Mainz 05 may be a Bundesliga club but they’re experts at making lesser known signings and then selling them on for bigger fees. That is one of their ways of survival. The likes of Yoshinori Muto and Abdou Diallo are fine examples of that and perhaps, Jean-Philippe Mateta will prove to be another one soon.
But another Jean-Philippe who might be on the cusp of a big move is Jean-Philippe Gbamin. With Everton now close to losing their midfield star in Idrissa Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain, the Toffees look set to replace him with the 23-year-old.
Gbamin was another one of those lesser known talents that Mainz signed from Lens in the summer of 2016. Johannes Geis had left for Schalke and Julian Baumgartlinger had sealed a move to Bayer Leverkusen, despite the the 05ers’ sixth-placed finish in the league. Baumgartlinger, who was signed from Austria Wien in the summer of 2011, had departed after a five-year long spell and his absence was going to be felt strongly.
Injuries sustained by Danny Latza and Andre Ramalho saw Gbamin drafted into the first team straight-away. While it was a jump for a player who had played in Ligue 2, Gbamin left no stone unturned in impressing many.
Fast-forward to how things are now, Gbamin has become one of Mainz’s most important players.
Someone who can play centre-back and as a central midfielder, Gbamin has usually been used in the heart of the park when Sandro Schwarz has played three in the midfield. While Gbamin played more as a defensive midfielder in the 2017/18 season, but Schwarz has played Pierre Kunde in that role last season. That allowed Gbamin to play a slightly free role in midfield.
That makes him use his athletic abilities better than he did while sitting in front of the back four. He takes the ball forward and it isn’t easy to take it off him because of his size and presence.
It isn’t to say that this is Gbamin’s best position though, as he had a better 2017/18 season playing as a defensive midfielder than playing as a central midfielder this past campaign. Sure, playing slightly further forward did show that he can do a fair job there, but the position that brings out of him is sitting in front of the defence.
Sitting deeper allows him to use his frame to recover balls in the heart of the park and circulate it forward by keeping things simple. He makes more tackles and interceptions in that position too.
During the 2017/18 season, Gbamin made 2.6 tackles per game and 1.7 interceptions. But playing as a central midfielder this season saw these numbers decrease and his on-the-ball abilities show some improvement. That is obvious since he had a different role to play.
His frame also allows him to be a very reliable header of the ball. That comes in very handy when he plays as a centre-back even though he isn’t the best in that position. It just goes to prove that playing in a defensive role is better for Gbamin than playing further forward when Kunde is playing in his original position.
He is one of those players who can help a side transition from playing four at the back to playing at three at the back very easily. With two full-backs who can play high up the pitch, he can sit in as a defender when the team is in possession to allow the full-backs to pay as wing-backs and help a side play a 3-4-3 shape. While Mainz haven’t done that, Gbamin is a player who has the intelligence to drop into CB to help a team transition smoothly.
That sort of player is very rare in today’s football world and his versatility makes him someone Everton can surely make do with. While the Toffees have signed Fabian Delph, Gbamin will be the sort of player who fits the Gueye build more than the Englishman. He can dominate the midfield on his day and his 6 foot 1 inch presence would do really well in the Premier League.
Gueye certainly has better numbers than Gbamin, if they are to be compared to this past season. But that is obvious due to the aforementioned reasons. Gbamin uses his body to win balls back while Gueye used his impeccable reading of the game and anticipation. The Ivorian still needs to work on his footballing intelligence to replicate Gueye, but there is a proper replacement in there for Everton.
And playing alongside the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes will bring the best out of Gbamin too. They’re more technically blessed than him and will make up for his slight lack of creativity going forward. The 23-year-old will make up for their physical and defensive inabilities by sitting deeper in the midfield and handing them the assurance to create and score.
By Kaustubh Pandey.