With Southampton's Ronald Koeman looking likely to be announced as Everton manager in the coming days, and several players out of contract with uncertain futures, the club can expect a busy summer in the weeks and months ahead.
Of the many movements that might take place this summer, the easiest to resolve, in theory, are the select few players with contracts that expire in the immediate future. Defender Tony Hibbert and midfielders Darron Gibson, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are four such examples.
Gibson, for his part, has seen his future with the club secured upon signing a new two-year contract extension. The Republic of Ireland international appeared eager to extend an association that began in 2012, despite injuries over the past two seasons and falling out of favour under previous manager Roberto Martinez.
The initial cynicism that accompanied Gibson's arrival at Goodison Park in 2012 quickly faded as the central midfielder won over his doubters, scoring a winner from distance against Manchester City in just his fourth game with the club. Something of a lucky charm -- unbeaten in his first 15 league games -- Gibson added much-needed leadership and composure to the spine of the team, and made 26 appearances in his first full season.
Despite a commanding first 18 months at Everton, his contributions largely fizzled out amid long-term injuries and an unfortunate knack for picking up knocks. The form of his midfield teammates created yet another obstacle to overcome, although the story of 2015-16 campaign was more than one of mere misuse. Gibson was largely unavailable for selection; Of 38 Premier League gameweeks, he was included in 24 squads, appearing in 11 matches and starting on five occasions.
Even on limited evidence from last season, Gibson appears to be the one player from the aforementioned quartet of free agents still able to contribute to a sufficient standard. Hibbert has made just eight league starts in four seasons, failing to start a single league game in two of the last three, making any renewal with the club difficult to justify. Pienaar continues to be one of only a few players in the current squad able to operate on the left side of the midfield, but his influence has faded to nothing in recent seasons. Osman has seen the most football of the four, but looked each of his 35 years in the process, failing to offer anything of note in 16 mostly cameo appearances.
Gibson's extension is a sensible one, even if he cannot return to his best form. Off the pitch, he provides an opportunity for highly-rated midfield prospects, namely Tom Davies and Ryan Ledson, to learn from his experience. He also gives the club a chance to recoup some money should the two-year renewal turn sour, a far more desired outcome than losing him for nothing at the end of his contract.
On the pitch, Gibson's ability has never been in question. In a handful of appearances towards the end of the season, he once again showed his quality in possession -- in the absence of injured and suspended Gareth Barry -- and impressed over James McCarthy during their brief midfield pairing. No player within the current squad matches Gibson for passing range. Often the only midfielder willing to play a forward pass and break free from the stale football served up towards the end of Martinez's tenure, Gibson is the closest thing Everton has to a like-for-like replacement for Barry, age 35. The two play the game in a similar style: always seeking possession and never shirking the responsibilities required of a deep-lying playmaker.
Many supporters will question the logic behind retaining a player with such an alarmingly low appearance rate in recent years, especially given the newfound spending power of new majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, but there are more pressing concerns. Gibson offers an experienced and progressive alternative in a central midfield still searching for the right balance, and his retention is one less squad issue to spend on. Everton have far bigger concerns to address than a two-year gamble on a player who may or may not return to his top form.
Overlooked by the Republic of Ireland for the forthcoming European Championships, Gibson will have a full preseason, a new fitness staff, and a desire to rebuild his career that could make this eyebrow-raising deal worthwhile for the Toffees.