When you spend big, you expect a return. And what Everton expected was creativity. Sigurdsson was meant to provide the creative edge to Everton’s play, to become the fulcrum around which the Everton attacking machine turned.
His performance against Arsenal on Sunday seemed to encapsulate just how far this ideal has fallen short. Throughout the match, Sigurdsson strolled around the pitch, seemingly playing a different game in his head. That game was played at a much slower pace and one that predominantly involved him pointing at different people for others to pass to rather than himself.
What contributions he made to the play were generally woeful. Easy to beat, lethargic in the challenge and hopeless in his passing, it is a complete mystery how he managed to stay on the pitch for the entirety of the game. Everton effectively played with ten men, the £45m signing doing more to bolster the chances of the opposition than the side he was meant to represent.
If this was an isolated example, it would be easier to tolerate. But it isn’t. It was instead yet another black mark against the midfielder’s name, more evidence for the prosecution, whose case has long since been proved beyond reasonable doubt, a case that states just how wasteful Everton’s significant investment has been.
It would be fair to say that Sigurdsson has constantly failed to live up to his price tag. In fact, you could go further and suggest that even had he cost half as much, the price would still have been too much.
He arrived at Goodison during a time that has since been known as the ‘Age of the Number 10s’. Steve Walsh, the Blues transfer supremo back then, seemed to believe that the key to the club’s future success was to sign as many number 10s as was humanly possible, possibly envisioning a future when the entire first eleven would consist of mercurial playmakers. It would be a side built to create a whirlwind of assists, undone by the fatal flaw of not actually having anyone available to convert those chances into goals.
Sigurdsson formed part of the first tranche of this grand plan, Phase One of Operation Future Impotence. Sadly for Walsh, nobody would ever get to see his great scheme come to fruition. After that first wave, the Goodison hierarchy got cold feet and jettisoned the hapless director of football. One by one, his recruits were moved on to pastures new, until Gylfi was left as the sole survivor, a lingering reminder of what might have been.
During his early time with the club, Sigurdsson’s all-round ineffectualness could be attributed to positional misplacement. It wasn’t that he was lazy, blunt and devoid of impact, he was simply playing in the wrong position. Ever the professional, Gylfi had remained true to the reason for which he had been hired. He was a number 10, recruited to be a number 10. Playing out on the left was not in his contract, not what he had been brought here to do, and so he didn’t bother. That’s what £45m gets you, true commitment to the role.
But once that situation was corrected and Sigurdsson found himself as the sole number 10 in the team, he finally had the chance to thrive in the position to which he is most suited. Grasping the opportunity with the kind of steel, commitment and determination that has become the hallmark of a classic Sigurdsson performance, he would go on to make the role not his own.
Gylfi became that rarest of players, a playmaker without the ability to make much impact on the play. Although there were flashes, brief occasions when it looked like he might actually become a player worthy of his hefty price tag, they never amounted to anything consistent.
Perhaps most damning was his quality, or lack thereof, from a dead-ball. Prior to his arrival at Goodison, Sigurdsson had been a set-piece maestro. He was the budget Christian Eriksen beloved of hard-up fantasy football managers, eager for a low cost alternative to the magnificent Dane. It was hoped that Gylfi could bring some of this magic to the Blues, adding another element to the club’s attacking arsenal. But it hasn’t worked out as planned. Sigurdsson’s delivery has been consistently dreadful, a set-piece maestro unable to reach the heights that once made his name.
Of late, like a last throw of the dice, it was hoped that that the Sigurdsson story might have one final chance to turn positive. With a world class manager at the helm, surely the best could be brought out of him, tapping into a talent that others had failed to mine. Perhaps Ancelotti could unwrap the enigma that was Gylfi, getting more out of the club’s once record-breaking signing.
Although there has been a change to his game, it has not been a particularly welcome one. To bluntness and laziness, Sigurdsson has now added hiding. It has been a common sight recently to see the supposed creative heart of the team doing anything to avoid getting on the ball. Sometimes this means positioning himself where he shouldn’t be, like hiding between the centre-halves when the team is attacking. And other times it means him actually telling people to pass to someone else. He spent a good deal of the second half against Arsenal directing the play to other parts of the pitch, essentially anywhere away from him.
It’s hard now to see any future where Sigurdsson remains part of the Everton set up. The club’s £45m investment has been largely wasteful, a catastrophic outlay for a player of his abilities. Successive summers of thinking that this could be the season where Gylfi comes good have to come to an end. We are about to enter the post-Sigurdsson world, a land free from the long reach of Steve Walsh.
In truth, it was a signing that never made much sense. In a rapidly evolving top-flight, where power and pace have become prized assists, Gylfi seems like an anachronism, a man out of step. Even before he arrived at Goodison, it felt as though his time had passed. English football, at the highest levels, no longer has a place for players like Sigurdsson, slowly floating in and out of games, contributing only when the mood arises.
Everton’s mistake was to not realise this and instead invest heavily in the answer to yesterday’s problem. The club should’ve been looking to the future but spent on the past. A £45m outlay on nothing in particular, providing us with a hole where a better player could have been.