With a Portuguese manager in the dugout and a Director of Football who insists on securing young talent, it’s almost inevitable that Portugal has become like a second home for Everton scouts in recent years.
The country is enjoying an emergence of talent at the minute, with several young players all breaking through and earning plenty of attention.
Most of that attention has come from the Premier League and barely a week goes by without scouts from teams up and down the division attending a game in the country.
Manchester United, for example, may as well have a permanent residence in the country such is the regularity with which they appear on scout lists for games, while several others are also frequent attendees at games.
None, though, have been scouting in the country quite like Everton this season. Since the summer we’ve covered numerous reports of them being at games, with Benfica a team they’re particularly keen on.
Indeed, they were at the Estádio da Luz this week, with Record reporting that they were the only club to watch Wednesday’s win over Portimonense. What was strange about this was the fact they were alone, especially as Record explains that there were 35 scouts in attendance for the previous game.
That hints there was someone in the Benfica squad they’re particularly keen on. That’s backed up by the fact that this latest mission was Everton’s eighth time watching a Benfica game since July.
It means that Everton have scouted at least eight of Benfica’s 20 games this season, including a pre-season clash with Anderlecht. That equals out at around two games a month, a not insignificant figure.
They would not be doing this if there was not at least one player, potentially several, they wanted to keep a close eye on. It wouldn’t make sense to be visiting Benfica that often if they weren’t.
Now, of course, Everton have no idea who will be playing in any game, but the fact they were the only scouts in attendance for the clash with Portimonense suggests someone in that line up is the man they’re keen on. Who that is, is anyone’s guess, although there are assumptions that are safe to make given the well-established needs in Everton’s squad.
For example, the Blues are in desperate need of a centre back after missing out on Kurt Zouma in the summer, so one of Rúben Dias or Jardel, the centre back pairing for this game, would be players for them to look at.
A look at the numbers points the finger solely at Dias. Of the eight games that Everton have scouted this season, he’s played in every single one. Not surprising, given he’s a highly rated talent and one of Benfica’s best players, but it’s interesting. Everton need a centre back and have been watching games in which a highly-rated 22-year-old, who is comfortable playing on the left, has been playing in. The link is obvious.
Dias would be a hard transfer to make given he has a €66m release clause and has been heavily linked with some of Europe’s elite, but it’s also a transfer that would make plenty of sense given his age and Everton’s requirements.
If it’s not Dias, then fellow centre-back Ferro, (full name Francisco Reis Ferreira) is another that the Blues are probably looking at. He’s featured in six of the eight Benfica games Everton have scouted in recent months and fits the profile of player they’re looking at. He’s also been linked with several big clubs, including Liverpool, but would be far easier to capture than Dias.
Who else has been in Everton’s viewfinder then? Odysseas Vlachodimos has featured in seven of the eight games they’ve been at, but it’s unlikely they’re scouting goalkeepers, Jordan Pickford is safe for the foreseeable future.
Likewise, Álex Grimaldo has played in seven of the eight games, but Everton don’t need a left-back as they’ve got Lucas Digne. They’re also unlikely to be interested in Haris Seferović, Adel Taarabt, Pizzi or Raúl de Tomás despite them all playing in front of Everton’s scouts.
Rafa Silva could be one the Blues have looked at. He’s only 26 and has featured in seven of the eight games they’ve scouted, but Everton are not exactly in need of a left-winger, with Bernard, Alex Iwobi and Richarlison all capable of playing in that position.
Interestingly, or frustratingly in Everton’s case, the players they’ve been linked to haven’t featured all that much. Andrija Živković, for example, hasn’t played in any of the eight games Everton have attended, and youngster Nuno Tavares, who reports in Portugal stated Everton have ‘reserved’, has only played in two of the games.
Of these players, the most likely candidate to be on Everton’s shortlist is one of the centre backs. It’s the position they most need to strengthen and both Dias and Ferro fit the profile of player the Blues are looking for, although neither is left-footed.
Ferro is the more likely target given the clamour around Dias, but Everton have shown they’re willing to pay big for young talent and pulled off a coup by getting Moise Kean this summer, so it would be foolish to rule out a surprise bid. It is unlikely, though.
Beyond that, Nuno Tavares is another obvious answer as to why the Blues have been visiting Benfica so often given the previous links and Everton’s desire to find a long-term replacement for Seamus Coleman at right-back. However, his lack of game time in front of them is almost certain to delay any attempts to make a move for him in the near future.
What is certain is that Everton have their eye on someone in that Benfica squad, the high volume of trips they’ve made to watch their games suggests as much. With eight already under their belt, it would not be surprising if that tally hits double figures before the New Year.