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Season Preview 2001-02

The Curtain Rises

2001-02 Season Preview by Julian Cashen

This time last year, there was a lot of optimism around among Evertonians.  Despite the loss of the traitorous Barmby, we had a new midfield who had impressed in pre-season, and we were all looking forward to building on the progress made in 1999-2000.

We all know now how misplaced that optimism was....

This time around, it is hard to find a Blue with anything positive to say about our prospects.  With our best striker and in my opinion the best player at the Club by a mile departed in search of silverware, the transfer of another lifelong Evertonian turning into an embarrassing fiasco, and the coffers all but bare, it is indeed hard to find any grounds for hope.

With the promoted Clubs all having money to spend (I'm writing this on the train looking at the back page headline in The Standard: "Fulham move for 10M Kanu") this may be one season where our recent tactic of relying on there being at least three teams around who are even poorer than us may be found wanting...

The Players Take the Stage

I gave my opinion of the squad in my review of the Tranmere match so I won't repeat it here.  I think there are a couple of issues for Walter to deal with. however.  In goal, Simonsen, having arrived for what was hyped as a 3.3M deal between Hamperman's two Clubs which reeked of corruption, has not really had a chance to show what he can do.  However, I sense a feeling among supporters that he ought to be given that opportunity this year thereby possibly saving us a few million precious quid in the transfer market.

In midfield, our squad really is threadbare.  I was one of those vehemently opposed to the acquisition of Ince - in fact I e-mailed the Club to protest.  My more considered judgement is that, whatever the objections to Ince as a man and as a player, he is a better midfielder than those currently at the Club.  Let's be honest, his first crunching tackle on some overpaid RedShite ponce would soon win over his detractors. 

If it's not Ince then it has to be somebody.  I'm sorry we have not been linked with Jason Koumas of Tranmere who I've seen a few times and looks Premiership class.

Assuming we play wing-backs, it is hard to see where Alexandersson or Tal fit into the formation, though I have a notion Wally may use Niclas as one of the central three midfielders playing just off the front two, relying on the wing-backs to provide the width.

Up front, it's worrying that we've so far seen Radzinski play just an hour of football.  However there may just be some signs that Dunc and Not-so-Super are developing into the kind of partnership we hoped they'd be.  A fit, pumped-up Ferguson would be a massive boost to the Club this year.  It's about time he repaid all the faith the Club and supporters have invested in him.

The Final Act?

Let's make no mistake: fourth from bottom and above will represent an achievement this year.  I'm afraid we may see a lot more nil-nils as well.

Sensible use of the money from Bally's move, to buy at least one decent midfielder, could make all the difference.  It is disappointing that we do not seem to be even remotely linked to the purchase of a midfielder at present.  If we try to make it through the season with the midfield we have, then I have genuine fears that we might go down.

As a hostage to fortune I offer the prediction that we will end up 15th again! with Southampton, Bolton, Derby and West Ham below us.

The other end of the table is of purely academic interest at present, but I'll stick my neck out and say I don't thing Utd will win it this year.  The change in formation, with Scholes pushed on to support Nistleknee, won't work, Veron will be a disruptive influence, and the money they've splashed out would have been better spent on defenders; only Stam would be an automatic choice at other top Premiership clubs and Silvestre is a positive liability.

Heroes and Villains

Ferguson: Time to really justify the place he holds in our affections.  This could be his season.  He's looking fit and strong.  A potential hero.

Jeffers: Branded by most a villain for his desertion, I take the jug-eared one to struggle this year.  Great player as he is, that fee puts a lot of pressure on the young scally.

Stubbsy: the homecoming of the boyhood Blue should be a success; he looks just the man to organise things at the back.

Blue Bill, Wally, Knox:  As we struggle through the wilderness of the next few years to the promised land that is King's Dock, the running of the Club will doubtless come in for critical scrutiny from the supporters.  Blue Bill simply has to deliver, not just on the stadium issue but also on the promised plan to restore the Club's finances to the extent that we do not have constantly to sell our best players.

For the Management team, this season surely represents their last chance to produce demonstrable progress.  If we are struggling by Christmas. I expect Smith to go, and I for one will not be sorry to see the back of him a lack of suitable candidates for the job being the only major concern.

Heroes or villains?  Time will pass its judgement on these four...

Whatever happens on the pitch, however, the real heroes of the season will undoubtedly be the legions of long-suffering supporters, for whom the recent Alex Young testimonial was a poignant reminder of the great traditions of this wonderful Club of ours.

Julian Cashen


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