When the signing was first mooted there seemed to be a mixed response, but slowly the general outlook for Evertonians appears to have shifted to being positive at his arrival. A poll last night on twitter showed a 96% positivity rate which I found surprising but is obviously a positive for the player himself. The fee itself, initially reported at £50 million (m) before being more widely accepted was nearer to £35 m with options to rise upwards will have reassured some of the fan base who had some misgivings at the cost.
There is some debate emerging about how Everton supporters should feel about such fees. On one side is a position that it’s not our money and money shouldn’t be an object in attracting the best players. On the other side the position is that it is that sort of cavalier thinking that has led us to the mistakes of last summer. Both positions are legitimate and I’d urge fans not too get too bogged down in their viewpoint but rather see elements of truth in the opposing perspective.
The summer of 2017 will linger for many years to come as something between a ghost of the past and an existential crisis for the club. Having spent close to 200 million we went backwards and were in serious trouble by November. In my lifetime of watching Everton I have never known such a disastrous summer. While it’s important to learn the lessons and not forget them, it is also imperative that you do not allow your future actions to be governed by a paralysis brought on by fear of what happened in 2017. Everton will need to spend money, at times eye watering amounts to be competitive in the Premier League. It needs to be spent with good sense and spent within the context of a broader plan as outlined by the Director of Football. Ideally that plan has self sufficiency at it’s heart. In short the spending needs to be justifiable, well planned and provide value on the field.
As with any signing there will be some debate as to how far Richarlinson fits this criteria. What is curious about the signing is that while initially there may be good grounds for concern, a more detailed evaluation of the player gives us more grounds for optimism. Yes we the fee is large and yes we are buying from a competitor within the league, however the age profile of the player shouldn’t be discarded in this analysis. While previous domestic recruits Bolasie, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Williams & Sigurdsson were all in their late 20’s to early 30’s Richarlinson only turned 21 in May. While Everton have little hope to recoup back what they paid on all of the above (barring Gueye) and never did have much hope there is every possibility that Richarlinson may substantially add to his value. Much of this will be dependent upon how far he continues to develop and improve. It places the role of the coach Marco Silva, who is renowned for his prowess a desire to be on the training ground under the microscope as he will need to improve Richarlinsons output as he moves towards his peak years. In truth the challenges outlined in the Richarlinson signing are a microcosm of the wider challenges within the squad where we have to look to get a group of younger players ready to compete and excel at Premier League level.
While this is not automatic there is every chance this will be done. Players generally improve as they go through their 20’s. At an equivalent age, Sadio Mane had just scored 1 goal in the French 3rd division (having scored 1 goal the year previously in the French 2nd division), Mohammad Salah has just scord 7 in the Egyptian League, while Neymar was still in Brazil (albeit with a more impressive 14 goals in 17 games). Even Ryan Giggs, himself something of a wonderkid was on his was to scoring 9 goals in 41 games, an impressive feat but still showing significant room for improvement. These statistics are not their to show that Richarlinson will automatically become a better player than the names above, but to say that at age 21 very few players are the finished article and that his record to date stands up favourably to most players who go on to become superstars.
The big challenge for any Everton manager is that over recent years (but in truth over the last 2 decades) we have not improved players well enough through their 20’s. We have recently see Deulofeu and Barkley not deliver on early promise. Those with more of a memory will point to Jeffers, Cadamateri, Billy Kenny, Michael Ball & Jack Rodwell as more examples of players who were extremely talented at 18 but didn’t fully kick on. The exception to the rule over the last 25 years has been David Moyes who undoubtedly improved players, however most of those he bought in tended to be nearer to 25 than teenagers. Whatever has prevented the development of talented teenagers at Everton over the last 2 decades needs to be addressed by the new management team if they want to move Everton forward.
While Everton have a sizeable budget we will not compete for trophies if we are unable to improve players. Unlike 5 of the sides above us who are able to buy the best players in their positions at age 25+ we either sign a tier below in that age range or take a chance on younger players. Even Liverpool, who had until recently relied upon a mixed approach of developing players with some standout signings have over the last year shifted gear, with Van Dijk (75 m) Keita (55) Fabinho (45) Salah (44) & Alisson (67) all hinting at a dramatic change in policy. Richarlinson fits into the category of a promising young player, who isn’t quite good enough at present to be good enough for the top teams, but has the potential to develop into a leading player.
