Football at its best has always been about magic and, where it pertains to individual players, those moments where a player can prompt thousands of fans to rise out of their seats en masse in spine-tingling anticipation of what could come next.
Tom Davies did it the Sunday before last as he set off on that captivating run from his own half and left two Manchester City players for ”dead” before finishing the move with the clinical confidence of a player 10 years his senior. Gerard Deulofeu, meanwhile, is one of those players who can do it routinely, even if lately the Goodison faithful had been lifting off their seats in hope rather than expectation of the young Spaniard delivering.
Because while his arrival was greeted with unbridled enthusiasm in the summer of 2013 by Evertonians, who viewed the capture of one of Barcelona’s most heralded youth products of the past few years as a major coup for manager Roberto Martinez, and his wonderful moments in that first season under the Catalan made Deulofeu synonymous with the word “magic” among Blues fans, it’s fair to say that his return to the club on a permanent deal in 2015 hasn’t been an entirely successful one.
Hoping that the then 21-year-old would return from a difficult season at Seville a year older and a lot wiser, fans looked forward to seeing how Deulofeu could mature in Martinez’s side and it looked by mid-September in 2015 as though everything had clicked. The winning goal in a League Cup tie at Reading was followed by another match-winning display at West Bromwich Albion where, on his first league start of the campaign, he served up two goals for Romelu Lukaku in a thrilling come-from-behind victory at the Hawthorns.
By mid-December, the Belgian striker had already surpassed his tally of goals for the previous season and his Spanish “supplier” had laid on half of them. What had become one of the most glaring problems of Martinez’s management — namely, the lack of service to Lukaku — looked to have been solved but it didn’t last long.
Deulofeu undoubtedly possesses an “X” factor but all too often it’s his “F” factor — for frustrating or (a lack of) fitness — that wins out and he flattered to deceive for the remainder of 2015-16, albeit in a struggling side that would again finish 11th again and finish the season with the manager heading out the door with his tail between his legs.
The arrival of Ronald Koeman offered the prospect of another fresh start for “Geri” and after a promising pre-season, he was handed the responsibility of leading the line in a central forward role in the absence of the injured Romelu Lukaku at the beginning of this season. His pace and energy suggested it might work but his lack of physical strength against robust Premier League defences — not to mention inability to last much beyond 60 minutes — worked against him and it’s unlikely that his propensity to throw himself to the turf at the slightest contact endeared him much to the new boss.
In that sense, Deulofeu might have come up against “Emery Mk II” in Koeman — a manager not given to accommodating players unwilling to muck in on the defensive side and carry out the duty of continually pressing from the front — but he was handed opportunities to impress as both a starter and a substitute until early December as the Dutchman rotated through his collection of inconsistent wide players looking for a solution that worked.
It felt like Deulofeu was running out of opportunities with Koeman by the time he made what will be his last start for the Blues this season against Watford on 10th December. He played the full 90 minutes in what was an ugly 3-2 defeat but it’s unlikely he did anything to convince his boss that he was the answer to a mis-firing attack that had scored just nine goals in the 10 games leading up to trip to Vicarage Road.
It’s somewhat ironic that his last real act as an Everton player for the time being was to serve up a goal for Romelu Lukaku in that ill-fated FA Cup third round tie against Leicester a fortnight ago. It was his only assist in 13 appearances in all competitions which perhaps underlines why he appeared to have fallen out of favour with Koeman completely before that game.
It’s sad that Deulofeu hasn’t thus far fulfilled his rich potential because from the start he has embraced Everton Football Club and its fans and settled well into the club. His departure for a loan spell at AC Milan until the end of the season is an intriguing one though and, given how Vincenzo Montella has been able to spark the career of another young Spanish winger who once played on Merseyside, it’s not as surprising as it first seems. Suso, a former Spain U20s team-mate of Deulofeu, is blossoming at the San Siro and Montella is no doubt hoping that lightning can strike twice in that regard.
The terms of the deal leave the 22-year-old’s future very much open — succeed in Milan and he can either return to Everton with a new lease on life and more experience of a foreign league under his belt or, with the Italians’ future perhaps clearer in terms of their pending Chinese takeover, arrange a permanent move to the San Siro.
Obviously, if Deulofeu doesn’t impress in Serie A, the road ahead for him looks less clear, although the rumoured interest in him from the likes of Middlesbrough and Ajax this month would suggest that there are potential suitors for him elsewhere should Everton wish to offload him.
Whatever happens, there are many Evertonians for whom the site of Deulofeu leaving Goodison again invoke mixed feelings, among which will be regret that he hasn’t been able to consistently match his natural talent with the work-rate and end product that the Premier League demands. It’s an unforgiving environment though, something that Koeman appears to grasp and there can be little room for sentiment if he is going to be successful in dragging the Blues back among the domestic game’s elite.
And yet he was a player who could come off the bench and offer something completely different to the side – direct running, speed and unpredictability out wide – so there has been scepticism in some quarters at the ease with which he has been let go. Impactful wingers were influential the last time Everton won a trophy, or at least threatened to, and the hope was that Geri could be just as important as predecessors like Anders Limpar and Andrei Kanchelskis.
In that sense, the focus shifts to who comes in to replace Deulofeu in an area of the pitch plagued by inconsistency. With Aaron Lennon struggling to hold the manager’s attention, Enner Valencia occasionally effective in the role and Kieran Dowell apparently deemed not ready, the need for further reinforcements in attacking midfield or on the wing would seem to be high on the list of priorities for the remainder of the transfer window.
Everton’s interest in Rachid Ghezzal and Memphis Depay would suggest that Koeman and Steve Walsh feel the same way so with two through the door already this month, the hope is that the transfer activity isn’t over and that the club will be actively looking to fill the vacancy created by the departure of the mercurial No.7.
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