If Ronald Koeman wants a creative midfielder he should invest in Valter Birsa, Ryad Boudebouz or Jonathan Viera
This transfer window is taking the phrase “silly season” to a whole new level, with record signings being unveiled throughout the Premier League. Thirteen of the 20 clubs in the league broke their transfer records last summer but Everton broke the mould. Their record signing dates back to 2014, when they paid Chelsea £28m for Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku has nearly trebled in value in three years, becoming Everton’s most lucrative sale by a country mile, and the club are ready to spend a huge chunk of the £75m they received from Manchester United to break their transfer record once again. They have bid £40m and £45m for Gylfi Sigurdsson but Swansea City are holding out for another £5m.
We all know how this ends, with Swansea getting the fee they want and Everton getting their man. Everton secured the services of the Swansea captain last season when they signed Ashley Williams and they are just a few million short of repeating the trick this summer. Sigurdsson was instrumental for Swansea as they escaped relegation in the last few weeks of the season, so it’s little wonder the club have asked for such a huge sum, but is he really worth all that cash?
There’s little doubt that Sigurdsson is a quality player at Premier League level, but he turns 28 in September and is not likely to improve. You know what you’re going to get with Sigurdsson, which might be a positive for some, but you also know what you’re not getting: an elite player. Perhaps some other signings in the £50m bracket – such as Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy – are not elite players either but at least they are among the best available in their positions. That is not really the case with Sigurdsson. His impressive statistics from last season show he is a superb set-piece taker but his creative output is somewhat skewed by that fact.
His tally of 13 assists last season was the third highest in the Premier League – behind just Kevin De Bruyne (18) and Christian Eriksen (15) – and fifth-equal in Europe’s top five leagues, where he tied with Luis Suárez, the most prolific assist provider in La Liga. However, only five of Sigurdsson’s assists came from open play, which puts him outside the top 20 in the Premier League and equal 85th in Europe, below the man he is tipped to replace at Goodison Park, Ross Barkley (who provided six assists from open play), and level with the returning Wayne Rooney, who had less than half as much gametime as Sigurdsson.
The majority of Sigurdsson’s assists came from set pieces – eight of the 13 – which was enough to put him alongside Toni Kroos as the best in Europe’s top five leagues, but Everton have just sold their big target man and none of Lukaku’s replacements in attack – Sandro Ramírez, Davy Klaassen and Rooney – are as strong in the air, suggesting Sigurdsson’s greatest asset will not be put to use too often. His tally of six assists for Fernando Llorente last season was the joint most effective combination in the Premier League, but Everton do not have a player like Lukaku or Llorente on the books at present, which makes £50m look like a huge gamble.
Sigurdsson was not nearly as effective from open play last season. His figure of 25 key passes from open play was incredibly modest to say the least. It’s the same number that Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye produced for Everton from holding midfield and less than half of Barkley’s total (56).
The Iceland international may have valuable Premier League experience but there are significantly cheaper alternatives out there. Ronald Koeman should consider Chievo’s Valter Birsa and Montpellier’s Ryad Boudebouz, who are both available at a fraction of the price. Birsa provided five assists from set pieces in Serie A last season and, crucially, he created more chances from open play than Sigurdsson (38 to 25).
When it comes to creating chances, Algeria international Boudebouz is streets ahead. The midfielder – who is thought to be available for around £15m – created the most chances per game in Europe’s top five leagues last season (3.5), with 68 of them coming from open play. At 27, he is the same age as Sigurdsson but he offers considerably more by way of dribbling ability – 2.7 dribbles per game compared to 0.8 – while matching Sigurdsson for tackles per game (both 1.2) – and he also produced those figures while playing under similar circumstances in a relegation battle. With more goals (11 to nine) from significantly fewer shots, Boudebouz could be a steal.
Everton have also been linked with a move for the Las Palmas captain Jonathan Viera, whose release clause of £27m is about half of Sigurdsson’s asking price. He didn’t score as many goals or lay on as many assists – seven goals and seven assists for Viera, compared to nine goals and 13 assists for Sigurdsson – but he is far more inventive in general play, with 67 key passes when excluding set pieces. With a greater number of dribbles (two per game) and tackles (1.4 per game), the Spanish playmaker would also be a more cost-effective option – and he is capable of playing deeper in midfield or wide on the left if necessary.
Sigurdsson’s time at Tottenham should also give Koeman some doubts. He may not have been given enough time in his best position to impress but his failure to make the grade and force himself into the team should be a concern. Sigurdsson didn’t look close to a £50m player then and in truth he doesn’t now either. It may not be the biggest fee in the current window, but that shouldn’t stop Everton from assessing players who could offer them more for considerably less money.
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