Gerard Deulofeu could soon become an AC Milan player, temporarily at least, as forces appear to be aligning to make his proposed loan move from Everton a reality this month.
Speculation linking the Spaniard with a switch to the San Siro has been building since the transfer window opened and Milan CEO, Adriano Galliani, confirmed on Thursday the submission of a final offer to take him on loan for the rest of the season. With Everton boss Ronald Koeman also indicating to the media that Deulofeu would be allowed to leave to find more regular game time, it would seem as though a deal could be concluded in fairly short order.
Having made only five starts this season and played just 45 minutes of football in the past six weeks, talk of Deulofeu leaving Goodison Park this month has come as little surprise to Everton fans. Now 22 and needing regular action to press his claims for his country’s senior national team, the winger has apparently signalled his desire to move on during the January transfer window.
What has been surprising, however, is not only that is it Milan who are in pole position to sign him but that Everton find themselves in the rare position of dictating terms to one of the giants of European football. According to Galliani, the Goodison hierarchy have refused to sanction a loan without an obligation to purchase the player as part of the deal, terms that Galliani had insisted were impossible while Milan are the subject of a pending takeover by Chinese investment group, Sino-Europe Sports.
For their part, Everton were loathe to just let Deulofeu go without either securing funds to purchase a replacement from an outright sale or receiving a loan fee, together with some indication of intent from Milan to sign the player permanently if all goes well.
It’s a transfer saga that might have more twists and turns to come, particularly as the deadline approaches without Deulofeu receiving any more offers. Everton look as though they will accede to a loan but it will make for an intriguing transfer if it eventually comes to fruition.
On the face of it, it looks like a curious move. While his initial inconsistency at Everton was attributable to youth — he joined the Toffees on loan from Barcelona as a raw 19-year-old in 2013 — Deulofeu has struggled for form ever since he returned to Merseyside on a permanent deal in the summer of 2015.
In between, he endured a difficult season on loan at Sevilla under Unai Emery, eventually finding himself frozen out of their team as they marched to the second of three successive Europa League trophies that year. Indeed, Emery’s assessment of Deulofeu is likely one that Koeman would echo.
“He has incredible qualities but lacks others,” the former Seville manager said in May 2015. “[M] ake him play football with teammates, on a big pitch, and it’s hard. He doesn’t have the maturity or capacity for sacrifice yet.”
Regardless, Evertonians welcomed him back to Goodison with open arms when Roberto Martinez acquired him for a fee of £4.2m because Deulofeu had become something of a fan favourite during his initial loan spell and there were high hopes that he had returned a more mature player who was ready to do whatever it took to succeed.
Blessed with quick feet, an eye for goal, a desire to run straight at opposition defenders and an ability to provide accurate crosses from the flanks when he is on his game, he was an important component in an Everton team that finished fifth in Martinez’s first season in charge in 2013-14 with the club’s record points tally for the Premier League era.
However, even though he was a year older and wiser upon his return from Seville, he has battled to fulfil his rich potential in the period since. While scoring goals for fun at Under-21 level for Spain, the Premier League has proved to be a tougher environment for Deulofeu — although Martinez’s own struggles during his final season at the helm were difficult circumstances for a mercurial young player to find his form.
In contrast to Martinez’s arm-around-the-shoulder style of management, his successor Koeman’s more uncompromising approach and demands for ceaseless work-rate and pressing of the opposition from the front don’t appear to have suited Deulofeu’s style either. He can be petulant when things go his way and his propensity to throw himself to the floor when he feels contact hasn’t endeared him to English referees.
The career progression of Suso could offer clues, however, to Vincenzo Montella’s thinking when it comes to his pursuit of Deulofeu. The players have plenty in common and it could be that the Milan boss sees the potential to reignite the career of another up-and-coming young Spanish winger in what is a low-risk move under the terms being discussed.
A few months older than Deulofeu, Suso began his senior career on Merseyside with Liverpool but has now found his feet in Serie A with Milan. The pair were teammates in the Spain U19s side that won the 2012 European Championships in Estonia and where Suso captained the U20s in the 2013 World Cup, Deulofeu skippered the U21s last year and led by example with some excellent performances and a slew of goals.
While Suso would seem to rely on skill with the ball in tight situations and possesses a stronger shot, Deulofeu’s strengths lie more in his pace and quick changes in direction to outfox defenders and provide an outlet for service from the flanks. He can operate more centrally as a forward or “false nine” in the right system but his comparatively slight frame meant that he was ill-suited to the role in at Everton when deployed up front by Koeman in place of the injured Romelu Lukaku at the start of the season.
Nevertheless, Evertonians are divided over the prospect of losing Deulofeu as he is still young and clearly possesses an abundance of talent if he is willing to put in the work. The feeling is that in the right team, the Riudarenes-born forward could excel and the less physical environs of Serie A might just prove ideal for a player who thrives on space and a bit more protection from referees than is the case in the more rigorous English Premier League.
By Lyndon Lloyd, Owner of ToffeeWeb