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Wheeling and Dealing: Smith's Strongest Suit

9 February 2002

With the arrival of three very different players — and the rumoured promise of at least one more next week — the Goodison landscape has changed markedly in the last 10 days. With a small transfer kitty finally made available to him by the recent re-financing of the club's debts, Walter Smith has been busying himself in the transfer market and come up with Tobias Linderoth, Lee Carsley and the wild card of David Ginola.

David Ginola: can he still provide some magic?

With Ginola in particular — a gamble that another phenomenal talent can produce a few crucial moments of magic to light up an otherwise miserable season and keep the club in the Premiership — there is a tangible buzz among Blues fans as the home straight to the end of the season looms ahead. The thought of the mercurial Frenchman lining up in the same team as Paul Gascoigne is an excitingly unpredictable one, even if it only happens a couple of times between now and mid-May because of both players' age and fitness concerns. If only we had had these two artists gracing Goodison Park together five years ago!

Contrary to Peter Fearon's piece on Smith where he attacks the manager's spending policy, I am of the opinion that if Walter has one thing going for him, it's his ability to spot a good signing. In that respect, Smith has worked miracles on a shoe-string budget that was, until recently, less than some Second Division clubs! It's all very well lamenting some of Smith's purchases as failures, but you have to look at the calibre of some of those players and the reasons why their time at Goodison was either unproductive or so short-lived.

Marco Materazzi, Olivier Dacourt, Ibrahima Bakayoko, Alex Nyarko, to name just four; all top-class players who, under different circumstances could have become stars at Goodison Park and transformed the club from relegation strugglers to European challengers. Indeed, Dacourt is fulfilling that role at Leeds but his biggest issue at Everton was his temperament, not something that is easy to predict when you're signing a player who has done the business at other clubs.

Marco Materazzi: defensive magician who didn't settle on Merseyside
Materazzi is one of the most gifted footballers to have ever played in Everton Blue, but a combination of his family's failure to settle and what he saw as victimisation by the Premiership's referees led him to seek a return to Italy. Bakayoko and Nyarko, like Daniel Amokachi before them, were a familiar story of culture shock for African players who failed to find their feet in England. Again, the manager is hardly to blame.

Let's not forget that it was Smith who brought Kevin Campbell to Goodison three years ago, an act that probably single-handedly saved the club from relegation in 1999. Had it not been for long injury lay-offs in each of the last three campaigns, Campbell may well have become the first Everton striker to top 20 goals since Peter Beardsley a decade ago.

And there is a long list of similarly successful — if not as spectacular — additions to the Blues' ranks: David Weir, the bedrock of our defence, signed for £200,000 but now worth an estimated £8m; Richard Gough, who was phenomenal even though he only managed a season's worth of appearances; Gary Naysmith, who is developing into a consistent performer on the left side and good value for £1.5m; Alan Stubbs, still growing into his role at his boyhood club but obviously a steal on a free transfer.

Of course, there is room for argument that the noticeable lack of flair players from that list points to a lack of ability on Smith's part to deal with players of this mindset, who are typically temperamental and unpredictable. And the Hutchison, Jeffers, Nyarko and Gravesen affairs would seem to suggest that Walter doesn't heal rifts very easily, probably by choice — his modus operandi is to surround himself with players who are committed and will give everything to the cause. Cross the manager and you're out.

That, along with his infuriating and mystifying tactics and his failure to get any consistency out of his players, may be Smith's biggest fault, but it is hard to argue with his buying and selling policy — the latter influenced more by economics and Everton's protracted deline than footballing reasons.

No one can predict how Linderoth, Ginola and Carsley will fare at Everton, but in their different ways they have all been signed with a clear purpose: Linderoth to provide a long-term solution in the "engine room" and a level of technical ability that has been lacking since Dacourt left three years ago; Carsley to supplement Mark Pembridge as a no-frills midfield ball-winner; and Ginola to add flair and versatility to a side depressingly short of both of these qualities.

If Everton do struggle until the end of the season as they have been since October, it won't be because of Smith's buying policy. It will, as has been the trend of his tenure since 1998, down to a combination of crippling injury problems and his faults in other areas of the job. Let's just hope the new boys can make sufficient difference to keep us up this season.

Lyndon Lloyd

©2001 ToffeeWeb, 9 February 2002


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