Inside Spanish Football’s Liam Morris discusses how Gerard Deulofeu’s celebrated return to Everton may be the best for everyone involved.
They say that you should never go back, but sometimes conventional wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the case of Gerard Deulofeu’s return to Everton on a permanent basis, the act of turning back may well represent a win-win situation for all parties involved.
When Deulofeu left the Goodison Park pitch on Saturday 3rd May 2014 – following a 3-2 defeat to eventual league champions Manchester City on the penultimate weekend of the 2013/14 season – many Everton fans expected, and still more hoped, that it would not be for the last time. Indeed, the overriding hope at the time was that, with the youngster enjoying something of a breakout season on Merseyside and Barcelona already enjoying a plethora of attacking options, the Catalan club would see fit to extend Deulofeu’s stay in Liverpool through another season-long loan deal.
Barcelona, however, had other ideas. Not long after returning to Catalonia, Deulofeu was shipped out on another season-long loan again, but this time the destination was Sevilla. At the time, Barca’s newly-appointed boss, Luis Enrique, pointed out that the decision was his. “Deulofeu was my decision,” he said, “I don’t believe he would have got enough minutes to continue his development.”
Fair enough, you may say, but Enrique’s additional remark that Deulofeu needed to ‘improve a few things and show he can be at a club like Barca” suggested that the Asturian was far from convinced by what he had seen of Deulofeu.
The Sevilla stint was therefore an important audition for the young Catalan. A total of 17 appearances (including 7 as a substitute) rendered it an unsuccessful one.
That fact represents an abrupt divergence in a career that up until the age of 20, had been on nothing but an upward trajectory. A part of Barcelona’s academy since the age of 9, Deulofeu’s early promise quickly set tongues wagging, with the boy from Riudarenes rapidly coming to be seen as another potential jewel in the La Masia crown.
Tied down to a Nike sponsorship deal at the age of just 12, Deulofeu would go on to progress seamlessly through the youth ranks at club and international level, win the best player award at the European Under-19 Championships in 2012, and score an impressive 18 goals in just his second full season in the Segunda División as part of Barca B.
Indeed, for a long time it seemed that Deulofeu could do no wrong; that he was almost pre-destined for greatness.
Such assumptions can, of course, lead to complacency. This may partly explain why Deulofeu’s 11-year stay at Barcelona has come to an end and he now finds himself back at Everton, this time on a permanent basis.
The signs that Deulofeu perhaps lacked the application necessary to succeed at Barcelona have been there for a while. Even before Luis Enrique had come to the conclusion that Deulofeu wasn’t yet ready for the first-team at the start of last season, Barca legend Charly Rexach had expressed doubts.
“Deulofeu is good,” he remarked in an interview leaked to the press back in February 2015, “but maybe be believes it a little too much.”
The most stinging criticism, however, came from Sevilla boss Unai Emery in an interview he gave to Sid Lowe shortly before Sevilla’s appearance in the Europa League final, a game in which Deulofeu didn’t even make the bench.
“He has incredible qualities but lacks others. Put him out there, one-on-one and…pfff. But make him play football with team-mates, on a big pitch, and it’s hard. He doesn’t have the maturity or capacity for sacrifice yet. I told him: ‘There are players here who aspire to a contract like yours, men with less talent but more hunger. Iborra, Carriço, Vitolo. They know what it costs. You haven’t experienced that. When you do, you’ll grow. I hope you get that. If not here, somewhere else.’”
Everton, of course, will be hoping that that ‘somewhere else’ is on Merseyside, and it’s not hard to see why they were so keen to bring him back.
Deulofeu’s first spell at Everton coincided with a successful season for the club under new manager Roberto Martinez, with the introduction of a refreshing brand of football almost securing Champions League football for the first time since 2005. Although the then 19-year-old was used primarily as an impact sub, his direct running, infectious attitude and occasional flashes of brilliance (such as in his equalising goal against Arsenal in December) ensured that he came to exemplify the ‘new’ Everton then emerging under Martinez.
The 2014/15 season was much more difficult for Everton though and they will be hoping that, although the player undoubtedly remains a work-in-progress, Deulofeu’s return will provide them with the dynamism and penetration their play lacked for much of last season. They will also hope that the youngster’s status as a firm fan favourite will help to improve an atmosphere that, so positive during the first year of Martinez’s reign, bordered on the poisonous for much of the second. If he can manage that, then the €6 million (£4.2m) they have had to pay to secure his signature may prove to be an absolutely bargain.
From the player’s perspective, the move also represents an excellent opportunity to put the disappointment of last season behind him, kick-start his own personal development again and begin to realise the undoubted potential he still possesses.
The unsuccessful Sevilla stint means there remains some work to be done in this regard. As Emery’s comments suggest, special effort is required to improve Deulofeu’s work rate, teamwork and tactical discipline. His decision-making at critical moments must also improve.
But the initial signs are positive.
The fact that the player rejected another loan move in favour of a permanent transfer suggests that he realises that he is at an important juncture in his career and is prepared to grasp the opportunity that has presented itself. The player will of course also be returning to familiar surroundings and, more importantly, somewhere he feels valued by both manager and supporters alike. If Martinez can harness the mutual respect and affection that exists between the pair to get the best out of Deulofeu then both the player and the club will reap the rewards.
Barcelona, too, have been clever. In insisting that the deal with Everton involves a buy-back clause for the first two years and first option on his sale after that, the Blaugrana have taken out a solid insurance policy. Still only 21, they know full well that, given the right guidance, their former protégé has every chance of scaling the heights he has long been thought capable of. If he does fulfil his indisputable potential, then Barcelona will be the first in the queue to secure his signature; no doubt at a reasonable price.
If that return to the Camp Nou does become a reality, then it will be an indication that the decision to seek pastures new was the correct one for Deulofeu at this stage of his career. Everton, on the other hand, will have benefited, for at least a few years, from having a genuine game-changer amidst their ranks; a more polished version of the player they had inherited two years ago and one with the attributes to engender a return to the feel-good atmosphere that pervaded the club during his first spell there. Barca, meanwhile, will get to see a belated profit on their 11-year investment in a precocious talent who may have needed to fledge the nest to learn how to fly.
Should that outcome transpire, this transfer will have been a successful one for all three parties concerned. It is not often you get the chance to say that but, then again, Deulofeu always has been a special case.
This content was originally published here.