The lesson to be learned from Everton’s troubles this season

Last season looked like the beginning of a new dawn for Everton.

The club had pilfered Ronald Koeman from Southampton and with a war-chest of new money arriving in the form of 49.9% shareholder Farhad Moshiri, the club looked like it was on the verge of something special.

After their 7th placed finish in the 2016/17 season it looked like Everton were not only destined to be the ‘best of the rest’, but to put genuine pressure on the Premier League’s top 6.

The biggest hiccup to the club’s seemingly inevitable progress was that their Big Belgian Battering Ram, Romelu Lukaku did not want to extend his contract with the club, instead setting his heart on a move away from the club and up the League.

This was of course no surprise and although Everton did their best to convince Lukaku to sign a new contract, he made up his mind and decided, irrevocably that he wanted to move to Chelsea (allegedly voodoo had a role in his decision).

This was undeniably a blow to Everton. Lukaku, at just 23, was the club’s record goal scorer in the Premier League and his Premier League tally that season had been bettered only by a certain Harry Kane. If a new dawn was on the horizon at Everton, then Romelu Lukaku was going to be front and centre (forward) of it.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. Lukaku’s departure secured the club £75m, to add to the money that Moshiri was ready to invest in the squad.

The Toffees may not have had their best player any more, but they had lots of lots of money. And that’s always best, right? Like with Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, right?

Well Everton certainly got down to it, bringing in Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen all for fees in excess of £20m, while Gylfi Sigurdsson joined the Everton family (he was once a ball boy you know) to the tune of £45m. Elsewise, there was also the small matter of Wayne Rooney’s second coming.

A long and ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Olivier Giroud cast a little darkness over Everton’s summer business, but with around about £150m having been spent, the talk about town was whether Everton should be pushing for the Champions League. Ambition was still the name of the game.

Fast forward a couple of months though, and it wasn’t so much the Champions League that was on fans’ minds as the impending threat of relegation. In October Everton lost 5-2 to Arsenal, the result leaving Koeman’s side in the bottom three.

In fact, after 9 games the club had only ever been worse off twice. Shockingly, Koeman was sacked soon thereafter.

It was clear to anyone even faintly acquainted with football just what Everton’s problem was. They hadn’t replaced Lukaku.

The club had signed three number 10s and Sandro. Sandro, it turned out, was one of those Spanish players who just can’t cut it in the Premier League, while the team as a whole lacked pace, direction and coherence.

The arrival of Big Sam Allardyce at the end of November was an interesting and necessary realignment of Everton’s ambitions. European flair was out the window and in its place entered a Mike Bassett 4-4- ****ing-2 approach.

Some fans may have mourned the premature death of Total Toffee Football, but the change had the desired effect, with Sam shoring up Everton’s backline and adding some sort of structure to his side’s attack.

That process of structured rebuilding has continued this January with Everton spending a further £52m on Turkish international Cenk Tosun and former England international Theo Walcott. Both players possess key attributes which will improve Everton’s attack.

Tosun is a true centre forward who will provide a focal point to the attack whilst also scoring goals (fingers crossed anyway), while Walcott will provide pace, experience and the ability to fill in up front if he ever fancies another go at becoming the next Thierry Henry.

Although suffering a dip in form, Everton look like they’ve got their act together and a top 10 finish looks like a fairly solid bet, even that early talk of a top 4 run is now so laughable that the only option is to pretend it never happened and hope no one finds that time you tweeted that Sandro was the blue Suarez…

Whatever happens at Everton though, the club’s experience this season should go once again towards reaffirming that age-old adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In football terms that means that one Lukaku is better than £75 million in the bank, or three number 10s in the hole.

But Everton shouldn’t feel too disheartened, they aren’t the only club to fall foul of birds in hands. Just ask Liverpool who replaced Luis Suarez with Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert, or Tottenham who sold Elvis (Bale) and bought the Beatles (Chadli, Soldado, Paulinho and Chiriches).

With it being so abundantly clear that club’s nearly always fail to replace star players, the obvious suggestion would be not to sell them. Sadly (unless it’s not your club in question), clubs tend to be powerless when a player decides it’s time to fly the nest, so expect this cycle of lunacy to continue for years to come.

Reaching the brink and getting back on track in just 6 short months, in the grand scheme of things Everton haven’t done too badly. Next up, let’s see how Liverpool spend that £142 million they got for Coutinho. £50 says they sign Tadic. You heard it here first.

 

Written by Scott Pope

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