When Roberto Martinez was appointed as Everton manager in the summer of 2013, Kevin Mirallas must have been delighted.
The Belgium international had just enjoyed a prosperous debut term in the Premier League, bagging a brilliant brace on the final day of the season against West Ham United. It prompted sky-high expectations, especially with the Catalan's cavalier attacking style seemingly a perfect fit for Mirallas's rampaging wing play.
Three years on, Mirallas is a player scarred and he stands at a precarious point in his Everton career. Indeed, new manager Ronald Koeman faces an intriguing quandary when he considers quite what to do with his № 11.
The freedom many expected to enrich his game under Martinez ultimately manifested as a lack of discipline. Red cards came against Swansea City and, most infamously, West Ham United last season; the latter contributed to a jaded Everton surrendering a two-goal lead late on.
Before that, in the 2014-15 campaign, Mirallas grabbed the ball off regular penalty taker Leighton Baines against West Bromwich Albion. He missed, was withdrawn at half-time and Everton drew 0-0. And while some Toffees choose to revere it, his reckless challenge on Luis Suarez in 2013 could have cost his team again.
All these incidents were underpinned by slumps of the shoulders, inconsistent performances, and releases of frustration. He was a shadow of the sharp, refreshing presence who added a dash of flair to Moyes's XI in his first year on Merseyside.
As a manager, Martinez had many flaws. But his grounds for not having full faith in Mirallas have credence. Yet, given his natural talent, gift for goalscoring and edginess — a huge asset when appropriately harnessed — plenty tied to the Toffees have preserved a faith in the player.
Those hopes have been fuelled by a new manager and a fine free-kick from the Belgian in pre-season against Barnsley. Mirallas himself, based on what we've seen so far under Koeman, seems much more at ease with life at Goodison Park again.
“For me it's great because I'm from Belgium, so it's very close [to Holland], and we speak the same,” said the man himself. “All the fans know the players and now they want to see the best manager for Everton.”
Koeman may well be the coach Mirallas needs to channel his talents. Most significantly of all, the shackles will be back on the player. Martinez's seeming disinterest in pressing, defensive cohesion and work-rate is not shared by Koeman; if Mirallas wants to feature, he'll have to graft hard and subdue his temper. If he can do so, there will surely be an important position for him in the squad.
Koeman seems to like players of Mirallas's style; his Southampton side used versatile forwards. Not only did the likes of Sadio Mane, Shane Long and Dusan Tadic all fulfil different positions at different times with the Saints, they all progressed in his two years at the club. Increased application, more consistency, and a greater tactical awareness are now hallmarks of their game.
They're areas Mirallas will need to sharpen up if he's going to become a regular feature in the Everton side. He's a player who comes alive in bursts and can be decisive in those spells. But Koeman commands greater involvement from his attackers; whether making key contributions in the final third or not, the aforementioned Saints men are always in the game.
Even so, this won't be an automatic process for Mirallas. It's time for a player who has long got away with not taking responsibility to buck that trend.
Because, if he doesn't buy into the principles of the new manager, Mirallas's Everton career could quickly come to an end, especially with other options in the wide positions and a huge transfer budget burning a hole in the pocket of major investor Farhad Moshiri. Under this new regime, a player who showed the same flaws he did under Martinez would quickly become dispensable.
But a player who can be stationed in various roles, conjure key goals, and excite supporters, would be extremely useful to the new man. Mirallas, in the right environment, can become that player.
Longstanding sympathy for him will surely wane should things fail to improve this season, though. Mirallas may have had poor fortune with injuries, may have jarred with Martinez, and may have good intentions blemished by his frustration. Nevertheless, there comes a point when the excuses must run out for this enigmatic footballer.
Koeman has shown a precedent for assisting players of Mirallas's ilk and can add the functional base to the winger's skill-set that was lacking under his predecessor. But, for a player who has so many natural gifts, the time has come for him to seize control of his own destiny at Goodison Park.
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