While much of the debate amongst Evertonians has been of a typically high intellectual standard, some from outside the club have looked to cause trouble. There is a lot of pearl clutching going on that is not applied consistently to all teams and is reflective not of a concern at the high fees required to buy players but more at a frustration that a side outside the top 6 teams has the temerity to look to upset the established order. West Ham, Liverpool and Manchester United have all signed Brazilian players, all significantly older than Richarlinson, all for more money (one signing significantly more) and none of the outfield players made Brazils World Cup Squad (indeed none of them have even 10 individual caps). All of the players are in the primes of their career and two play in positions traditionally associated with much lower fees than the one Richarlinson plays. Yet none of their signings were met with any of the chagrin that has accompanied Everton’s purchase of Richarlinson from aspects of the football community. This is not merely sporadic and unconnected inconsistency but a reflection of a wider distaste towards Everton which I surmise is down to us continuing to aim to upset the established order within the Premier League.
Some of the arguments put forward have been dishonest and therein lacking in integrity. Many have refused to publish the widely distributed figure of 35 million for the transfer and have bumped the figure up to make a point of wayward spending. Some have even used the transfer fee of Malcolm and Justin Kluivert as an example of overspending. It is an over simplistic analysis that refuses to grapple with reality- notably that Kluivert and particularly Malcolm were never really interested in joining Everton, in spite of our efforts to sign them. We have to hope that over time, by turning around our playing fortune such names will be interested next summer or the summer after, but take heart from the fact that we are looking at the right sort of players. It will take time for the club to get to a position where it can rival clubs such as AS Roma but if we are patient we will. The likelihood is, with the “English Tax” involved the Malcolm transfer would have been for substantially more than what we have paid for Richarlinson while Kluivert would likely have been within 10 million of this figure.
In Richarlinson Everton have not just bought a player who is of the right age profile but also a player who has experience of the Premier League and a physical profile whereby he can compete in the league. While it’s all well and good to suggest players who have better records in leagues abroad, the experience of Klaassen, Sandro and to an extent Vlasic- all recruited from abroad with impressive records doesn’t automatically translate into Premier League success. In Richarlinson Everton have bought a player who has shown he can not just cope with but also excel in the Premier League, the question is going to be can Silva help him discover that form again.
As I hinted at above, there is more to Richarlinson than initially first appears, the same is true of the statistics. While the raw data of just 5 goals appears underwhelming this needs to be balanced with the 8 assists he created. A total of 13 goals he was involved in was more impressive than for example Marcus Rashford, who’s price one would imagine would be substantially higher than £35 million. In truth I am unaware of a player the same age or younger who had more involvement in goals than Richarlinson last season, which is a commendable performance from him especially given he was playing for a side that fought against relegation for most of the season.
Most of Richarlinson’s output came within the first 12 games of the season, all of his goals and most of his assists. It’s fair to say Gracia couldn’t get a performance out of him in the second half of the season. How much of this was the player finding his level, or a reflection of the number of games he had played in 2017 (over 55) and not having had a summer break due to the Youth World Cup will be open to debate but what’s inevitable is the physique of the player gives him an ability to play a huge number of games that would likely tire most senior players never mind one who had just turn 20.
Everton have re-united him with the manager who he describes as a mentor and coaxed the impressive performances at the start of last season. While 12 games is a small sample size, if generalized across the season he would have been on for 15 goals and a similar amount of assists. If Silva can get Richarlinson even vaguely close to anything like those numbers the move will prove not just an enormous success but also a bargain. The exciting for Evertonians ought to be this does not require him to improve the player (in spite of him playing in a better team and being a year older/physically stronger) but just to ensure the standard of performance shown at the start of last season can be replicated across a 38 game season. Had he have done that last season, he would not be coming to Everton and nor would he be leaving for much short of double the amount we are due to pay. The risk is that the dip in performance last season was not a reversion to type, but a deep brought about by fatigue and an unsuitable management for his talents.
Only time will tell if such a gamble will pay off. I like the fact that Silva has backed his judgement and been brave enough to put his money where his mouth is on the fee. For Everton to succeed we will need to take risks. It is also a big positive for Marcel Brands, who have concluded a very tricky negotiation professionally and without many negative comments coming out into the media on either side. That ability will prove invaluable as the club looks to move forward. While he wouldn’t have been my number 1 pick he fits many of the criteria of what we need to be looking for from players, in that he is a strong, quick and young player who is ambitious to learn. It is now in the hands of the coaching team to develop a talented player into one that can win Everton games.