At £50m, Sigurdsson isn't the solution to Everton's creativity quandary
This article originally appeared on ESPN FC on July 14, 2017.
Coinciding with a much brighter financial outlook and increased spending power, Everton manager Ronald Koeman has overseen the arrival of six new signings as spending nears the £100 million mark. Work on improving a squad that finished seventh last season has begun at breakneck pace.
Aside from the protracted and inevitable loss of top scorer Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for £75m, this transfer window marks a role reversal for a club generally used to receiving hefty transfer fees rather than paying them.
Inflated fees are the norm these days. Transfers occur at such a rate that each eye-watering deal diverts attention from the last. Those with doubts about the possible arrival of Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson for a fee in the region of £50m can seek comfort in the knowledge that Manchester City signed Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker for a similar amount.
In this game of exorbitant transfer fees, Everton are relatively late to the party and appear keen to make up for lost time. However, as the £75m for Lukaku burns a hole in what are now much deeper pockets, the Toffees must guard against other clubs holding them ransom while they attempt to strengthen the squad. Swansea wanting £50m for Sigurdsson is perhaps an example of a determined opponent doing just that.
There is little doubt that Sigurdsson is a very good player whose loss would deeply hurt his club. In his second spell with the Welsh side, the former Tottenham midfielder managed nine goals and 13 assists in helping Swansea retain their Premier League status. Only Kevin De Bruyne (18) and Christian Eriksen (15) recorded more assists last term.
His set-piece delivery is supreme and would instantly improve Everton in an undervalued area in which current options frequently flatter to deceive. Much to his cost, former manager Roberto Martinez ignored set pieces at both ends of the pitch.
Sigurdsson also fits the Koeman remit without the ball. No Premier League player covered more ground last season, clocking up 433 kilometres in 38 appearances. Yet a deeper look at these and other statistics raises more questions than answers.
When spending up to £30m on both Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane, the advantage of youth and their developing potential proved the obvious counterpoints to concerns about overpaying. On the other hand, Sigurdsson will be 28 in September.
This move goes against the grain of recent transfers. Although the returning Wayne Rooney is a significant outlier and the other exception in a summer dominated to this point by the arrival of players aged 24 or younger, a two-year deal for the 31-year-old eliminates much of the risk. Given the transfer fee touted, any deal for Sigurdsson is likely to include significant wages and a lengthy contract.
Without the scope for a long-term impact, a £50m player in an attacking midfield role should provide the creative heartbeat of the team and the capacity to knit the attacking unit together. Despite impressive goal and assist figures at Swansea in 2016-17, Sigurdsson is not that player.
Excellence in dead-ball situations distracts from concerns over his influence in open play. Three penalties and two free kicks leave a goal tally showing four strikes from open play. Eight of his 13 assists arrived via free kicks or corners. Goals and assists are no less important, whether from set pieces or open play, but four goals and five assists from open play are not exactly the figures connected with a £50m player.
Everton require creativity and goals, two traits Sigurdsson possesses, but there are limitations on those attributes. Along with the need for a broader spread of goals within the squad, something Koeman hopes to remedy this summer, creativity in open play is arguably the primary issue to tackle. Sigurdsson created 80 chances last season, of which 55 came from set pieces.
For all the criticism directed towards Ross Barkley, both on the pitch and lately with his failure to sign a new contract, the 23-year-old outperformed Sigurdsson creatively in open play last season. Barkley created 57 chances to Sigurdsson's 25 and recorded six assists to Sigurdsson's five. Both players scored four times in normal play. Many supporters believe that Barkley is not the solution to the creative predicament Koeman faces, but on this evidence, neither is Sigurdsson.
This is not to say that Sigurdsson cannot succeed at Everton, should the deal go through, as the qualities he possesses would still add to the first-team squad. A price nearer £20m and any complaints would be considerably less audible, but at this time, for this price, Sigurdsson is not what Everton need.
Smashing the club-record transfer fee for a player who turns 28 in September and does not address the shortage of open-play creativity, pace and width in the final third feels out of step with the direction the club has taken this summer.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.