Vegard Forren (R) - Alex Grimm
This is the first of what we hope will be at least a few posts detailing some of Everton's more substantiated transfer targets, and we start the series off with Norwegian defender Vegard Forren.
The rumor mill is picking up steam as we move into the middle of January, and with three weeks to go before the transfer window closes it's only going to get crazier in the days ahead. While it has sometimes been difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction, one name has consistently been discussed as the most likely player to move to Merseyside and reinforce David Moyes's squad: Vegard Forren.
First, a little about Forren. Playing as a central defender, the only club team he has ever known is Molde FK, the reigning champions of the Norwegian Premier League. Forren is 24 years old and has already appeared in 146 games for Molde, establishing himself as a starter upon the team's return to the top division in 2008. One thing to note about Norway is that its league follows a summer schedule due to the country's frigid climate, essentially paralleling the timeline of MLS (March-November). Because of this, Forren has not played in a competitive match since December 6, meaning that if he were to sign with Everton he might require a few weeks to regain full fitness.
As for the type of player Forren could be, most scouting reports note his physical presence and his intelligence on the ball. Widely considered to be the best center-back in Norway, his bruising style seems well suited for the ruggedness of the English Premier League, though on the flip side he does not possess the greatest pace. He is also considered to be strong in the air and adept at avoiding calamitous mistakes. In other words, a no-nonsense, lunch pail type who would seem to fit perfectly into the David Moyes mold. Forren's manager at Molde, longtime Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has been highly complimentary of the defender and has tipped him to succeed at higher levels. Here is the obligatory Youtube highlights video (yes, apparently even defenders get these now):
Forren has also broken into Norway's international setup, having established himself as the most likely defensive partner for Brede Hangeland despite earning only five caps for his country so far. In fact, Forren was in camp for Norway's friendlies versus South Africa and Zambia but did not attend a recent team meeting, reportedly because he was traveling for a medical and to discuss terms with an unknown team.
Right now, all indications are that Everton lead the race to acquire the defender, with some reports a few days ago (from the always unreliable Daily Mail it should be noted) indicating that the team has already had a £4 million bid accepted by Molde. There have been plenty of other English teams who have been linked with Forren as well, the most frequently mentioned probably being Fulham (where Forren could team up with his Norwegian teammate Hangeland). Sunderland and Manchester United have also been reported to be interested.
So if Bill Kenwright is able to scrounge up enough pennies in the sofa to provide Moyes with the funds he needs to acquire Forren, how would he fit into the squad? Everton currently have three players who are generally considered to be starting quality (this year's form notwithstanding): Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, and John Heitinga. The recent struggles of Heitinga have been well documented, and it would seem to make sense to fund a Forren purchase with the proceeds from a Heitinga sale. There is also Shane Duffy waiting in the wings for his chance (don't miss Brian's article on the subject posted yesterday), so it would seem that Heitinga would become surplus to requirements if Forren was brought in.
However, don't be so sure that this is Moyes's plan. The manager is on record as stating that he will not sell to buy in this transfer window, as the team is currently too thin to justify anyone leaving. Indeed, if the net result of Everton's January business is a simple Forren-for-Heitinga swap, what would be the point? It wouldn't be to strengthen the depth of the squad, it would be to upgrade the defense. Now that may very well happen, but unless Moyes has completely lost faith in Heitinga it doesn't seem like the kind of thing he likes to do. It would be quite a gamble to rely on two players unproven in the Premier League to back up the top pairing of Jagielka and Distin.
Vegard Forren may very well be set to join the Toffees any day now, but it remains to be seen what that would mean for the other players in the team. I'm sure Moyes would love to add another defender, but there are other areas that need addressing as well, and the English game is a colossal step up from Norway. As always, it may simply come down to how much money there is available to spend.