When Ronald Koeman left Goodison Park last month, the Dutchman was quick to blame Everton’s poor start to the season on their failure to seal a deal for Olivier Giroud’s services during the summer. It’s certainly true that the Toffees have spent much of the campaign without a recognised, experienced striker leading the line, and it’s certainly true that the absence of one has affected their results.
And yet, there is a bizarre irony in the fact Koeman had a powerful and physical centre-forward at his disposal all along in the form of Oumar Niasse – a striker he once publicly told to leave Merseyside if he ‘likes to play football’.
Sure, Niasse isn’t the greatest player to ever grace Goodison, let alone the greatest forward, but we’re talking about one cog functioning as part of a team. Take Joselu at Newcastle for example; his goals probably won’t be what keeps the Magpies up this season, but the fact he can occupy defenders enough to bring team-mates into the game and win territory high up the pitch probably will.
And tellingly enough of Koeman’s poor judgement, the Senegal international – who Transfermarkt value at £8.1million – is still Everton’s joint-top scorer in the Premier League this season with four goals, despite clocking up just 289 minutes. That includes a strike on Sunday which instigated a three-goal comeback against Watford.
Once again though, being the striker isn’t necessarily all about scoring the goals, especially when you’re near the bottom of the table – it’s more important to create problems for the defence that the whole team can collectively take advantage of. That’s exactly what Niasse did against the Hornets; he created two chances for team-mates, won three aerial duels and drew four fouls, giving his team a real foothold in the final third.
Perhaps if Koeman had swallowed his pride and accepted Niasse’s utility to the side until the transfer market reopens in January, he’d still be in the job. And with his successor, whoever it may be, facing the same issue of not being able to bring a top-class centre-forward until the new year, it’s more than likely their hopes of turning around Everton’s season will initially hinge on the eight-cap attacker as well.