It didn't get the hubbub of many of this summer's major transfers and loan agreements, but Everton just made a move that will introduce the Premier League to one of the game's finest young talents.
In a move that shocked some, the Toffees announced they had come to a loan agreement with F.C. Barcelona for prodigy forward/winger Gerard Deulofeu. Everton manager Roberto Martinez played a large role in landing the Spanish forward and spoke glowingly of him with the club's official website.
"Gerard is a real diamond of Spanish football and a boy with incredible footballing talent and I am delighted that he has chosen to take the next step of his career with Everton," Martinez said.
The 19-year-old Deulofeu is largely considered one of Spain's most promising young talents, a guy who will likely emerge as one of the world's greatest players in the coming couple seasons. Barcelona view him as a long-term fit for their club, a natural-born Spaniard whose appeal in the city goes without saying.
Why would Barcelona allow him to leave, then? Well that's pretty obvious when you take one look at their roster.
Barcelona were obviously far enough backlogged in their forward rotation that this move was a no-brainer. La Liga's defending champions have Neymar and Pedro as their starting wingers and boast perhaps the greatest front-line depth in the world. Their back line is a bit of a mess and could use a ton of help, but no matter how talented Deulofeu is, he'd be laughable as a defender.
Why Everton? That's a better question.
While Barcelona were expected to allow Deulofeu to go out on loan next season, it was a minor shock to see them choose Everton as his final destination. Everton were in the mix throughout the process, but Arsenal and Tottenham were known to be interested in his services. Spurs and Arsenal finished fifth and fourth last year in the Premier League table, respectively, and are among the most respected clubs in the world.
Everton were stationed right around them in sixth, but are largely seen as a (small) step down from Tottenham and Arsenal especially, who have one of the greatest followings in the world. There were many who expected Barcelona to choose one of those two clubs in order to give Deulofeu a bit more pressure on his shoulders next season.
Instead, they chose Everton—and made the correct decision in the process.
Mike Prindiville of Pro Soccer Talk also passed along an interesting secondary reason why Barcelona chose Everton. Martinez is a well-respected molder of Spanish minds and someone who relates easily to them from his playing career. He's just 39 years old, a pup among Premier League managers, and did a better-than-expected job at Wigan Athletic.
He's also in his first season at Everton, a working-class organization whose fans adore a team-first mentality over the spectacular individualism often displayed in Spain.
That's especially key to Barcelona, writes Prindiville, because Deulofeu is said to dabble a bit in egomania. Brought up in the youth system as the Second Coming—either of Lionel Messi or from a religious sense; they're basically the same—Deulofeu developed a firm sense of self. He's an aggressive sort of player, a guy who will often break multiple defenders and charge forth despite there being an open passing lane to a teammate.
In basketball terms, he's a comparable to an early-career Kobe Bryant in some ways. Deulofeu was the best player in Spain's second division, he knew it and he acted and played like it. While not exactly the most outward display of confidence, you could tell that Deulofeu had a ton of confidence in his skills when speaking about his move, per Goal.com's Dale Jones.
"I'm an attacking player and I can play wide," Deulofeu said. "I'm quite quick, quite decent at one-on-one situations and I'm looking forward very much to helping the team."
I'm going to just assume something got lost in translation around the word decent. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't use three "quites" to describe myself as an adjective that defines as acceptable.
But Deulofeu's claims and his reported cockiness have plenty of merit. He scored 18 goals last season for Barcelona B, which was fourth in Spain's second division. He's comfortable playing at either wing spot, behind the striker as a forward or any number of areas. His game is comparable to a slightly lesser mix of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, with the former being the more apt comparison.
That's not to say that Deulofeu will become one of the world's two best players down the line. Just that the possibility exists. He's talented enough to make it happen, but he'll need proper training and experience to fully harness his prodigious skills.
The latter should come easily at Everton. Barcelona wouldn't have allowed him to go out on loan to another club without the promise of heavy first-team usage. If Everton were planning on loaning him to sit him out, then Barcelona could have just kept him around and had him train with the Messis of the world.
Deulofeu will see heavy time during next season's Premier League slate, and he might even become a fixture in Martinez's starting 11. It would take a few impressive outings in a row to make that happen, but anything is possible.
More than anything, though, Tito Vilanova is counting on Martinez to get through to Deulofeu and have him play at a happy-medium pace. He had exactly zero assists last season for Barcelona B. That's unacceptable. Deulofeu needs to learn to create for others, play less frantically and with his head always looking forward for the best opportunity for his team—not himself.
These are relatively small fixes, ones that happen with so many talented players. Deulofeu has the talent and the smarts to become an acceptable passer, enough to where defenses won't send droves of players at him. Taking on a less selfish approach would not only help teammates find more advantageous opportunities, but also give Deulofeu more one-on-one chances once defenders realize he's not pushing against four opponents anymore.
It's a learning process that wouldn't be available in Barcelona. Those chances will come in droves at Everton. Now it's just time to see whether he's actually willing to realize the full scope of his potential.
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