There’s more than one conclusion to draw from Everton’s impending capture of Richarlison. Clearly, £50m is a lot to spend on a player who sagged badly throughout the second half of his first season in Europe. Equally though, it seems analysis-but-price-tag is an increasingly redundant measure of a transfer’s economy.
Really, it’s just fodder for social media one-upmanship.
With Richarlison specifically, it’s probably a mistake to judge him on his form between December and May. History shows that young players often struggle with the attritional nature of the Premier League, particularly when they’ve joined from outside Europe, and that there’s usually a physical tax to pay at some point in that season. That’s the first asterisk.
Secondly, it’s worth dwelling upon the circumstances which have brought Marco Silva himself to Everton. Yes, he was ultimately culpable for Watford’s slide in form, but he was also battling a significant injury list throughout his time at Vicarage Road. A midfield which was so impressive during the Autumn had to be reconfigured after Nathaniel Chalobah’s injury and, elsewhere, Silva fought all sorts of continuity issues across the pitch. Richarlison was actually one of only two players (Abdoulaye Doucoure being the other) who started more than thirty games in 2017-18 and that should inform any assessment of his individual performances. Attacking players are always dependent on chemistry, in front, inside and behind them, and he operated with an almost revolving cast of teammates.
And, of course, a different manager. Watford is a strange club, it works in a unique way, and every season since they’ve been back in the Premier League has seen them fade after Christmas. It’s a cost of their operating procedure, perhaps the price of their progress-by-shock model, but – whatever the case – it seems far more reasonable to attribute Richarlison’s downturn to that cultural issue than it would be to any personal failing.
Ultimately, transfers are also shaped by need. Everton need to become more direct. They need speed, goals, and players who can do more than push the ball around in the attacking third. The Brazilian is one of those and at just 21 there’s every reason to believe that he can not only improve as a footballer, but also soar in value between now and his mid-twenties.
So – yes – Everton are probably paying over the odds at the moment, but they are still satisfying a technical requirement that they have in the process and, all being well, putting themselves in position to take advantage of market inflation in the future. That seems particularly true with the involvement of Silva: Richarlison played his best football of the season under the Portuguese, seemed to develop a sincere affection for the head-coach and, consequently, this is a deal rooted in sound theory.
£50m does remain a lot of money, but the hand-wringing has become reflexive in recent years – tellingly, particularly when it involves teams who aren’t associated with that kind of expenditure. Manchester City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea toss these kind of fees around without the slightest hesitation, often for players of questionable importance, with result being that clubs in Everton’s position have to either attempt to match them or accept slipping either further out of reach.
And, importantly, there are few sides outside the top-six who wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to sign Richarlison. Everton can afford to actually do it – they are in a position to meet the price of progress, however inflated that may be.
It’s a depressing reality, but it’s one the game itself must bear responsibility for. In the same month that Manchester City have bought Riyad Mahrez for £60m, a 27 year-old who they don’t really need, is it so outrageous for Everton to have invested heavily in someone much younger, who will start every week and who, tentatively, may just have the greater potential? Once the confected outrage has cooled, most will realise that Richarlison makes Everton a better team; at this point in football’s history, nothing else is of any great relevance.
Yes, the game has clearly “gone” – but it went a long time ago and for many different reasons. Everton’s attempt to stay relevant within it is neither here nor there.
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