Though Evertonians had to wait for the player-acquisition phase of Ronald Koeman's introduction to Everton to really get going, they were finally rewarded for what patience they had left in August when the first of the new signings selected by the Dutchman and new Director of Football Steve Walsh began to arrive.
Following Idrissa Gueye and Ashley Williams through the door two days after the season-opener against Tottenham Hotspur was Yannick Bolasie in a deal with Crystal Palace that was officially undisclosed but various reports suggested that, once appearance-related clauses are taken into account, it could eventually equal Everton's most expensive ever signing, matching the
£28m paid to Chelsea for Romelu Lukaku.
The 27-year-old's move from Selhurst Park brought to an end a four-year spell with Palace, during which time he had emerged as one of the most feared wingers in the Premier League on his day, albeit one noted for his inconsistency and comparative lack of goals.
Though born in Lyon, France, Bolasie's career prior to Everton had, with the exception of a year in Malta with Floriana, been spent in England after he joined Rushden & Diamonds' youth setup at the age of 16.
He returned from his Maltese adventure when he was offered a trial by Plymouth Argyle where he spent three seasons before joining Barnet on loan for the 2009-10 season. He returned to Plymouth after scoring five goals in 42 games for the London side before Bristol City snapped him up on a two-year deal in 2011.
While he would be named that club's Young Player of the Year, Bolasie handed in a transfer request at the end of his first season because he wanted to return to London and he got his wish when Palace picked him up for an undisclosed fee.
His performances there were enough to earn him an international call-up to the Congolese national side, although he initially turned down the chance to represent them in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations because he wanted to concentrate on his club form.
Despite his tendency towards erraticism, he also came to be regarded as one of the Premier League's most technically gifted players, attributes that when combined with his pace and power make him a feared opponent.
A reported target of Tottenham Hotspur the year before, it seemed unlikely that Bolasie would move outside of the southeast given his love for London but a fresh opportunity at Everton beckoned where Koeman would look to harness his abilities so that he could deliver on a consistent basis in his new team.
He started well with a nice cross that Lukaku buried in their first
game together, and that would be the beginning of a burgeoning
relationship the Big Man benefitted plenty from –– even
though Bolasie did steal the ball off his toe to hammer home a fine goal at Burnley.
Some mixed play followed, with Boalsie's form firstly suffering
together with the rest of the team as the 2016-17 season developed...
before disaster struck for the Congolese star when he fell awkwardly
under a challenge in a game against Manchester United, rupturing a knee ligament and tearing the meniscus, severe injuries that
would bring his embryonic season to an end after only 13 Premier League games.
It would be over a year before he was deemed to be fit enough to
return, on Boxing Day 2017 against West Brom. However, as he played in more
games, it soon became clear that he needed a lot more game-time to
develop anything approaching sufficient match-day sharpness, if he ever
would. The truth of the situation only came out nearly a year later when
the player admitted that he returned to playing in Sam Allardyce's team
far too early and with inadequate preparation.
The kind of knee injury he suffered had impacted his primary
assets of pace, acceleration and agility, though. At 29, despite plenty of
energy, it became all too clear that his best days in a Blue shirt (precious few to
speak of) were behind him.
That appeared to be confirmed under new manager, Marco Silva, with Bolasie out
injured for the whole of pre-season, and he was persuaded to look elsewhere for regular football. He was initially wanted at Middlesborough where a deal was agreed but which ultimately collapsed when they
could only pay a third of his £70k-a-week salary. Everton negotiated a better
deal with Aston Villa but by mid-November the winger had still not made his
first start for the Villains,
although he had managed two goals and an assist from his 10 substitute
“Looking back, I came back too early," he said at the time. "I rushed back because I wanted
to play a lot more minutes. I played more minutes at Everton when I came
back than I have at Villa so far. But now I’ve done it the right way and
I’m starting to see the rewards. I’m confident in my body now and able
to deal with the training sessions.”
Although Bolasie was a part of almost every Villa first-team squad
through the first half of the 2018-19 season, he abruptly returned to
Everton in mid-January, having activated a clause in his loan agreement
that allowed him to end his loan prematurely.
