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Window Watching – Dwight McNeil

For two seasons now there has been a certain player’s name on my lips every time we enter a new transfer window and I am asked “Who should we go for?”. That name is Dwight McNeil.

The negative connotations that surround any member of Sean Dyches’s robust yet underwhelming Burnley side continue to hang over the talented winger and this special edition of Window Watching looks to see if Everton or another Premier League club should look beyond what appears on the surface.

As many of my social media followers will know, my admiration for Dwight McNeil stretches back to my time even before I joined The Blue Room. Previously I have done many podcasts, YouTube videos and written pieces displaying my admiration for the player. Due to this I am sure you can imagine my delight at the stories linking us with a move for the player, even if as I explain below, we may just miss out on this one due to our current financial situation.

After being released by Manchester United at just 14 years of age, the Rochdale-born winger found an immediate home at Turf Moor and has been a permanent fixture of the club ever since. After initially breaking through the academy and making his first team debut in May 2018, McNeil has established himself as a key player in Sean Dyche’s side being deployed primarily as a left-sided midfielder in a classic 4-4-2 setup.

So, what do the stats say? Not very much in my opinion.

His underwhelming return of just seven goals in 96 games – despite his worldie against Everton last season – is hardly a green light to go out and get the player at all costs. Neither is the assist tally of just 16 in that time. But if you consider he is only 18 months older than Everton’s own Anthony Gordon and has already racked up 96 first-team appearances then the argument to sign McNeil begins to strengthen.  

Now to his profile. A wand of a left foot is what most opposition fans would say and Everton have seen first hand just how effective that can be. Coupled with his incredible work rate and skilful dribbling we are starting to get a much clearer picture of the player Everton and Aston Villa look set to do battle over this summer.

It is also clear that Burnley’s pragmatic tactics may well not be the best conditions for a player like McNeil to showcase his true ability. Sure, as a player who’s crossing ability is considered a major strength it can be said that he has old fashioned target men to aim for. Burnley strikers Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes will testify that they are indeed prime target men ideal for a player like McNeil to lump crosses into, but neither have ever been consistently prolific in any Premier League season. Perhaps it is lazy to assume that just working with better strikers such as Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin would give McNeil a real chance to improve his returns, but surely now the player will feel it is about time that test was carried out?

So where would he fit at Everton? Despite his wand-like left foot, he is primarily seen as a very one-footed player, which may raise concerns over his versatility. I personally have enjoyed watching him the most when he is running with the ball through the centre of the pitch, dribbling his way through an opposition midfield before unleashing a shot at goal or a key pass into the final third almost like a classic “Number 10”.

 There is also the potential for him to play on right-hand side in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. He could use his left foot to cut inside releasing space for a right full-back to overlap. I do however suspect that Benitez’s plan for the player may be somewhat less experimental. Having waxed lyrical about the need to supply quality crosses into the box for the likes of Calvert-Lewin I suspect Benitez sees McNeil as an out and out wing option of the left-hand side with the primary focus of getting the ball under control and delivering with quality straight into the danger areas. That solution would be fine with me too, I just think there are more strings to McNeil’s bow than what Burnley are allowing him to showcase.

Everton will face fierce competition for McNeil’s signature. In fact, Aston Vila are almost universally recognised as the current front runners by most. Benitez seemingly wants the player, but Everton’s current financial situation means current players must be sold before incomings can be sought and this financial limbo Everton find themselves in gives other club’s such as Villa a huge advantage.

I personally think he will end up gracing the Villa Park turf next season. Everton have all but named him as their top target this summer but with more funds available to other clubs we are certainly at the back of any transfer queue as things stand.

Jack Grealish’s move to Manchester City has armed the Villains with a transfer war chest unlike they have experienced before so if they choose to act first and trigger Burnley’s supposed £25-30 million asking price then the Toffees would have a lot of catching up to do.

The only hope may be that a player swap deal with former Burnley target Jonjoe Kenny could potentially form part of any deal, but with Everton’s budget looking very thin on the ground, the Blues will have to hope this one drags on into the latter stages of the window. If it does and if player outgoings go to plan, then Everton may just be able to squeeze enough out of the coffers to make their move for Burnley’s prize asset.

At his stage however, it seems a big if.

@bencrawford94

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