As the 2015/16 summer transfer window reached its climax almost two weeks ago, much of the talk for Evertonians, and the British press, still centred around the future of John Stones thanks to Chelsea’s unrelenting pursuit of the young defender.
And, with attentions predominantly turned towards the conclusion of the two month saga, a rejected £8m bid from Norwich City for Toffees forward Steven Naismith seemingly slipped by without too much fanfare from much of the national press.
Amongst Everton supporters, however, debate raged as to whether it was the right or wrong decision to decline what appeared to be a ‘too-good-to-turn-down’ offer for a player who had divided opinion ever since he joined the Goodison Park based club on a free transfer in the summer of 2012.
The 28 year old’s industrious performances, never-say-die attitude and occasional knack to bag the odd goal have always been viewed as positives by the Goodison faithful, but plenty still believe that Everton’s tempo and play is stifled whenever Naismith turns out in the Royal Blue shirt, and believe that he does not possess the footballing nous to play the way that the Toffees are instructed to do so.
All of which left many fans wondering where Naismith would fit into Blues manager Roberto Martinez’s plans for the coming campaign. After all, the Scotland international would struggle to dislodge first choice pairing Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley from his two favoured positions in the striking and number ten roles in Martinez’s starting eleven and, with increased competition for places across the forward line due to the summer acquisitions of Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon, and the improving form of Arouna Kone in the early weeks of the season.
There is one trump card, though, that Naismith possesses that is vital to Everton’s cause – his ability to notch goals against the best teams in the Premier League is second to none within the current Everton first team squad.
Since making his debut in August 2012, in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United, Naismith has accrued an impressive eleven strikes in eighteen matches against the so-called Top Five clubs in England’s highest tier.
A goal each against Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, two against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and a mightily impressive six – including Saturday’s perfect hat trick – against reigning league champions Chelsea has seen Naismith become Everton’s Mr Reliable when it comes to the big games, and pours scorn on the notion that he offers nothing more than good old hard work when on the pitch.
Naismith’s movement, particularly in the build up to his first goal at the weekend, may have appeared simplistic but it was effective, as he ghosted inbetween John Terry and Kurt Zouma to power a header past Asmir Begovic.
So too was his off the ball work for his second – peeling off marker Branislav Ivanovic to create enough space to drive home from the edge of the box.
And, finally, his link up play and deft touches before darting into the area to apply the finishing touches to his, and Everton’s third of the afternoon to once more showcase just how intelligent a footballer Naismith really is.
Naismith’s record against the wealthier clubs is all the more important, too, considering the inconsistent nature of Messrs Lukaku and Barkley who, at just 22 and 21 years of age respectively, can and will perform below their best on occasions whilst still learning their trade.
In the build up to Saturday’s encounter with Chelsea, much of the focus will have been on Stones. In the aftermath, attentions turned to Jose Mourinho and whether the mounting pressure on his Portuguese shoulders is already becoming too much to bear, just five matches into the new campaign.
Much like the rejected bid from Norwich, Naismith will continue to fly under the radar at Everton and crop up with important goals against England’s finest.
And that’s the way he will like it.