Credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Roberto Martinez is in for a busy summer in the transfer market. Having enjoyed a superb first season in charge at Goodison Park, the Spaniard needs to bolster his squad in order to deal with the added challenge of a European campaign, whilst also accounting for the loss of several of last season’s outstanding loan signings.
Depth is an issue throughout the Toffees squad, but nowhere more so than at centre forward. With the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Lacina Traore, only Arouna Kone, injured for the majority of the last campaign, remains as an out and out striker, with Steven Naismith performing best in a supporting role. Martinez would dearly like to make Lukaku’s move permanent, while another loan deal for Traore, who was restricted to just two appearances through injury, has been mooted, but in all likelihood Everton will need to cast their net wider in their search for a leading forward for next season.
With this in mind, the news that England striker Danny Welbeck is seeking to leave Manchester United in the summer makes for interesting reading. Welbeck, currently playing for England at the World Cup, has not enjoyed the past year, during which he was frequently used a substitute or played on the wing rather than in his preferred central role, and the arrival of Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford will have done little to boost his chances of a starting place. Both Arsenal and Tottenham are said to be interested in the forward should he be made available, but a move to Everton, assuming the Toffees were able to strike a deal, could prove a perfect match for both parties.
As always with Everton, finances will be an issue. Already an established international and still only 23, Welbeck is likely to command a significant price tag, though with Martinez seemingly willing to spend the bulk of his available funds on a single player, the fee may be within the club’s means. Wages too, could prove problematic, though the lack of Champions League football at Goodison will likely be the most difficult stumbling block.
In terms of what Welbeck offers on the field however, the potential returns on any investment are huge. Less powerful than Romelu Lukaku but quicker and defter of touch, he would provide Everton with a different, though no less formidable, attacking threat than the Belgian.
Welbeck’s link play is also markedly superior to Lukaku’s. The Chelsea loanee has many strengths, but passing and first touch are not among them, and his pass completion rate of 66.5% – the lowest save for Tim Howard in a team built around ball retention – speaks for itself. Welbeck’s figure of 87.5% suggests a player more suited to Roberto Martinez’s precise, possession-based approach.
The biggest criticism to be levelled at the United man is also the most obvious to make – his goal return is relatively underwhelming. Welbeck managed 9 league goals to Lukaku’s 15, but these figures are somewhat distorted. Discounting substitute appearances, Welbeck’s record last season reads as 7 goals in 15 starts, an average of 0.46 goals per game compared to his counterpart’s 0.48. It’s reductive to say so but broadly speaking, Welbeck scores one in two when he starts.
Moreover, the Englishman’s record improves further when played in his preferred central role. In his 8 appearances as a striker last season, Welbeck racked up 5 goals and an assist, all of which hints heavily at the fact that he could prove revelatory if given the chance to lead the line for Everton.
Indeed, though Evertonians are often loathe to do so, they need only take a look across Stanley Park to see what can happen when a young English forward is given the freedom to express himself in his preferred position. Daniel Sturridge was similarly marginalised during his time at Chelsea, deployed wide and rarely given a starting place, but his 21 league goals for Liverpool last season demonstrated a superb talent that was seldom showcased at Stamford Bridge. The same could be true for Welbeck.