Only two goals and five assists in 21 appearances were perhaps less than
Villa were looking for in return on what they were paying but it seemed as though it
was a unilateral decision by the player to return and play again for
Silva seemed lukewarm at best at his return, however, and
downplayed the prospects of him being considered for the first
team, suggesting that another loan deal would be the best option for
him. That deal would be struck within 10 days by Marcel Brands, a relatively successful loan to Anderlecht for the rest of the
season, with Bolasie getting 16 starts and scoring 7 goals but no
permanent deal came from that spell in Belgium.
Bolasie returned to Finch Farm in late July 2019, following the
Africa Cup of Nations, but was informed that nothing had changed
regarding first-team opportunities: he would be training with David
Unsworth and the Under-23s while a new club was found. Bolasie was
focused and fully professional during his stint with the youngsters,
earning praise for his attitude in a far from ideal situation.
In the meantime, the task of finding him a
new club, a permanent one if possible, was down to Brands. CSKA Moscow would not be the only side Bolasie was reported to have turned down, however; citing the
threat of racist abuse he rejected a switch to Russia and he was not overly keen on a return
to the Championship either, stressing that he wanted to play at a higher level.
As Everton tried to offload him, Bolasie held out for a club that
suited him and, as time ran out, the cracks would appear on social
media, with the winger saying people were “playing with my career like
LEGO”. The tweet would be deleted but it reflected the underlying
tension his situation had created.
On transfer deadline day in August 2019 he would seal a loan move to Sporting Lisbon and
would make a point of thanking Everton, but it couldn't mask the
frustrations he had been feeling for some time. There had been a
£10m release clause in his contract, but there weren't any takers or
clubs that suited him. Everton's valuation of the player had apparently dropped to £4.5m (which
be less than his annually depreciated book value based on the club's
original outlay) if he were to find a suitable club that would at
least pay the same as the final year of his lucrative Everton contract.
He played in a number of games for Sporting, scoring only a couple of
goals, but his spell in Portugal was terminated
early when the Coronavirus pandemic took hold in Europe, whereupon he
returned to the UK and more frustration, being unable to train at Finch
Farm and ineligible for selection by new Everton manager Carlo
"I am currently ineligible to play this current season and right now,
with the regulations the way they are, only a certain allocated number
of staff/players are permitted onto the training ground who are involved
on match days," he said at the time. "It's been very hard not being able to train the way I want but in
these times we are all having to adjust to things we don't find normal.
"All I can say is I'm working extremely hard behind the scenes to
maintain my levels so, when I do get allowed back to train with the
boys, I'm super ready to show the management and support staff that I'm
back to being the player I was pre-injury. I've had two seasons of solid
football where now I'm feeling how I should be."
Once the Covid-19 lockdown eased, he was allowed back at Finch Farm to train again ahead of what was, in all likelihood, his final season with the Toffees, assuming he wasn't able to secure a move elsewhere. It afforded him one last opportunity to prove he still had what it took to be a success in the Premier League but everything would be dependent on whether Ancelotti felt him worthy of being kept around.
Ancelotti did give him 15 mins in the first pre-season game at
Blackpool, wearing the No 29 shirt, and he looked up for it and he got another run-out against Preston but somehow missed an open goal to pad the Blues' lead in the final pre-season friendly of the shortened 2020 pre-season.
It wasn't enough for the Everton manager, who didn't include the
Congolese in the 25-strong first-team squad registered with the Premier League for 2020-21. A
proposed move to Middlesbrough collapsed at the last minute and he would remain in limbo at Fiunch Farm until January 2021
when he finally secured a switch to the Riverside Stadium for the second half of the season. With Bolasie entering the final months of his Everton contract, it would mean he had effectively played his last game in the Blues' colours
some years earlier.
It took a while for Bolasie to garner much game time in the
northeast, however, missing 5 games in February, and it wasn't until
March that he became a regular in the team, finally scoring his first
goal for well over a year in April 2021. He would make 15
appearances in all, scoring 3 goals and with 4 assists, but he would not complete a
single full match for Boro before his lucrative 5-year Everton contract finally expired in June
and he left the club. His transfer fee alone cost £1m per start in all competitions which, combined with his salary, made him one of the most expensive mistakes in the club's history.
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