They do say you should ‘never go back’. And the way Idrissa Gana Gueye’s second spell at Everton is panning out only gives weight to that time-honoured cliché.
Then again, perhaps this was to be expected. With Gueye celebrating his 33rd birthday in October, it seems fanciful – with the benefit of hindsight – to suggest that the former Paris Saint-Germain enforcer was going to return to Goodison Park and pick up exactly where he left off back in 2019.
Gueye, before his £30 million sale three-and-a-half years ago, was averaging 4.3 tackles per game in the Premier League. These days, he averages 2.3. His dribbles per game are down from 1.2 to 0.9. His passes per 90 down from 53 to 42 (WhoScored).
Gueye’s performance during Saturday’s vital win over Leeds United was one of his best in some time, but the veteran midfielder was undoubtedly aided by the fact that Michael Skubala’s visitors would have made a cavalry of Care Bears look threatening. When facing quicker, better, more aggressive opposition – that 4-1 thrashing at home to Brighton comes to mind – Gueye has struggled to keep up in his advancing years.
Everton find Idrissa Gana Gueye’s replacement
Reports from Portugal suggesting that Everton sent scouts to watch Florentino Luis during Benfica’s 2-0 Champions League win at Club Brugge last week, at least, suggest an awareness of that fact that Gueye should only ever have been a short-term quick fix (Record). Like slapping a sticking plater on a broken leg and telling a patient to walk it off.
Florentino Luis, a decade Gueye’s junior, is the long-term solution Everton have needed to solve their defensive midfield issues ever since the Senegal international left the first time around.
“He is the kind of player every coach would like to have in their squad,” former Benfica coach Joao Tralhao tells Goal, likening Luis’ skillset to that of Casemiro and Claude Makelele; arguably the two best defensive midfielders in the 21st century.
“He’s an amazing boy. A hard worker, calm, professional, always prepared to listen and he is a proper team player.
“Technically speaking, it’s not easy to find a midfielder with the defensive qualities he has. I used to joke with him and say that he saw the game two seconds before everyone else. It’s amazing the amount of interceptions he makes, the way he can be in the right position all the time.”
“He has the talent and quality to play in elite teams,” Tralhao adds. “Remember when Real Madrid had the Galacticos? They needed someone to balance the team, and Makelele was so important. More recently, Casemiro did that job.
“Florentino has those capabilities. He’s having an amazing season. He can play anywhere, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, anywhere. He would have no problem adapting.”
Is Florentino Luis the next Casemiro?
Luis, while taller and rangier than Gueye, possesses many of the same attributes. No player in the entirety of this season’s Champions League averages more successful interceptions than his 3.4; the former Portugal U21 international using his boundless energy and telescopic limbs to excellent effect.
A centre-half partnership of Conor Coady and James Tarkowski, when given the right protection, should be nowhere near the bottom three. The lack of pace and protection in front, however, has often left a pair of reliable yet sluggish defenders vulnerable to rapid-fire attacks.
Luis would not be the final piece in Everton’s jigsaw – there are plenty more areas in need of reinforcement – but he’d certainly make for a far happier picture.