Niels Nkounkou arrived from Marseille for a modest sum of less than £250,000. It was deemed as a steal and another brilliant pick by then Everton football director Marcel Brands. Nkounku was a gem which had to be polished and he would be ready to take on the world.
The Frenchman showed tremendous potential as a left back, flying on the left wing, having an attacking mind similar to that of Lucas Digne who used to rule the left flank. Nkounkou was regarded as a quick, modern day left back with all the attacking qualities expected from him.
The area that he lacked was defence. Then teenager, Nkounkou, was still understanding his role in defence and improving on his defensive position. While he did not shy away from putting tackles in and chasing the attacker, his positional play needed improvement.
Carlo Ancelotti used him in six games, giving him his Premier League debut. Nkounkou could exploit space well but still had to work on his composure on the ball. Under Ancelotti’s tutelage, he was working hard and improving. Then came the summer of 2021 when Ancelotti departed and Rafa Benitez decided to send him out on loan.
What next for Niels Nkounkou and Everton?
Nkounkou spent the entire season on loan at Standard Liege, making a total of 24 appearances for the Belgian side. His loan move left Everton scarce in the left back department but a loan switch was necessary for the player who is in an important phase of his developing career.
Nkounkou’s progression has gone well with a few ups and downs. In Luka Elsner’s setup, the 21 year old played as a left back and occasionally featured as a left wing back when playing in a back five. The Frenchman has learnt a lot in a year and is now ready to return to his parent club.
With Nkounkou set for a return, there’s a key question that must be answered. What next for the flying full back?
Everton signed Vitaliy Mykolenko in January and the Ukrainian has settled at the club, producing eye catching performances. There’s no doubt over his involvement next season as he’s set to be a key cog under Frank Lampard.
However, the Toffees do not have a backup to Mykolenko. Ben Godfrey can deputize but his services are required in central defence as Yerry Mina is often injured and Michael Keane may be offloaded. Nkounkou is definitely an option to be considered.
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He returns with a year of experience and playing time under his belt. While he may not challenge Mykolenko, the 21 year old can play backup and feature in cup ties. Or, do Everton take the risk and send him out on another loan, this time to a Championship or a Premier League club so the 21 year old can find his footing in England?
Then there’s another option of selling him as he enters the final 12 months of his contract this summer. If the Toffees do not see a future with Nkounkou, cashing in on him might be the best option for all. It is a conundrum that must be solved quickly.
However, the option of selling him might be the least favoured. Everton’s priorities in the summer window are to bring quality laden youngsters who will have a decent resale value. They already have a promising youngster who was bought for the price of peanuts in 2020. If his metamorphosis goes as per plan, Nkounkou will be worth much more than he is today.
A decision has to be made, whether to keep him at the club and make him an understudy to Mykolenko or to send him out on loan again where he will be featured week in and week out.
Should Everton loan out Niels Nkounkou?