On the very periphery of every Premier League squad you will find a figure standing very still. He is still because should he make any sudden movement it might remind one of the coaching staff of his existence. The key is not to stand out. To stay distinctly unremarkable. To continue picking up a Premier League wage and blend right in.
Now let’s be clear about this because it’s an important point. The peripheral player is not taking a leaf out of Winston Bogarde’s play-book here; the Chelsea mercenary who was infamously a-okay with taking his £40k-a-week while never being considered for the first-team.
The peripheral player wants to be picked. He wants to earn his corn. It’s just that he can’t. He is nowhere near good enough. He is at best lower Championship level and should he be selected on any given weekend his limitations would once again be all-too-apparent.
On a personal note I once worked in a factory where my sole job was to collect and dispose of cardboard boxes. It was a duty that took five minutes every hour and for the remaining 55 minutes I would keenly try to look busy; to blend in to the point of invisibility. It was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
These players therefore deserve our respect. They have done magnificently to this point keeping up the pretence. Only now they’ve been found out.
The Senegalese attacker has scored eight times in 35 Premier League appearances during his largely forgettable spell at Goodison and though this is hardly a disastrous return it can subjectively be said those goals have been his only contribution bar some willing running.
Quickly realising that his predecessor Roberto Martinez had signed a dud, Ronald Koeman wasted no time in informing Niasse his days were numbered on Merseyside when he took charge.
“He told me ‘I didn’t want you, you are not good that is all,” the player relayed to a sympathetic fan-base who probably agreed with the sentiment but bridled at claims that Koeman also took away Niasse’s locker and shirt number. He’s an honest tryer is Niasse; just a bit rubbish, and no-one really deserves that treatment.
Just like no-one really deserves a loan stint in Hull but that’s what came next while his next temporary move took him to Cardiff, then in the top flight. In 13 appearances he failed to score.
Since then the 29-year-old has been glimpsed on occasion then instantly forgotten about and now the transfer window is closed, it seems he’ll be seeing out an Everton contract that expires in the summer.
When the Magpies signed the Japanese forward in the summer of 2018 many aspects of the transfer made sense. His £9.5m fee was perfectly reasonable for a player who had scored eight times in the Bundesliga the previous year, as he helped keep Mainz up.
Furthermore, he was a seasoned international who would provide decent back-up to Newcastle’s first-choice pairing of Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon.
Muto failed in that regard and in fact has failed in every regard since, scoring just once in 24 Premier League appearances. Elsewhere he has been entirely unmemorable and about as impactful as a tissue in a snowstorm.
“I would like to perform well and leave my name in Newcastle’s history,” the flop said on arriving in the north-east. He hasn’t and he won’t.
The Saints stopper differs from the other two and that’s not just because he is an imposing 6ft 6 and looks like an extra from Game of Thrones.
Unlike Niasse and Muto, the Danish international has actually seen a lot of game-time on the south coast and for lengthy periods has even been viewed as a first-team starter. Indeed, last August he made the headlines for thumping home an equalizer against Manchester United.
As a defender he’s still outstandingly poor though, and this has pretty much consistently been the case since he arrived for what has proven to be in hindsight a ludicrously extortionate £18m in 2018. So that’s why he is included here – because his future is destined to be what Niasse and Muto’s predicament is now and it has started already.
Revealingly, the dropping of the centre-back, who has the turning circle of an oil tanker and only wins 3.3 aerial duels per game despite towering above pretty much everybody in the Premier League, in November directly correlates with Southampton’s upsurge in form and results of late.
The giant Dane played in his team’s first 12 fixtures of this term. The Saints lost eight of them. Since he has been cast aside however Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men have pushed themselves out of relegation bother to sit just six points away from the top six.
Southampton’s win percentage is 13% higher without Vestergaard in the side. This is not a coincidence and the 27-year-old can expect to be well acquainted relative anonymity for some time to come.