Replacement for Lukaku remains missing piece in Koeman's jigsaw
Even if Everton succeed in capturing Gylfi Sigurdsson, big-spending Blues must still find a central striker despite return of Wayne Rooney
Everton's spending will break the £150m barrier should they finally meet Swansea's asking price for Gylfi Sigurdsson but the cost of challenging the Champions League clique is likely to rise higher. Not even the return of Wayne Rooney to Goodison Park, with his throwback goal in Tanzania, deflects from the need to reconstruct Ronald Koeman's attack following the exit of Romelu Lukaku. The finishing touches of an unprecedented spree could prove the most important.
Rooney announced his second coming as an Everton player on Thursday in a style reminiscent of what is commonly regarded as the first, beating Gor Mahia's Boniface Oluoch with a shot that carried echoes of that last-minute winner against Arsenal in 2002. Minus the drama, the occasion and the little kiss off the underside of the crossbar.
He played at centre-forward in the pre-season friendly against the Kenyan champions, and up front is where Koeman believes Rooney can have the greatest influence. But he wants more at the focal point of his attack than the former England captain and Sandro Ramírez, a 22-year-old about to embark on his first season in the Premier League .
Olivier Giroud has been heavily linked with a move from Arsenal, though Everton face stiff competition from Borussia Dortmund for him. Sigurdsson could operate behind the French striker with Rooney plus AN Other either side. Ross Barkley could, arguably should, be that significant other but his Everton future grows increasingly bleak, with his contract unsigned.
Productivity replaced phenomenal as an Everton manager's catchword last season, with Koeman regularly lamenting a lack of it in the final third. Only Lukaku was exempt from the coach's criticism in that regard. The Belgium international became the first Everton striker since Gary Lineker in 1985-86 to score more than 20 league goals in a season, his total of 25 including strikes in nine successive home games - equalling a club record set by Dixie Dean in 1934. Now the one productive piece of Everton's attack belongs to Manchester United, a team they are striving to overtake.
Lukaku's goals are not the only hole that Koeman must fill to turn stated ambition into genuine achievement. Barkley was Everton's second highest scorer in the Premier League last season with a mere five goals. Séamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas were joint third with four apiece. "That's not enough," said Koeman when sat alongside Rooney at the former United captain's unveiling last Monday. "I prefer to have several players with 10-15 goals than only one scoring 25. That's what we need to improve, and Wayne can bring productivity to the team."
From where? Koeman made it clear in discussions with Rooney before the transfer, and again in public this week, that he will play in one of four positions up front. "A player with Wayne's quality," he explained, "can be a 10 behind the striker, have a free role from the left, a 9, a 7. These are the positions where Wayne will play."
José Mourinho stated something similar this time last year, insisting Old Trafford's leading marksman would not be considered for midfield duties, before gradually ushering him out of the first team following a 3-1 defeat at Watford in September. That was the fifth Premier League game of Mourinho's United reign.
The Everton manager is adamant that at 31 - 32 in October - Rooney has been written off prematurely as a leading striker for club and country, his demise exaggerated, his reinvigoration possible at Goodison. And Koeman is not one for sentiment, as Barkley has discovered repeatedly to his cost.
Farhad Moshiri's investment and Steve Walsh's work as director of football have transformed Everton's transfer operations this summer. The swiftness of their recruitment has impressed almost as much as the change in ambition and resources. Goalkeeper, central defence and central midfield have all undergone significant upgrades with Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen respectively. Former Southampton defender Cuco Martina is expected to join the recruitment drive on a free transfer and will provide cover, with Coleman recovering from a double leg fracture.
In attack, there is a lot resting on Rooney turning back time and Sandro making a seamless transition from La Liga, where he scored 14 goals in 30 appearances for Málaga last season before Everton activated his inviting £5.2m buy-out clause. The Spain under 21 international is one of the few forwards in Koeman's squad with both pace and a potent goalscoring record at the highest level. He can also operate across the front line, giving the Dutch manager an array of options but still no obvious replacement for Lukaku and what he brought to the team.
Everton possess emerging striking talent in Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, both of whom will be looking to build on a triumphant summer with England at the under 20 World Cup in South Korea. Kieran Dowell, another of Paul Simpson's victorious England side, offers creativity in midfield providing he can convince Koeman to promote him from the under 23s once the season begins.
With Yannick Bolasie unlikely to return from a serious knee injury until the turn of the year, there remains a lack of pace and movement on the left, something that will not be remedied by Rooney taking the free role that his manager mentioned. Unsurprisingly, however, Koeman is unafraid of the challenge of assembling his expensive unit. "We know we will have more pressure than last season," he said. "I'm in football a long time and I don't remember working one season without pressure. That's good. If you want to win titles you need to deal with pressure."
Sunday Indo Sport