Oumar Niasse has cut a sorry figure since joining Everton. An interview with the Guardian shed light on his experiences away from the first team, with the striker even bereft of his own locker in the Under-23 squad.
Sympathy has been the overwhelming response, but Ronald Koeman’s treatment of Niasse is both reasonable and necessary.
Niasse has really struggled on Merseyside. Fans immediately decided he wasn’t good enough, and then so did Koeman when he was appointed in the summer.
A locker-less existence in the reserves is no life for a 26-year-old international, but Niasse chose to stay despite being told he had no future at Everton.
That isn’t the player’s fault, of course, but it has to go down as one of the worst pieces of business in the club’s history.
Chief scout Kevin Reeves lost his job in the aftermath of the deal and it’s likely to have been a factor when Roberto Martinez was given his marching orders.
“With an impressive goalscoring record and tally of assists,” notes Everton’s official site, “Niasse was named Russia Premier League (RPL) player of the year in 2015”.
But this fact simply isn’t true. In December 2015, Brazilian forward Hulk, the league’s top scorer and title-winner, was voted RPL player of the year. That month Niasse topped a Sport-Express fan poll on a similar theme. Had Everton been misled?
Niasse had scored 12 strikes in 21 matches by that stage of the 2015/16 campaign, including four in six Europa League fixtures.
His goals propelled Lokomotiv to the top of their group ahead of Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas – a fine accomplishment for a fledgling striker. After doing well in Turkey and settling in Russia, Niasse hit the ground running in his second campaign.
But the idea that this warranted a near £10m hike on the £4m Lokomotiv paid to Akhisar Belediyespor just 18 months earlier was ludicrous. Whether Martinez or Bill Kenwright led negotiations, the spectacular misjudgement is summed up by Lokomotiv’s subsequent statement: “This is a very cool deal. Neither the club nor the player could refuse this proposal.”
Arriving cloaked in mystery, Niasse had to impress early to keep dissenters at bay. He did anything but. Out of shape and unable to control the ball, the striker struggled to have any sort of impact.
Martinez was largely at fault and blamed by supporters as it became clear the end of his reign was near. Niasse hadn’t played for two months due to the Russian winter break and the manager lacked a plan to integrate him.
Niasse was given just 15 minutes as Everton cruised to 2-0 and 3-1 wins at Bournemouth and Aston Villa respectively.
A week later at home to West Ham, Everton were 2-0 up but clinging on to their lead after being reduced to ten men. Romelu Lukaku was still on the pitch, but Martinez threw Niasse on for the final 20 minutes.
Everton lost 3-2. It summed up a sorry situation which saw Niasse handed just 152 minutes all season, often at inopportune moments, and denied a proper chance to improve his fitness or develop an understanding with his teammates.
Now that chance has gone. A single half of Everton’s first pre-season friendly with FK Jablonec was sufficient for Koeman to decide his verdict: “If Niasse likes to play football he needs to leave Everton.”
Behind Romelu Lukaku, Koeman has the injury-prone, unprolific Arouna Kone and on-loan Enner Valencia to pick from – and that’s about it. The lack of striking options is apparent, and yet still the Dutchman has chosen to cut Niasse adrift.
Some have suggested it may be to punish Niasse after he refused to leave in the summer, but it’s an acceptable way to treat an unwanted player.
“He’s not in my plans but he’s still under contract and needs game time if there is interest from other clubs,” said Koeman. This is straight-forward squad selection, not victimisation.
Koeman’s unfussy approach is one of his key strengths. In Niasse’s context, decisive action is required. The sooner this error is over, the better for everyone.
Under-23 coach David Unsworth has no interest playing unwanted internationals over promising academy players, and neither do supporters.
Besides, Everton have hung on to players for too long in recent years, and a bit of decisive action is welcome.
Tim Howard, Tony Hibbert, Sylvain Distin, Phil Neville and Victor Anichebe form a five-a-side team of faces who overstayed their welcome. Niasse has already followed them in less than 12 months at the club.
Unfortunately for the striker, he was caught in between from the start as Kenwright’s final signing before handing over control to Farhad Moshiri. The last arrival of a former era forced to fail in the next, Niasse is a living relic destined to be left behind.
But football is a game of a perception and an industry of opportunity. “To be honest, I think I don’t deserve this,” said Niasse in his interview with the Guardian. The cold shoulder or the contract?
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