As arguably the most uncomfortable legacy of Roberto Martinez’s tenure returns to the club following his loan spell with Hull City, another of the Spaniard’s less successful acquisitions prepares to leave Everton after four unproductive years.
The cruel hand of fate would play a large role in Arouna Koné’s time at Goodison Park but it’s difficult for all concerned not to look back on it without a good measure of frustration and regret, especially when you consider the damage done to the prestige of the No 9 Everton jersey made famous by one William Ralph Dean.
Worship of that sacred number is something of an anachronism in the modern game where another misfit striker has represented the Blues wearing the number 5 but when one of the original “number nines” was the best striker the domestic game has ever seen, you could be forgiven for wanting to cherish it a little.
Martinez’s decision to sign Arouna Koné from his former club, Wigan Athletic, in July 2013 was met with a mixed response from Evertonians, many of whom baulked at the idea of spending £6m on a 29-year-old journeyman striker.
That the Ivorian was allowed to wear the iconic “9” on his back would probably have met with fiercer resistance had Evertonians had any inkling that Koné would that season become the first Toffees player to wear that number and fail to score a goal.
Most, however, could see the wisdom in drafting in a seemingly reliable forward who had struck 11 league goals in 34 games for the Latics the previous season and registered 15 for Levante in the same number of appearances the previous year. That he was one of the architects of that 3-0 drubbing in the FA Cup that was perhaps an integral part of Martinez’s resume when it came to convincing Bill Kenwright that he was the man to succeed David Moyes also helped, no doubt.
He was a player Martinez trusted and even though the fee paid was a lot for Everton at the time, he was a potentially useful addition to a squad whose strikers under his predecessor David Moyes had failed to reach double figures for 2012-13.
The reality, of course, proved to be quite different. He will leave the club this summer having played 48 times in the Premier League and registered just six goals. Three of those came in one game, a hat-trick against Sunderland in November 2015 that was as remarkable as it was unexpected.
Ironically, for a striker who cost Everton £1m per league goal scored, it was that three-goal burst that triggered a year’s extension to his contract. It didn’t amount to much beyond nine substitute appearances in all competitions and two goals in the League Cup against Yeovil last August and new manager Ronald Koeman eventually opted for the pacier and more versatile Enner Valencia after signing him on transfer deadline day in a season-long loan deal with West Ham.
What will remain unknown is how big a contribution Koné might have made to Everton had he not been struck down with a potentially career-ending knee injury just weeks into his Goodison career.
His initial preparations for his first season with the Toffees didn’t augur well. His fasting in observance of Ramadan meant that he was unable to train properly in the summer of 2013 which had obvious implications during pre-season when he featured only fleetingly.
It was not surprising that he looked jaded and unproductive in his first full appearances for Everton and his profligacy in a League Cup tie against Stevenage that August prompted Martinez to admit that the striker was still some way off match fitness and sharpness.
A minor injury a couple of weeks later was then followed by a very serious one sustained in October that was initially passed off as a knock but was eventually revealed to be a meniscus problem that would require surgery and sideline Koné for the following year.
He would return in the winter of 2014 to be eased back into the team but he never looked like the player he had been on the few occasions Evertonians had seen him play for Wigan. Certainly fans had little to go in terms of his Everton career but it quickly became apparent that with so few goals to his name he would be a squad player at best.
After struggling to repeat his surprising feat of a fifth-place finish and club-record Premier League points haul during his first season in charge, Martinez finally began experimenting with the introduction of a second striker in some games which looked like it could provide Koné with a new lease on life.
Romelu Lukaku’s prolific goalscoring record meant that he was unquestionably the Blues’ first-choice striker but the Belgian had begun to struggle with being marked out of games and it appeared briefly in early 2015-16 that Koné could be a solution.
Lukaku often looked more comfortable with a second striker offering support and providing a distraction for opposition defenders but Koné’s inconsistency and lack of goals — that purple patch against Sunderland aside — meant that it was a short-lived hope and he ultimately returned to bench duty, making just 16 starts that season as Martinez’s reign crumbled the following spring.
In the final reckoning, Arouna Koné will go down as an unsuccessful acquisition by Martinez; a player who could have played an important part of the Everton team if he had remained fit and been able to weigh in with a double-figures goals return.
Unfortunately, injury would sideline him at what should have been the peak of his powers and his manager erred by relying too heavily on Lukaku and not bringing in another striker capable of easing the burden on the Blues’ No 10.
Now, whether Lukaku remains at Goodison or not this summer, Koné’s departure and Valencia’s expected return to London underscore the need for Koeman and Steve Walsh to finally bring in additional firepower that can be relied upon to produce goals rather than mere frustration.
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