Is eight million pounds enough to cover the loss of Steven Naismith to this Everton team? Eight million is the figure that was widely reported to have been offered by Norwich for the 29 year old Scottish forward at the end of the last transfer window.
Brought to Everton by David Moyes on a free transfer Steven Naismith and has not been a first choice starter for either Moyes or current manager Martinez. Naismith has not been a prolific scorer of goals for us, returning 6 and 5 league goals in his last two full seasons. His strike rate does not put him at the top table of premier league forwards, yet judging a forward on goals scored alone is not a balanced report on overall contribution to the team’s success. Mark Hughes won a PFA award for the 1988-89 season despite scoring just three league goals from Jan to May. Naismith does however have a better strike rate than the much heralded Philipe Coutinho and offers more defensively. Would we place a higher value on him is he was Brazilian?
Naismith doesn’t have the pace or power of the modern number 9 (Lukaku, Bony). Neither does he have the athleticism required of modern wide players (Martial, Bolasie). Ask him to run box to box, as Moyes did in the early days, and he looks off the pace. Martinez however identified different traits in Naismith, a football brain and intelligent movement. During last season’s league campaign Martinez described Naismith as the ‘find of the season’ going on to praise the level of performance he had brought to ‘that central position’. Allowed to play to his strengths, up front and in the last third of the pitch, Naismith returned 4 goals in the opening 7 games of that season.
Watching an in form Naismith playing is watching a born competitor. He wants to win every tackle, header, throw in. He’ll contest every decision and influence the referee whenever possible. After the 2016 Euro qualifier in Dublin, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill complained that it was Naismith and not Italian official Nicola Rizzoli who had referred the game. On the field of play there’s a bit of old dog in Naismith. Contrary, obsessive and obdurate, traits seen in other great competitors from the Premier League era such as Tim Cahill, Roy Keane and Jamie Carragher. The Scotsman comes from a belief system where the team with the most talent does not always win the football game.
Big goals against Arsenal and Chelsea in recent seasons provide evidence of a talent and character that is suited to big games and is effective against top teams. Naismith is one of three British players to score against the great Spanish team of modern times (2008-2015). Frank Lampard is the only English man to have done so in four attempts.
In the current league campaign a spectacular hat trick off the bench against Champions Chelsea was followed by 3 league games where Naismith failed to score. Draws against Swansea and Liverpool were identified as real missed opportunities. The next game, on October 17th and the visit of Manchester United turned out to be the pivotal game. For a player whose best work is done in the final third of the pitch Manchester United arrived with a game plan to stop us playing in that exact area. A high line was employed, a blanket was thrown across the midfield. We knocked the ball about at the back, launched the occasional aerial bomb towards Lukaku and went in 0-2 down at half time. United had suffocated us. Naismith was hauled off at half time and hasn’t been seen in a league game since. There were seven league title winners medals (domestic and international) in the Everton squad that day. Lukaku and Barry have one each, Kevin Mirallas has two. The other three belong to Stephen Naismith. For a team that has consistently failed to turn winning positions into victories the first casualty was Naismith, a proven winner.
Off the field Naismith has given back to the community more than most of his peers. He purchased four season tickets last year for use by recently unemployed Everton fans. He has sponsored lunches for the Loaves and Fishes charity in his native Glasgow describing the experience as ‘both humbling and inspiring’. This type of contribution to society doesn’t get you further up the premier league table. But the more Stephen Naismith’s you have in your dressing room the fewer hiding places available for the Drenthes, Van Der Meydes or Eto’os.
Who will fill the void if Martinez decides to sell Naismith? Yarmelenko? An undoubtedly talented twenty six year old from Ukraine who we have courted for some time now. It is an unlikely scenario that the star man of the Ukrainian champions and perennial champions league participants will join a team that has never played champions league football. However should this happen we would be adding obvious footballing talent to the team. The current Everton team has more talent than the 2004-5 team which finished 4th. That was a resolute team built for an arm wrestle. Martyn, Weir, Stubbs, Carsley, seasoned pros, old dogs. Just what this talented Everton team requires and what Naismith offers more so than any other player in the current squad.
So eight million pounds may be enough to cover the loss of Steven Naismith, but let’s be very clear about what we are giving up in exchange.