Amadou Onana: The Missing Piece of the Everton
puzzle?
Image via Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Getty

On Tuesday, Everton confirmed the signing of talented, young, Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana from Lille for an undisclosed fee, believed to be in the region of €36 million plus add-ons and a future fee percentage (per Fabrizio Romano on Twitter).

This is undoubtedly the biggest signing of the Lampard era thus far, as the 20-year-old central midfielder is the fifth player through the doors at Finch Farm but commands a fee much greater than the four other arrivals combined, being the free transfer of James Tarkowski, the transfer of Dwight McNeil from Burnley and the loan signings of Conor Coady and Ruben Vinagre. 

Some eyebrows have been raised by the large fee paid by Everton, especially considering the financial problems the club has had due to the chaotic transfer policies of former Director of Football Marcel Brands and Bill Kenwright. This could be the first real black mark next to the name of Lampard since he joined Everton, or it could prove to be a real stroke of genius.

The signings that have been made by Lampard and newly-appointed Director of Football Kevin Thelwell show that improving last seasons defence was a priority going into the 2022/23 campaign, as two central defenders, a defensive-minded midfielder and a wing-back have joined the club in the window.

Thelwell and Onana - Image via Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Getty
Thelwell and Onana - Image via Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Getty

In the 2021/22 campaign, the Toffees struggled defensively, especially from set pieces, having the second-highest xG against from set piece scenarios in the league, and the 15th best defence overall - statistics that will be disturbing for Lampard.

Ever since the departure of Idrissa Gana Gueye in 2019, the club has been devoid of an out-and-out defensive midfielder. Former manager Marco Silva felt that Ivorian Jean-Philippe Gbamin could fill the void left by the Senegalese international but his Everton career never really got started due to injuries as he has only made a handful of appearances in the three seasons he's been at the club. The arrival of Allan under Carlo Ancelotti helped the situation but the Brazilian isn't a true anchor like Gueye and never offered the same protection he promised.

Now there is a strong possibility that Gueye could be returning to Merseyside before the window closes, but at the age of 32, he isn't a long-term solution and may struggle to see out a 38-game season considering the inconsistent minutes he's seen at PSG. 

This would mean that the pressure isn't on Onana to perform immediately and being a young player, he can learn and develop alongside one of the best midfielders Everton have had in the last decade.

'One of the most talented young players in Europe'

Onana will offer immediate aid to their set-piece issues due to his size and physicality. Sizing up at around six-foot-four, Onana offers a dynamic that no current Everton midfielder can, an aerial threat - at least in defence.

Belgium, and former Everton, manager Roberto Martinez spoke to Sky Sports about the Belgian midfielder when the signing was announced and spoke very highly of him. He said: "he is one of the most talented young players in Europe".

He emphasised his presence and physicality on the pitch and compared him to another Belgian, Marouane Fellaini, who is a Goodison Park legend.

As also pointed out by Martinez, Onana can play in a box-to-box role or as a defence-first anchor in the midfield, alongside some more creative players such as Alexander Iwobi. He has fantastic leadership qualities despite his young age and his reading of the game is just as impressive as his technical abilities, as great as they are. 

Martinez went on to say he saw a "young Patrick Vieira" in the way Onana carries the ball up the pitch. This shows he can also be a builder for the team, transitioning the ball from defence to attack, similarly to a midfielder such as West Ham's Declan Rice. 

As Seamus Coleman's great Everton career looks to be nearing the end, leaders are going to be vitally important this season, in order to avoid a similar fate as last year, or worse. Onana has that in spades.

It's not a given that he hits the ground running necessarily, as he only made 11 starts for Lille last season. However he is still young, and the fee reflects the potential, and what he can deliver, given the opportunity to adapt to the league and grow as a player. A pairing with the likes of the aforementioned Idrissa Gueye could be exactly what the Toffees need to sure up their midfield this season, and for years to come.

Pair that with Lampard's track record of developing young players such as Mason Mount, while at Chelsea, which Onana said was a big factor in his decision to join the Blues over teams such as West Ham.

Many still question the fee, especially considering the financial constraints the club is under, but Thelwell and Lampard thought it was worth the risk - Onana is already a fantastic tackler, great at pressing out of possession, and has so much potential to grow under Lampard. 

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