The bargain wing-back transfer Everton and Brighton both want to land this summer

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Brighton and Everton are linked with an international wing-back available at a knock-down price - but which side makes more sense for him?

A new report from Sky Sports reporter Florian Plettenberg suggests that both Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion are monitoring Japanese wing-back Yukinari Sugawara, who currently plays for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie but is expected to move on this summer. On paper, it looks like a budget-friendly and potentially quite exciting transfer – but what are his strengths and weaknesses, how well would he suits the two clubs, and how realistic is the rumour?

Sugawara moved to the Netherlands from Nagoya Grampus – better known to less youthful members of the English audience by their old name of Grampus Eight, given that Gary Lineker briefly played there in the twilight of his career – back in 2019, initially on loan, and established himself in the first team in the 2020/21 season. Since then, he’s persistently impressed with his attacking play from right-back and earned 12 caps for his national side.

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He's generally seen as one of AZ’s best players but with his current contract set to expire next year, the club may be forced to sell him now rather than lose him on a free in a year’s time. As such, Plettenberg believes that the asking price would be around €6m (£5.1m) – hardly bank-breaking, even for a club with as many financial issues to work through as Everton.

Even so, Sugawara doesn’t necessarily seem like a natural fit for Goodison Park – or more specifically the way Sean Dyche plays. Sugawara, who will turn 24 over the summer, is an extremely attacking wing-back who likes to use his speed and stamina to get forward as often as possible, and he typically puts in far more final balls than tackles in his own third.

To put into perspective, Nathan Patterson, Dyche’s current first-choice at right-back, averages just over three successful tackles per match. Sugawara only just scrapes over one per game. He doesn’t make many turnovers at all and is very much an attacking asset.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t quality Dyche could use. Despite not making too many tackles, he’s actually pretty good at timing them – he consistently makes over 60% of the tackles he does attempt, which is a very healthy ratio. Dyche may well see in him an attacking player whose instincts could be tempered to suit his style.

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But he does look, at first glance, a little more like a Brighton player. Roberto de Zerbi has switched between a back three and a back four but either he way, he wants wing-backs with good passing qualities who can get forward to supplement the attack, and that’s an exact description of Sugawara. He’s got an excellent pass completion rate, an eye for a dangerous final ball and sets up 3.26 shooting chances per match – he has 14 assists in his last two Eredivisie seasons.

He's also fairly dangerous in front of goal himself, managing four goals – and he’s a good set-piece taker, responsible for both corners and direct free-kicks, and he recently scored with a beautiful curling effort to pick up his second goal in a 4-0 win over FC Volendam.

There are, of course, weaknesses – he’s still only a £5m player, after all. The primary problem is that he isn’t an especially strong dribbler, and generally only beats his man one-on-one a little over 30% of the time, a very low success rate. He’s self-aware enough not to try and dribble past a defender too often, and he’ll generally look to pass rather than beat someone that way, but it does mean he can’t break the lines by himself – instead he looks to give and go and get into space to offer some width rather than creating it with the ball at his feet.

And while he is decently quick, he doesn’t have truly express pace or a first-rate first touch, so there’s a chance that Premier League defenders, many of whom will get to him more quickly and efficiently than those in the Netherlands, could give him more headaches and prevent him from getting those impressive crosses and through balls away.

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Still, at an outlay of a little over £5m, the risk is relatively low and he’s done enough to impress clubs outside of England as well – apparently both Wolfsburg and Inter Milan are keeping an eye on him as well. There will be plenty of competition for his signature, but he does seem almost certain to leave AZ this summer.

If Everton or Brighton make a bid, it’s likely that he would be seen as competition for current players rather than a nailed-on starter, but he’s got enough quality in his boots that he could easily push for a regular place if he can overcome his slight deficiencies at a higher level of play. Signing Sugawara won’t transform a club, but it could still look like a very good piece of business before too long.

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