First, he was the jewel in Everton’s glittering transfer crown. Then he was the unwitting centrepiece of a late summer shambles behind the scenes. He proceeded to be one of the focal points of a club out of form, out of confidence and out of luck.
Even in the shortest of spells at Everton, Gylfi Sigurdsson has become something of a talisman. Now, going forward, Sam Allardyce needs to look to him to be the figurehead of his Toffees side.
Sigurdsson never asked to be Everton’s record transfer – for a £45m fee that very few players below the elite can justify. Yet the expectation was there from the offset that the Icelandic playmaker would be the one to make things happen going forward. When pre-season optimism crumbled, the off-colour midfielder was naturally targeted for criticism. And the pressure showed. Nothing highlights the impact of confidence on performance like comparing the golden chance Sigurdsson missed against Burnley with the one he slotted home effortlessly against Huddersfield.
It could also be argued that being deployed on the left has hurt Sigurdsson’s chances, despite the fact he made appearances out wide for Swansea. As was evident during the West Ham game, the Icelander thrives when in the thick of the action. Playing out wide may benefit the full back he works hard to provide cover for, but it comes at the cost of more positive provision.
Yet one of Sigurdsson’s more impressive qualities is his work rate, which ensures he is involved in all stages of play. Only Jonjoe Kenny, Tom Davies, Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye have made more tackles during Premier League action than him. He has made more tackles, with a much better success rate, than both Michael Keane and Ashley Williams. Only three players have made more interceptions. Going forward, Sigurdsson has weighed in with two goals and two assists – nothing special, but also not inconsequential. Away from domestic football, Sigurdsson also chipped in with a wonder-goal against Hajduk Split and assists in the home Europa League group games with Apollon Limassol and Lyon. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the only player to have made more attempts on goal than Sigurdsson, and only a small handful have played more passes in the opposition’s half.
Sigurdsson, who is renowned for covering a formidable amount of grass over 90 minutes, also gets involved in every phase of play. Wayne Rooney is Everton’s symbolic talisman, but it’s his Scandinavian counterpart who plays like one.
Being the focal point of a team would hardly be a new experience for Sigurdsson. For Iceland, a side which has stunned the world thanks to some incredible teamwork, Sigurdsson is the one teammates know can create something out of nothing. The midfielder was Iceland’s top scorer in World Cup qualifying. Two came in a pivotal win over Ukraine, one proved to be the winner away to minnows Kosovo, and the other, in the reverse fixture, sealed Iceland’s spot at their first World Cup. It was Sigurdsson’s cross that led to Iceland grabbing a stoppage time winner over rivals Croatia.
Swansea, as perennial strugglers, also leaned on Sigurdsson for assists and goals. His winner in their smash-and grab win at Anfield in January is the sort of thing that would go down very nicely indeed in the upcoming trips across the park. And one only has to look at Swansea’s attacking impotence now to understand the impact of his departure. Everton are crying out for players who can make a difference at pivotal times. Sigurdsson is one of those players.
Allardyce needs that sort of quality as he looks to set up an Everton side that is much harder to break down – something which often comes at the expense of attacking impetus. Everton will be expansive at home, but will have to knuckle down on the road to arrest 2017’s horror form. That’s where Sigurdsson will have to shine. His set piece prowess will be indispensable on the road, where corners and free kicks may be the best ways to break teams down. Having the ability to drop back and win the ball also makes the Icelander a significant weapon in the Allardyce arsenal.
Rooney has the sort of magic touch nobody at Everton can match, but flashpoints have become rarer as the homegrown hero ages. Sigurdsson may never fully justify his inflated transfer fee, but what he can do is go from just one of the number 10 roster to a player Evertonians can look to as a match-winner. Some work needs to go into creating as much in open play as from set pieces, but most importantly he needs self-confidence and the trust of his manager.
A month ago, there were few who could justify Sigurdsson’s place in the Everton squad. Perhaps in the near future, Blues will wonder how we ever got along without him.