What Hearts would be getting in Everton midfielder Beni Baningime
Hearts fans have grown increasingly restless over the club’s lack of transfer business this summer.
Robbie Neilson has spoken of the difficulty and frustration of the market, while sporting director Joe Savage told This Is My Story podcast the targets they have are only being shared with a privileged few to prevent leaks.
It has resulted in a summer market where Hearts haven’t been linked with a host players.
On Tuesday evening, however, there was a jolt of excitement with reports the Tynecastle club were keen on Everton midfielder Beni Baningime. The 22-year-old is in the final year of his contract and doesn't feature in Rafa Benitez’s plans.
For those unaware, he is a 22-year-old Congolese-born defensive-minded midfielder.
Baningime made his debut for the Toffees back in 2017, aged 19, and went on to make 12 first-team appearances for the team during the 2017/18 campaign. He has not played for the team since but was handed a four-year deal in 2018 and made the bench on a number of occasions last season.
The player has had plenty of action in Premier League 2 but Everton's U-23 boss David Unsworth, who handed the midfielder his debut when caretaker boss, said it is a level he “probably shouldn’t be playing at” and that he’s a “class act”.
He has also had spells on loan at Wigan Athletic and Derby County but rarely featured.
Something which will no doubt concern Hearts supporters is the lack of first-team football, coupled with a troublesome ankle injury in his past. Aged 22, Baningime has been restricted to just 15 competitive outings.
On the flip side, his performances for Everton, both at first-team and Under-23 level, should encourage fans.
The Toffees website describes him as a “deep-lying midfielder”. He’s not a deep-lying midfielder in the sense of Andy Irving, someone who will control a game and provide the team with direction through his passing and relationship with the ball.
Where he plays
Baningime is someone who has the ability to sit and allow others to play.
He is selfless in his work and, something which will endear him to fans, loves a tackle.
On his debut for Everton, in a League Cup clash with Chelsea, he morphed into a dad slide-tackling his kid in the backyard.
Welsh international Ethan Ampadu turned in possession but before he could even get out the way he was sent into the Stamford Bridge night sky by a thunderous but clean tackle from Baningime to win the ball back.
When he played for the Toffees he was always either the holding, single, pivot or part of a double pivot to provide the team with a solid base.
Looking at how Neilson wants Hearts to shape up this season, he would naturally play as a protective screen in a 4-1-4-1. Alternatively he could play as one of the two in the 3-4-3 and do a similar job to what Peter Haring did on Sunday against Inverness CT, sitting to allow Jamie Walker to join the attack.
A love of breaking up play
There is no issue about mobility. Baningime covers ground really well. He may not have been as explosive for Wigan or Derby as he was for Everton, perhaps a lack of match sharpness, but he is very quick to engage opponents, as he was with Ampadu. He will confront opponents straight on to provide a solid block.
There was an excellent moment in a league match against Leicester City in October 2017. Exposed to Riyad Mahrez on the counter-attack, Baningime got back to protect the centre-backs, stopping the Algerian when he cut inside.
That eagerness to break up play is his raison d'être.
Beningime won Everton's Keith Tamlin award "for his excellence, attitude and application throughout his academy grounding”.
That attitude and application can be seen in the way he carries out his defensive role, breaking up play. He is so adept at getting in on an opponent’s blind side at an angle to nick the ball, while he is very quick to read and react to game situations to pick up on loose balls, a key asset in the hurly burly nature of a Scottish football midfield.
It is hard to compare the player’s first-team stats to that of other Premiership midfielders due to his lack of game time. But his 10.77 defensive duels per 90 minutes across his career would have put him second in the top-flight last season.
With the ball
With the ball, he can sometimes be erratic.
On his debut against Chelsea he showed excellent composure to bring down a high ball under pressure from Ampadu and Danny Drinkwater before shifting the ball.
He will look to help out team-mates and will take possession where he can. His willingness, however, to play at a tempo can make some of his passing a bit rushed and early in his grounding in the Everton first-team, he was guilty of playing passes behind the full-back when shuffling the ball wide.
Where that intensity helps, is in transition and breaking forward. When given the chance he will try to zip incisive passes forward, breaking the lines and getting the team on the attack.
Don’t, however, expect him to be too involved in the final third. He rarely shoots or provides a shot assist.
Baningime is very much a supportive player whose role elevates the team from deep.
He will compete, run, tackle, win the ball back then, if able to, pass forward as Neilson outlined as being key for the team this season.
The midfielder is still at a great age to get his career back on track and finally get a long run of games to prove his worth.