It would probably be unfair to single out one player as embodying everything that has been wrong at Everton in recent years. But I’ll give it a go.
When Oumar Niasse came on against West Ham last week, it represented the sixth Everton manager that the Senegalese ‘forward’ had played for.
Let that sink in. A player who from the moment he pulled on a blue shirt was clearly out of his depth has somehow lingered on at the club through the reigns of six managers, one of the few constants amidst our recent seasons of turmoil. Like a fixed point in time and space, the undeniable reality of Niasse has remained to illustrate, to fans and outsiders alike, the club’s evident shortcomings.
‘That’s right’ his presence on the field appeared to say ‘Everton are still turning to Oumar Niasse to change the game’. After years of spending, or renewal and rebuilding, he still remains a tactical option. What does that say about the club? It says that something is has clearly gone wrong.
Niasse arrived back in 2016, a final foray into the transfer market for Roberto Martinez. He came without fanfare and subsequently did nothing to make that lack of fanfare seem unfair. For much of the time that followed he has remained largely unloved, largely unwanted and yet somehow, inexplicably, largely still there.
In years to come, scientists might well explore the Niasse-phenomenon to try to understand the staying power of this great enigma. How, in the absence of talent or usefulness, this one individual has managed to remain as a Premier League footballer for so long.
What Ali Dia could only do for a brief moment at Southampton, Niasse has managed to do for his entire contract. This phantom of a footballer has haunted Goodison, making the decision to recruit him a punchline to a bad joke that will remain part of Everton folklore for generations to come.
He will come to symbolise an era for our club. Like Bret Angell and Ibrahima Bakayoko before him, Niasse will remain a totemic reminder of how bad things have been.
Importantly, none of this is his fault. I’m sure if any of us was offered the chance to earn Premier League money for nearly five years in return for taking a load of shit off managers, being regularly offered out as a loanee and when we did play just having to run about a bit, occasionally getting the ball caught under our feet, we would grab the opportunity greedily and hold onto it for dear life. Niasse has done what anyone with his limited talent would do in the same position.
People often talk about his attitude, praising the way he has responded to setbacks with good grace. But what else was he going to do? Kick off and move somewhere where the pay was more comsumerate with his ability. ‘Fuck that’, he must’ve thought to himself, ‘I’m onto a good thing here’.
And how important is a locker after all? With the money he’s been on, he could rent an entire house nearby Finch Farm for his clobber if he was that bothered. Or hire someone to wear it for him. Or set fire to it and buy new stuff the next day.
I could stomach a rumoured £55,000-a-week if the worst I would endure would be nowhere to hang my coat and boss who thought I was shite. In fact, I’ve put up with the latter plenty of times for a lot less money.
Throughout the Niasse-era, one of the most depressing aspects was the fact that, for a short time, he was on the verge of gaining ‘cult’ status amongst Evertonians. And yes, I have spelled that right. One of the surest examples of a club enduring a spell in the doldrums is the emergence of such figures, poor players who somehow, because of a key goal scored or some facet of their personality gain ‘cult’ status. Big clubs, clubs who actually win things, don’t have figures like that. When they mistakenly sign a crap player, they’re shown the door. They don’t need some ironic revelling in a player’s evident limitations to sustain them.
Of course, he’s not the only mistake Everton have made in recent years. And he certainly isn’t the most-costly. The money spent on Sigurðsson, Tosun and Keane is criminal. And the wages that Sandro has managed to get out of the club would’ve been better spent papering the walls at Finch Farm. At the very least, this would have had an insulating effect. You could try to do something similar with Sandro but I’m certain that he would somehow just make the building colder.
But through a number of factors, including his sheer endurance, the meagreness of his ability and the unfathomable length of time he has managed to hang around, I’d make a good bet that in years to come it will be his name that is brought to mind when people talk about the early Moshiri-era, in the same way that Angell is associated with Walker or Bakayoko with Smith.
We are now, as future generations will come to know it, in the late-Niasse-period. His time at the club is coming to an end, his contract finally about to run its course. Come the summer, he will be released back into the football world, free to supply some other club with his unique take on the game.
Or will he? So embedded has he become within the fabric of the club, can we definitely be sure that this will come to pass? Might Oumar somehow remain? His powers of endurance are beyond anything we have seen before. Maybe he will prove to be the first footballer to exist beyond the conventional norms of contractual law. When it comes to Niasse, we are in uncharted territory. Aside from a good performance, anything is possible…