed as a good season, or even an acceptable season. I like managers who back themselves this way, we have missed that at Everton. If Koeman gets what he wants there will be a new expectation for that to translate onto the pitch. That should be something that excites all Evertonian’s across the variance of opinions on Sigurdsson.

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