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Barcelona were so desperate to sign Jean-Clair Todibo they paid a fee to bring his transfer forward – despite striking a pre-contract agreement already.
But that was a long time ago.
The French centre-back is now being linked with a permanent move away from the Camp Nou. According to The Daily Mail, Everton are at the head of a queue for the £17.4million defender. Todibo only left Barça – albeit temporarily – in January to join Schalke on loan for the rest of the season.
The 20-year-old has shown signs of promise. But Barcelona need to raise funds if they are to realise their ambition of bringing Neymar back to the club.
Everton have a strong history of signing the Catalans' cast-offs. In the summer of 2018, André Gomes, Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina all moved to Goodison Park, becoming key figures. Now the Toffees look like raiding Barcelona once more in a bid to bolster their defensive options.
Centre-back has become a problem for Everton. Mason Holgate has impressed under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti while Mina remains a regular. But Michael Keane has never replicated the form which earned him a £25million switch from Burnley in 2017. Everton tried to sign Kurt Zouma following his loan spell last season but were blocked in their efforts by Chelsea.
All of which has led them to Todibo. The 6ft 3in defender has limited experience. Ten Ligue 1 appearances were the sum total of his senior career with first club Toulouse. Barça struck an agreement in January 2019 before bringing him to Spain early. But after just five outings – four of them in LaLiga – he moved to Schalke.
Already Todibo has caught the eye in Gelsenkirchen. He was the club's Player of the Month for March and, in only five appearances, he has shown the assuredness and quality Barcelona clearly thought they were getting. Schalke have a €25million option but whether they will get the opportunity to use it remains to be seen.
Given his relative lack of minutes (268) before COVID-19 brought the European season to a screeching halt, it's hard to read too much into Todibo's data. What we can tell, though, is the French youth international is an extremely measured defender who times his challenges well. He is yet to concede a foul when tackling or lose a challenge while in Germany.
Unsurprisingly for someone who was courted by Barcelona, Todibo is extremely comfortable in possession. This usually manifests itself in one of two ways.
Firstly, and most conventionally, in his distribution. The former Toulouse defender has a fine range of passing. When assessing his passing sonar – whereby the different bars correspond with the volume and accuracy of his passes – we can see that he regularly progresses the ball.
We're not talking simple, side-to-side passes here either. Todibo possesses an excellent range and vision, demonstrated in the stills below. In the first, against Hertha Berlin, he takes out two visiting defenders (red circles) with an incisive slide-rule pass into the midfield to find team-mate Alessandro Schöpf.
In the next example, from last season at Barça, Todibo breaks lines once more to find the run of full-back Moussa Wagué.
It's no surprise, then, that in his short time with Schalke Todibo has averaged 74.89 passes per 90, completing 65.82. Since signing on January 15, no Schalke player can better either figure. Former Manchester City youngster Matija Nastasić comes closest with 64.63 attempts and 55.38 completions. Of those, Todibo plays more forward passes (26.87) than any of his new team-mates.
As well as being a supremely confident user of the ball, Todibo is unafraid to progress play himself. He needs no second invitation to drive forward with the ball if a better option fails to present itself and is surprisingly mobile for a player of his size.
In the images below, taken from Schalke's clash against Paderborn in February, Todibo strides forward with the conviction of a midfielder. In doing so he gets his side up the field and takes three opposing players out of the game before offloading.
In his time at the VELTINS-Arena, Todibo has averaged 2.01 take-ons per 90. That's more than any other defender, with the exception of Bastian Oczipka who just edges him out with 2.75 per 90.
Schooled in Barcelona's ways but very much surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou, Todibo would make the ideal addition for Everton. And if he's half as successful as the trio of former Blaugrana flops at Goodison, he'll be a hit.