Andre Gomes presents a dilemma for an Everton torn between ambition and pragmatism
Portuguese midfielder has found himself among the substitutes in recent matches, which has resulted in some much-needed stability of Marco Silva's side
There was a quarter of an hour remaining on Sunday when Andre Gomes ambled on to the pitch at Goodison Park. As Mesut Ozil can testify, English football can have a strange fixation with body language, but occasionally it works in the favour of the seemingly casual. Gomes’ lack of urgency, coupled with a classy touch, can convey the impression of a player operating on a different plane.
Which, in a sense, he is. Borrowed from Barcelona, a Euro 2016 winner, he represented a statement signing, a declaration of ambition, a face of Everton’s transformation. If perhaps the most famous Goodison Park midfield in the last three decades consisted of the “dogs of war”, Gomes is an altogether sleeker cat.
The Portuguese was a subplot and a substitute in Sunday’s Merseyside derby. A stalemate was secured with plenty of perspiration and rather less inspiration.
Perhaps a special occasion required a different approach, damage-limitation tactics in a bid to prevent Liverpool winning the title. Marco Silva paired twin defensive midfielders, something he rarely does but a ploy which most of his predecessors usually adopted.
The watching David Moyes commented approvingly. He recognised more of what he saw. Moyes did not have Silva’s sizeable transfer budget or, perhaps, his vision. But even while accommodating a deep-lying playmaker, in Mikel Arteta, he had a compact and competitive team, hard to watch at times but usually hard to break down.
Silva’s Everton have been their opposites, furnished with style but constructed with too little steel. Gomes has felt emblematic, part of a bold blueprint, but leaving Idrissa Gueye exposed and overworked and a creaking defence with too little protection.
Everton have only kept two clean sheets in three months with the Portuguese in the starting line-up; they have mustered two in a week with him beginning on the bench. Morgan Schneiderlin has scarcely been a crowd favourite in his Everton career, but he provided Gueye with a like-minded sidekick.
If the derby was notable for the sidelining of two flagship recruits in a quest for solidity, Richarlison showed in his cameo why he has to start. Gomes feels a different case, but that is not entirely his fault. He and Gylfi Sigurdsson may be incompatible: while Gueye seems to do the running of two men, Everton are too open when has to do the work of two.
And while Sigurdsson’s consistency can be questioned, the fact is he has 11 league goals; only nine players, all at big-six clubs, have more. From a deeper role, Gomes has one, taken beautifully against Wolves but, like his solitary assist, an underwhelming return for his considerable talent.
It is a question of balance. It is also an issue of identity. Everton may have lost theirs a little of late, overreaching amid aims of competing with the best while losing their title as the best of the rest. They used to have an earthiness. Their crowd appreciate an aggressive brand of football.
Roberto Martinez had a heady season when he allied defensive resolve with more fluent football. Since then, Everton have either been insufficiently pragmatic or, under Sam Allardyce, far too pragmatic. There has been no happy medium.
If Silva reined in his objectives to preserve his position, decisions beckon. Gomes could cost £29 million (Dh140.1m) at the end of the season and, as compliments flowed in autumn, Silva stressed Everton’s desire to buy him.
A bleaker midwinter has offered another perspective, that they cannot afford two luxury players in the centre of the pitch. It is a question that cuts to the heart of the modern-day Everton: of what they want to be, but also of what they are and what they realistically can be.
Updated: March 4, 2019 03:22 PM