Restlessness setting in but Everton's new dawn needs time to break

Lyndon Lloyd 15/07/2016  100 Comments  [Jump to last]

In four weeks' time, the new Premier League season kicks off. In some ways it still feels a long way off but in others it's alarmingly close given that, to date, only Maarten Stekelenburg has crossed the threshold of Finch Farm to put pen to paper on a first-team-level contract this summer.

For all the talk of the new financial muscle at Everton provided by Farhad Moshiri, incoming manager Ronald Koeman having a £100m war chest, and consequent media speculation linking the Blues with a slew of attractive names, things have been remarkably quiet up until now; the silence only interrupted by the progressively audible drumming of Evertonian fingers and the tapping of restless Blue feet as the summer transfer speculation wears on.

That growing uneasiness is understandable, if only because the promise of the Moshiri era remains largely in its infancy. His successful courtship of Koeman was a significant harbinger of the new era that is dawning at Goodison Park but reported plans for a resolution of the stadium issue and talk of elite-level transfer budgets are still abstract at this early stage, particularly for a fanbase accustomed to repeated disappointment in both respects. Having dared to dream, Blues fans are now on tenterhooks waiting for those flights of fancy to be realised. Patience is needed but, understandably, it's in increasingly short supply.

It might not feel like it but it's also still quite early, particularly in Everton's situation under a new manager. Though there has been a smattering of sizeable deals already completed — both Manchester clubs have already landed big-money signings, Chelsea have acquired Michy Batshuayi and look to have lured N'Golo Kanté away from Leicester, and Arsenal have bought Granit Xhaka — transfer windows usually need a few catalysts to get the merry-go-round turning and, as is almost always the case in even years of major international tournaments, Euro2016 has delayed this one from really getting going.

The same applies on a more micro level at Everton where the first major transaction — whether that be, for example, the reported deal involving John Stones and Manchester City or the arrival of an Axel Witsel — has the potential to set in motion a chain of comings and goings at Finch Farm. Stones, in particular, is an important part of the jigsaw, both in terms of his astronomic potential value should he leave, and his importance to the team should he stay.

Having seen how much Everton struggled with just three senior centre-halves last season — a folly evident to almost everyone except Roberto Martinez, it seems — Koeman will surely be on the lookout for reinforcements in that area but the level, calibre and cost of any potential defensive acquisition would depend largely on whether Stones stays or goes.

The capture of a Witsel (perhaps), a Juan Mata-type signing (again, for argument's sake) or Kalidou Koulibaly, meanwhile, would signal the kind of sea-change in the perception of Everton from the outside for which we're all hoping. Koeman aside, little has changed on the playing side to attract potential star players to the club — our last league finish was 11th and there will be no European football at Goodison next season — but a marquee signing could be the all-important quantum shift in that regard.

Naturally, there is an inherent chicken-and-egg scenario at play that Moshiri and Koeman must negotiate as they try and steer Everton's reputation away from mid-table mediocrity to aspiring Premier League heavyweights and it might take time and some hefty cheques to accomplish it.

Of course, while Koeman has surely been on the lookout and will have drawn up at least a partial wish-list, he has only been at the helm for about 11 days and one of his first orders of business has been to assess what he has inherited from Martinez. And while there are unquestionably areas of the side that need urgent strengthening — cover at centre half and right back, reliable striking support for Romelu Lukaku, and a top-class goalkeeper, for starters — the Dutchman still has what many regarded as the best Toffees squad of the Premier League era at his disposal.

It's right and proper that he should take his time in weighing up exactly what kind of players he has and what improvements will be required rather than rushing into the market without having done his due diligence.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the coming campaign will be to see how different players respond to the new regime and whether Koeman will be able to coax the best out of a number of players who simply under-performed for much of the past two seasons.

Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu, James McCarthy, Ross Barkley and to a certain extent Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines were all disappointing over the last 18 months of Martinez's tenure but there is an awful lot of talent and experience that can be harnessed there by Koeman putting his own managerial nous to work.

Throw in the likes of Muhamed Besic, the unknown quantity of Shani Tarashaj, and the emerging talents of Kieran Dowell, Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny, and you have an exciting blend of youth and seasoned professionals that would certainly be capable of getting back among the Europa League qualification places under the right stewardship.

However, 2016-17 promises to be a particularly competitive season in terms of the chase for the top four. That sentiment seems to grow stronger every summer but, while at least one of the “big guns” will probably struggle to get the chemistry right and under-achieve, the arrival of Pep Guardiola, the return of Jose Mourinho, and a first full season for Jurgen Klopp all promise to make both the title race and the fight for Champions League entry particularly fierce.

From that perspective, then, Everton will surely need to add genuinely top-class talent to their ranks this summer in order to compete in the way that the word filtering out regarding Moshiri's ambitions suggests. Therein lies the impatience among Evertonians. Links with the likes of Witsel, Mata, Morgan Schneiderlin, Mateo Kovacic, and Koulibaly (over whom we could go head-to-head in a bidding war with Chelsea if our interest is genuine) reflect the speed with which the Blues' new major shareholder has broadened the club's horizons.

But even with the purse strings opened to sizeable funds, Everton are still fighting a battle of perception and will be reliant on that need to sell potential recruits on a vision and a promise of silverware and European adventures to come. That first big signing could be the key but while it remains elusive, the masses will remain restless.

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