Everton to benefit from Deulofeu's ability to influence matches
Gerard Deulofeu is an Everton player once more, only this time on a permanent deal, with the Barcelona youngster signing a three-year deal with the option for a further year.
The arrival of Deulofeu signals the second transfer of the summer for the Blues with Tom Cleverley signed on a free from Manchester United. Both are players with time on their side, which is a welcome trait in an aging squad. Both have the faith of their manager invested in them; this is the second time Roberto Martinez has signed each player. These dealings represent pleasing early steps in ensuring the squad is well equipped for a quick start in August.
Already adored by the Goodison faithful, the expected adjustment period is largely redundant for Deulofeu, a player familiar with his surroundings. At ease with those around him, the focus will be on the pitch and ensuring that Deulofeu realises the obvious talent he possesses.
Aaron Lennon paved the way forward for wide players in this team in his brief loan spell last season, with his presence as a genuine winger adding invention and pace to a team too often falling into a stale brand of one-paced football that was far removed from the season before.
Lennon also demonstrated the required balance between attack and defence. The Spurs loanee briefly dragged Seamus Coleman out of his slump and galvanised the team, with his infectious work rate seemingly shaming others into raising their game.
Similar to the manner in which Lennon surprised with his efficient style, Deulofeu needs to find the correct balance; it can help remedy the lack of consistency that has gnawed away at his progress in two seasons on loan at Everton and Sevilla, respectively.
Yet the ability to influence matches remains apparent; the potential is clear and plentiful for a player blessed with a happy knack of creating assists at a rapid rate, despite restricted playing time -- Deulofeu ended his two season-long loans at Everton and Sevilla with the best minutes-per-assist rate in the team.
Only Carlos Bacca delivered more league assists in a Sevilla shirt last season (six) and Deulofeu's five assists arrived at a team-best rate of one every 157 minutes. Those figures compare favourably to his new (old) teammates -- only Leighton Baines registered more assists, and no Everton player created assists at a faster rate.
Similar figures accompanied his first stint on Merseyside, with the then 19-year-old returning three goals and three assists in only 895 minutes of football -- equal to less than 10 full games. The three assists materialised at a team-best rate of one every 298 minutes.
One moment in Deulofeu's first Everton spell captured the undoubted quality at Martinez's disposal and showed why the £4.2 million transfer fee could prove a steal. Other impressive performances arrived, notably the 4-0 win against Stoke, and the 3-0 win at Newcastle, but for sheer quality, the goal securing a point in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal ranked highest.
Crowded out on the edge of the box, faced with a wall of red and white and the close attentions of Tomas Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs, Deulofeu fashioned a moment of brilliance. Out of nowhere, the youngster hammered a shot over Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny into the far corner. In a flash, the improbable had seemed routine.
What will be vital to seeing an increase in these flickers of brilliance will be minutes on the pitch in order to develop a young player whose Sevilla loan finished in anonymous fashion. After an assist, his fifth in the league and ninth in all competitions, in the February defeat to Real Sociedad, the loan fizzled out and Deulofeu's only subsequent appearance arrived in a 28-minute outing against Rayo Vallecano in April.
A return of 42 league appearances across loan spells at Everton and Sevilla looks a respectable return for a young player still finding his way in the game, but those matches totalled only 1,678 minutes of football -- the equivalent of less than 40 minutes per game. Turning these cameos into 90-minute displays is the key to Deulofeu living up to the hype attached to a player nurtured at Barcelona's vaunted academy.
The ability to conjure game-changing quality is beyond doubt. It is the finer aspects in need of fine-tuning, the decision-making, knowing when to pass and when to go at it alone. Questions over his work rate and willingness to function as part of a team, rather than an individual, continue to linger, and work is required on defensive aspects, though there were signs of improvement in this regard as his first season at Everton progressed.
But there is the scope and time to tackle and eradicate any possible obstacles in the winger's development. There is also the capacity for thrilling supporters while troubling opposition defenders, and that is a much-needed boost for a fan base starved of quality and a team short on invention in recent months.
And Deulofeu has the added bonus of a manager who firmly believes in his new recruit. Martinez's positive outlook and faith in youth could be just the ticket for a youngster with the potential to light up this team.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.