Filling The Void: Can Niasse Plug The Lukaku-Shaped Hole?

Sat in the away end of Old Trafford as his Everton teammates collapsed to a 4-0 defeat, Oumar Niasse cast a relaxed image. The Senegalese international was even snapped taking selfies with fans at half-time before returning to his seat to witness the demolition continue. Whilst bringing smiles to the faces of otherwise sombre Everton supporters that day, they still would have been asking the question: why isn’t he playing?

Towards the tail-end of the 2016/17 season, Niasse was told he was no longer a part of Ronald Koeman’s plans. The striker was encouraged to make a move from the club as soon as the two remaining months on his contract elapsed. If he didn’t believe that, then his lack of an assigned shirt number should have been proof enough that he was truly destined for football elsewhere.

Niasse’s £13.5million move from Locomotive Moscow in the 2016 January transfer window was originally welcomed by excitement. But, unable to replicate his season-long form at the Russian club where he scored 12 goals, he was quickly demoted to Everton’s under 23s after just seven appearances for The Toffees.

An opportunity arose for Niasse the following January, with a six-month-long loan to Hull City that would guarantee further minutes in the Premier League. His spell in the North East was unproductive, though, as he managed just four goals in 17 matches; not enough to spare The Tigers from relegation.

But now the much-maligned striker finds himself in a position where he just might have another opportunity at Everton. After Koeman was unable to proficiently bolster his striking options following the departure of attacking talisman Romelu Lukaku, competition for a starting striker has been split between five candidates. Youth prospects Lookman, Calvert-Lewin and Ramirez have all appeared this season, with a veteran Rooney also challenging Niasse for pole position.  

With Koeman originally reluctant to field a player he formerly cast aside, Oumar’s inclusions this year have been scarce. But, following a goal against Sunderland in the EFL Cup three days prior, the striker was recalled for his first Premier League appearance of the season as a second-half substitute against Bournemouth.

After making the most of his chance and scoring both the equaliser and winner in his 35 minutes, the Everton faithful were singing Niasse’s praises once again. Only this time, it was for what he was doing on the field rather than in the stands.

Everton are still struggling to build momentum since Lukaku’s departure, with his ability to rack up to 25 goals a season sorely missed.  Whether Koeman has found an adequate replacement within his ranks, however, is questionable.

Niasse is quick, deft of touch on a good day and (as his display against Bournemouth proves) capable of scoring. But with a career total of 30 professional goals, it is highly unlikely that he will ever achieve the form or heights of his Belgian predecessor.

The blue half of Merseyside should not be hoping for another Lukaku, those players come along only once in a decade at a club. Instead, Niasse must be allowed the opportunity to be play freely.

Everton’s No.19 will have to prove many wrong and score just as many goals if he’s to be a success. Maybe now he will get the chance.