Winter window represents measured reconstruction

Lyndon Lloyd 01/02/2017  42 Comments  [Jump to last]

It started with the billing by some as the most important transfer window for Everton in many years. It ended, like the Sky-hyped transfer deadline day itself, as something of a damp squib in terms of the high expectations of serious transfer business being done that greeted the turn of the year. By and large, however, there seems to be acceptance among supporters that the club have done fairly well out of January, a historically difficult month, despite only bringing in two players.

Certainly, the wailing for a complete squad overhaul following the defeat at Watford feels like it a distant memory, as does Ronald Koeman’s frustrated reaction to the FA Cup defeat to Leicester just three-and-a-half weeks ago where he appealed to the hierarchy to accelerate the recruitment process in short order.

The acquisition of Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United a few days later seemed to represent the beginning of a shopping spree that would transform the squad. In the final reckoning the Frenchman was the second and last signing of the month after Everton got cold feet over the Ishak Belfodil deal and, presumably, Koeman and Walsh’s other top targets proved to be out of reach for the time being.

Of course, that the previous urgency has dissipated is due almost entirely to Everton’s run of form in the Premier League since the turn of the year. Three successive wins, three clean sheets and the fact that Koeman seems to have finally found a reliable combination of personnel and formation have certainly lessened the perceived need for reinforcements.

They are still badly needed in certain positions, that hasn’t changed, even if there isn’t a broad consensus over which positions are in need of attention first. Some Evertonians have pined for a new goalkeeper or a top-class centre-half as a long-term replacement for Phil Jagielka, others are focused on the more attacking areas of the team where, inconceivably, there is just one reliable goalscoring centre-forward on the books.

The collapse of Arouna Kone’s move to Crystal Palace yesterday ensures that he will be on the books until the summer but is unlikely to be called upon at all unless something goes seriously awry on the injury front. Enner Valencia, meanwhile, was highlighted by Koeman on Monday as being the nominated backup to Romelu Lukaku, even if no one’s really under any illusions that he could adequately replace the club’s top scorer.

It means that Everton will muddle through another half season hoping that Lukaku stays fit and the manager presumably comfortable enough with the fact that between Valencia, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Dominic Calvert-Lewin (when fit, perhaps by the end of the month) and even Ademola Lookman, there are enough forward options in the side to cover the Belgian.

It’s hard not to feel disappointed that the club couldn’t land an attacking player of genuine quality capable of slotting into the side straight away though — someone capable of unlocking defences, creating goals and scoring them to take that burden off Lukaku. The last few games (the cup debacle aside) may have created a false sense of security in the squad that is available and it won’t take too many poor results before the voices of dissent start moaning about the missed opportunity of the window just gone to strengthen the side for a tilt at the top six or higher.

The club’s recruitment team should be commended though for resisting any temptation to panic buy in the closing days of January and consigning the policy of adding filler to the squad to the past. It wasn’t that long ago that fans were recoiling at the thought of Everton shelling out £30m on Moussa Sissoko whose experience at Tottenham is panning out exactly as many thought it would. By the same token, the move for Belfodil just didn’t feel right and the collapse of the deal was met with a collective shrug.

Indeed, this was a transfer window very much aimed at clearing the decks to make way for the next phase of rebuilding in the summer, even if it leaves the squad a little thin in places and three of the departures could be back in the summer once their loan periods end.

Bryan Oviedo was a reluctant sale on Koeman’s part but it makes finding a better long-term back-up and eventual successor to Leighton Baines all the easier; jettisoning Darron Gibson feels like the casting off of dead weight; while Kone will be off at the end of the season anyway once his contract expires. Oumar Niasse and Tom Cleverley have made good first impressions at Hull and Watford respectively, raising hopes that those two clubs will take up their options to buy in the summer (there have been rumours the Hornets are obligated to buy for £8m if they stay up), and if Gerard Deulofeu is the only one of the three to return, then there will be plenty of Blues eager to welcome him back to see if he there is a player there who can be developed.

Yes, there is a case of arguing that targeted additions this month could have strengthened the push for Europe and made the club that much more attractive for prospective players when the the next transfer window rolls around but if, as we must assume, the players simply weren’t available then there was nothing to be done.

With the club’s powder staying dry until July, it certainly sets up a summer of real progress on the transfer front, one where Koeman and Walsh can take the team to another level in terms of quality and ability to compete for the top four. The market should be much more favourable then, with players more open to making moves and their clubs far more willing to do business.

There is a nagging feeling that Everton can do better than seventh this season and that an injection of quality in January could have made the difference but some luck with injuries and a continuation of their 2017 form to date could seem them upset the top-six applecart regardless. If not, Koeman had always planned for a marathon, not a sprint and his three-year plan is still very much on track.

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