As Deadline Day ended and the last chimes of Big Ben rang out in the Sky Sports News studio, poor Everton found themselves with no-one to snog. Moussa Sissoko, the object of their affections all night, barely even knew they were there. He was happily twirling around the dance floor with Tottenham Hotspur, hands where his hands really shouldn’t be, having successfully evaded Everton’s advances by hiding in the toilets and sending filthy Whatsapp messages to their rival. And so Everton sat quietly by the bar, ordered the barman to ‘leave the bottle’ and stared mournfully into space until all the lights came on and they had to go home.
But what did they find when they got back? They found Idrissa Gueye sat up on the sofa waiting for them. He’d made a nice pot of tea. He was there to listen. He was there to understand. And he had hugs. Because even though he cost a fraction of the money that Everton were willing to spend on Sissoko, even though he is unlikely ever to feature in any Youtube compilation videos, he is ten times the player that Sissoko ever would have been.
Gueye is everything that Everton need. He is more than just a new signing; he is an ideological symbol. He represents the turning of a page, nay, the turning of a novel. The transition from Roberto Martinez to Ronald Koeman will be like the transition from a tear-stained Barbara Cartland paperback to a Haynes manual for a Volkswagen Passat. No longer will Everton be imbued with a hopelessly romantic streak that blinds them to reality. Now they will be safe. They will be sturdy. They will offer pleasing mileage. They will get you there. And Gueye will be in the driver’s seat.
Every Everton move this season seems to start with a Gueye pass. Every move against them seems to end with a Gueye tackle. He’s so comfortable and so assured that he looks as if he’s been playing for Everton for a decade. For just £7.1m, courtesy of a particularly unwise release clause in his Aston Villa contract, he could be the bargain of the summer transfer window.
Gueye’s abilities weren’t always obvious last season, though this is primarily because he was playing in one of the worst teams ever to disgrace the Premier League. In years to come, traumatised Villa supporters will be asked to draw their feelings of that year and they’ll only ever use the darkest crayons. If Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund were heavy metal football and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were a symphony, Aston Villa were a looping soundtrack of a small child crying piteously for their mother. Why won’t she wake up? Please, mister. Why won’t she wake up?
The analytics guys were convinced though. They knew that Gueye was creeping far higher up the ‘tackles won’ and ‘interceptions’ brackets than could be reasonably expected. But even then, there were doubts. After all, if your team-mates have thrown in the towel, if opposition players are pouring through your lines, if they’re so complacent that they’re chatting amongst each other about the Bake Off as they exchange one-twos in your half, isn’t it natural that you’d see a disproportionate share of the action? Everton’s new director of football Steve Walsh disagreed and encouraged his new paymasters to throw Gueye a lifeline as Villa sank beneath the waves. And that’s why he gets the big bucks.
If Everton have any sense, they won’t waste their tears on Sissoko. Newcastle supporters could tell them a few things about what he’s really like when the heady days of fresh flowers and fancy restaurants have passed. Gueye won’t only show up when he feels like it. Gueye won’t go missing when he’s needed most. Gueye is better than that. Gueye can love Everton like they deserve to be loved.