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Everton may have set a new precedent for gross Premier League overspend with the £40million signing of Richarlison from Watford, but in Lucas Digne the Toffees could be poised to complete one of the value deals of the summer window.
As much as the World Cup has inflated the values of the likes of England’s Harry Maguire and Colombia’s Yerry Mina (another Everton target), Digne’s omission from Didier Deschamps’ final 23 for his France squad has kept his price-tag in the realms of realism.
Everton have paid Barcelona just £18million for a 25-year-old who in the not-too-distant past was one of the most highly rated young full-backs in Europe and was part of the France set-up until the 11th hour.
Deschamps’ decision to select inexperienced Atlético Madrid defender Lucas Hernández alongside Benjamin Mendy looks to have benefitted Everton two-fold: in ensuring they’re not paying a premium for a “World Cup winner” and secondly by motivating him to leave Barcelona.
Digne was part of the France squad at World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 and was firmly part of Deschamps’ plan ahead of Russia only to be cast aside due to Hernández’s versatility, which proved a masterstroke given his performances.
That disappointment has motivated Digne to engineer a move away from the Camp Nou and, with the greatest of respect to the Toffees who have a rich and storied history, but considering his last three clubs have been Barça, Roma and Paris Saint-Germain, you’d have forgiven him for setting his sights a little higher.
But at Goodison Park he knows, or at least has been told, he can become a first-team regular, rediscover the form that prompted his first major move in 2013, from Lille to PSG during a period in which he was France’s first-choice left-back before being overtaken by Mendy, Hernández and Layvin Kurzawa.
However, reputation is one thing, application is another, and although he showed plenty of promise in the early stages of his career at Lille and briefly at PSG and Roma, his time in Catalonia has been one of treading water, unable to break Jordi Alba’s monopoly on the left-back position.
That, in itself, has again helped Everton when other, more vaunted clubs should perhaps be looking at him; football moves so fast that what and who was fashionable in 2013 is quickly yesterday’s man.
But for all the value it may present on the surface, Digne will be required to perform in an Everton side with considerable expectation under Marco Silva and in a position which once was a source of strength but has since become a growing concern.
Leighton Baines has been a tremendous servant for the club over 11 years in which he turned down Champions League football to remain a blue but while the set-piece delivery remains, at 33 and having only returned from a serious calf injury in February, he is not the force of old.
Last season as the defence was crumbling, Sam Allardyce needed that experience in there along with Phil Jagielka to stabilise but Silva clearly demands a greater sense of dynamism and a more forward-orientated approach.
Digne is not perfect (otherwise he would be starting for Barça) but he should be a significant addition to the team, providing not only defensive skills but also some width and penetration which they lacked throughout last season’s tortuous campaign.
Just comparing Digne’s minimal involvement in La Liga in 2017/18, where he made just 12 sporadic appearances and unable to get into any kind of rhythm, with Baines over the last two seasons, gives an idea of what he can bring.
He is a penetrative presence in the final third, who likes to overlap and make breaks in behind defensive lines.
The Frenchman averaged 0.51 successful take-ons per 90 against Baines’ 0.39; 2.69 touches in the opposition box versus 0.68; 0.25 big chances created, with the Everton stalwart on 0.11.
It should also be noted that creativity is considered one of Digne’s weak points, and his low open-play passes reveal such – 0.51 per 90 against Baines’ 0.93 – while his crossing accuracy of 23 per cent merits concern.
But with a lack of consistency in selection he still out-ranks Baines in the aforementioned attacking metrics while also out-tackling the veteran 2.82 to 1.71, in a Barça team who don’t spend a great deal of time defending.
Standing 5ft 10ins he’s of a good height and although is slightly built has the physical attributes to adapt to English football having already played in three different countries before his 25th birthday.
His passing numbers are unsurprisingly strong, and while comparing them with a player at Everton under Allardyce don’t make for much of a conclusion, the mere fact he’s been a Barcelona player for two seasons indicates how good he is in possession – 61.53 passes per 90 at 87.9 per cent accuracy.
Silva is a coach who demands width and has announced he wants to play 4-3-3 this season, a formation which compels full-backs to stretch the field and have a presence in the offensive third.
The Portuguese will also adopt a high press, an approach that doesn’t suit a Baines but will a younger, more energetic full-back like Digne who isn’t outrageously quick but has the acceleration and fitness to maintain pressure on the opposition.
There are kinks in his game and running slightly contrary to modern trends, he is probably a better defensive full-back than an offensive one, but for just £18million, he appears an excellent addition to an Everton side in dire need of reinforcement and reinvigoration at left-back.