James Tarkowski represents the reliability and pragmatism Everton have long been missing | OneFootball
James Tarkowski represents the reliability and pragmatism Everton have long been missing
Tarkowski is free, forever fit, reliable and unglamorous: the antithesis of many a Moshiri signing. Some of the numbers in Moshiri’s reign have been unflattering, with more than half a billion spent on transfer fees and cumulative losses of £372m for the last three financial years.
If that made cheap signings all the more significant, Everton cited other figures as grounds for swooping for Tarkowski: 31, 35, 38, 36, 35. They are his Premier League appearances in the last five seasons, amounting to 175 games out of a possible 190.
They have tended to sign the injury-prone in recent years and Yerry Mina, a costly buy inspired by Moshiri, missed almost twice as many league matches (25) last season alone as Tarkowski did in five years. Inside Goodison Park, they noted how Ben Godfrey volunteered for duty for the game against Crystal Palace, which ultimately kept them up, and, despite being nowhere near fit, was on the bench.
The sense was that Mina may have been fitter but ruled himself out.
Their Colombian acquired a reputation as Everton’s best centre-back last season; their fortunes depended on him. They won 45 per cent of league games he started, just 22 per cent of those he didn’t. Tarkowski should ease the reliance on Mina, whose contract expires next summer.
After the multitude of central-defensive partnerships – perming two or three of Michael Keane, Mason Holgate, Jarrad Branthwaite, Seamus Coleman, Godfrey and Mina – the 29-year-old could be a cornerstone.
The same, admittedly, may have been said of Everton’s last defensive recruit from Burnley. Keane’s Goodison Park career has not proceeded to plan. Tarkowski was the internal replacement who proved an upgrade at Turf Moor. Some might argue the key was Ben Mee after all, or Sean Dyche, with his compact, well-drilled back four; Tarkowski will be charged with bringing order to Everton’s rearguard.
He will task himself with showing a broader repertoire of skills. Burnley’s directness means their defenders can get pigeonholed and Gareth Southgate discarded him. It was notable, however, that Tarkowski said: “I feel like I’m a good football player. I can move the ball well, I can pass.” Formerly of Brentford, comfortable on the ball, he ought to be able to adapt to a more progressive style of play. He might be the leader Keane, with some crises of confidence, has not always been.
That has been reflected in Tarkowski’s band of admirers. And yet, for once, Everton, those inveterate over-spenders, seem to have got a bargain. Burnley had rejected offers of around £30m from West Ham and Leicester in past years before Tarkowski ran down his contract. The Clarets had priced him at £50m. Perhaps rejecting bids bought them an extra year in the Premier League; perhaps they may now wish they had cashed in rather than losing him on a free transfer.
But they went down conceding 13 fewer goals than Everton; in part because they were far more frugal at set-pieces, where Tarkowski could be pivotal. Take out Burnley’s disastrous first half to the 2018-19 campaign and their defensive record with Tarkowski was always excellent for a team who had a minority share of possession, conceding 39, 50, 55 and 53 goals in four other full seasons.
His individual numbers stacked up, too. Director of football Kevin Thelwell noted: “The statistics show that James has consistently been one of the Premier League’s most reliable defenders in recent years.” In part, that was a sign of Burnley’s backs-against-the-wall style: he got the most blocks and the second most headed clearances in the division last season. He has been in the top five for each of the last five years. He was hugely dependable.
Everton have lacked that sort of solidity but, behind the scenes, there has been the sense that Thelwell and Lampard were bringing belated common sense to their recruitment, that finally the club would be underpinned by better thinking, rather than undermined by scattergun spending.
But – and not just for financial reasons, given the scale of their losses – they had to stay up to be able to implement those ideas. Dramatically, eventually, they did.
For Burnley, there is an added cruelty that a talisman has gone to a club who survived at their expense, who they had threatened with legal action while accusing them of breaching profit and sustainability rules.
Centre-backs have been symbols of Lampard’s business elsewhere, whether Fikayo Tomori at Derby or Thiago Silva at Chelsea and if Tarkowski becomes an emblem of his Everton, it will be a sign times are changing at Goodison. After the expensive flights of fancy, he is a face of a new pragmatism.
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