This week, no other Premier League player forced himself into the spotlight in more dramatic fashion than Oumar Niasse. Having spent a year away from Everton’s first team, the 27 year-old Senegalese was sent into the fray in the 55th minute against Bournemouth with his side down 0-1, and he responded to Ronald Koeman’s call with an instant injection of energy and a match-winning brace.
Prior to last week, Niasse had been so far out of Koeman’s thoughts that on Saturday the player left Goodison Park dressed in a track suit rather than the Everton club blazer that the rest of his teammates wore: He had never even been fitted for one over the summer. Given his heroic performance that handed his embattled manager a crucial victory, the story of Niasse’s ostracism and subsequent redemption at Everton bears repeating.
Signed for Everton in February of 2016 for £13.5 by then-manager Roberto Martinez, Niasse made 5 appearances and played 152 minutes for the club over the remainder of the 2015/2016 season, mostly as cover for Romelu Lukaku. In May the club sacked Martinez, and in June Koeman succeeded him. A month later, having seen Niasse play one-half of Koeman’s first preseason friendly, the manager told Niasse to leave the club, explaining that “If Niasse likes to play football, he needs to leave Everton.”
But Niasse chose to stay, so Koeman promptly demoted him to the U-23 squad. Says Niasse of those bleak times away from Everton’s first team: “It is not a case of something bad happening and so I give up. I kept saying to myself: ‘Anything can happen.’ It was a hard time with the under-23s and seeing my teammates enjoying the games here without me. I was with the under-23s instead, traveling and playing at empty stadiums, but that’s life.”
Niasse ended up spending the entire first half of the 2016-17 season relegated to the Everton U-23 squad before finally being loaned out to Hull in January. Although Niasse was successful at Hull, scoring 5 goals in 19 appearances (many as a sub), the club was relegated to the Championship at the end of the season. Hull chose not to exercise its option to buy him. Consequently, over the summer, the 27 year-old was forced to return to the parent club that also didn’t want him, where once again Koeman excluded him from the first team (and did not have him fitted for a dapper club blazer).
However, despite having spent huge money to bring in big name attackers over the summer, Koeman found himself without a like-for-like replacement for Romelu Lukaku. Consequently, at the end of the summer transfer window, he told Niasse “OK, you will get your chance with the first team. Work hard and get your chance.”
That chance came on Saturday, with Everton down 0-1 in the second half and in real jeopardy of losing their fourth straight league game. Over the past weeks Toffee fans had grown increasingly unhappy with Koeman’s blind devotion to the same expensive but disappointing starters, and on Saturday the home crowd threatened to boil over as many of those players zombie-walked through yet another match. With the situation critical, the stubborn Dutchman finally acquiesced, subbing in Niasse, Tom Davies, and Jonjoe Kenny for Wayne Rooney, Davey Klaasen, and Cuco Martina.
The substitutions instantly changed the complexion of the game, instilling intent and determination to a previously lackluster Everton side. Dominic Calvert-Lewin — who had already turned in the best performance of all the starting Toffee attackers — combined brilliantly with Niasse as a strike partner. Davies assisted Niasse’s first goal and then provided the deflected shot that the Senegalese converted for his match-winning brace. Having secured a crucial victory and steered his manager clear of disaster, man-of-the-match Niasse was thanked by the home fans with a thunderous ovation.
But does this heroic substitute performance now merit fantasy investment? I mean, how good is this guy, really? Well, pretty good, it turns out. He has a career strike rate of 0.40, with 36 goals in 89 club appearances, and 3 goals in 8 international appearances. That strike rate would have ranked him among the top 10 strikers in the Premier League in 2015 (the only year for which I could locate these figures). When you consider that many of his appearances were from the bench, those stats become even more impressive. And he is enjoying a purple patch of form right now, having come off the bench to score against Sunderland in last week’s Carabao Cup tie before netting his brace on Saturday. With Everton hosting Burnley and then traveling to Brighton for its next two EPL fixtures, we could reasonably expect to profit from investment in the Senegalese hitman in the coming weeks.
The catch is his starting status. Prior to Saturday, Koeman had defiantly kept the faith with his marquee summer transfers, despite the fact that some of them have consistently been, quite plainly, not good enough. Was Niasse’s spectacular game-saving display against Bournemouth enough to finally overcome his manager’s stubborn beliefs? We cannot know for sure, but for Koeman to reward Niasse’s performance with yet another bench assignment would be harsh. I’d expect him to start, probably at the expense of either Rooney or Klaasen (who has been particularly poor this season). One thing we do know: Niasse will be fresh for the Burnley fixture, since Koeman did not include him for the mid-week Europa League tie with Apollon Limassol when he submitted the squad list to UEFA on September 5!
Regardless of whether he starts the Burnley game on the pitch or on the bench, I think Niasse has forced his manager to give him minutes, and given his cheap-as-chips price, he seems likely to provide value for money even if he comes on as a sub. But I don’t like to put enablers in my precious forward slots, so this week I’ll take a wait-and-see approach with Niasse. If his performance against Burnley gives us reason to believe he will be a consistent fantasy producer and a consistent starter, then I’ll consider barn-dooring him for the trip to Brighton in GW8.
Regardless of what happens with Niasse this weekend, I know this for sure: this time he’ll leave Goodison Park proudly sporting a snappy, custom-tailored club blazer. He has earned it.
Are you considering Niasse, perhaps as bench reserve or enabler? Have you already grabbed him on the GW6 barn door? In what format does his price outweigh his uncertain role? Tell us in the chat below!