VIEW FROM THE BLUE
Coming off the back of a second successive fifth-place finish and an FA Cup Final, Everton went into last summer poised to make a genuine attempt at cracking the hegemony of the Sky Four. The foundations of a terrific side were in place and all that was required were some key additions to the squad and a settled close season compared with the chaos of the previous year which had again seen Moyes scrambling in the last week of the transfer window to add personnel.
The reality, of course, would be another farce, with the Joleon Lescott affair destabilising the pre-season preparations and delaying Moyes's transfer plans until far too late as the saga dragged on into the final week of August. Lescott eventually left on 25th August and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga arrived over the following week but by then the Blues had lost two of their three opening games — including, of course, that 6-1 humiliation on the opening day at the hands of Arsenal.
While the team's form recovered a little, helped enormously by more success in the Europa League group stage, it eventually nose-dived in October before reaching its nadir at the KC Stadium in Hull at the end of November. 3-0 down at half-time and looking a complete shambles, Moyes's side experienced one of those moments of painful clarity that seems to occur once a season and it was mostly uphill from there.
Much has been made in the media of Steven Pienaar's description of Everton's season as "a failure" and, as I've already mused, few would argue with that assessment, least of all, I'm sure, David Moyes whose own personal standards and ambitions were let down by the eighth-placed finish, two abortive domestic cup runs, and the team's inability to qualify again for Europe.
A failure and a crushing disappoinment it may have been — particularly given how Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City all failed to live up to their pre-season hype — but it certainly was not in vain. For the first time under Moyes's patient and evolutionary tenure, Everton looked close to the finished article... a couple of pieces short of a complete jigsaw; a side genuinely capable of doing what Tottenham actually did and that's break into the top four to get a crack at the Champions League gravy train.
Something clearly clicked around December, as first evidenced by that superb performance against Arsenal at the Emirates that really should have yielded three points and marked the Blues' first win over what was (at least at that stage still) the Big Four. Everton had played some excellent passing football at times before then but not with any consistency and hardly ever against the top sides, but the manner in which Moyes's side out-played the Gunners on their own turf — not to mention the world-class goal by Pienaar — deserved all three points.
That result really seemed to accelerate a run of form in the second half of the season that, had the Premier League season started in December, would have seen Everton qualify comfortably for the Champions League. Just two defeats in 24 games was title-contending form and there is every reason to believe that it represented the current culmination of Moyes's patient work at Goodison.
With a crippling injury crisis out of the way, the Blues were able to settle into a rhythm whereby they were routinely dominating games against teams of all abilities. Chelsea were sent back to London with their tails between their legs, Manchester United were soundly beaten in front of a roaring Goodison crowd, and both results were achieved without the new-found midfield rock of Marouane Fellaini and with only a bit-part played by the returning Mikel Arteta. Indeed, at no point in the campaign was the manager able to field all three of Pienaar, Fellaini and Arteta in the same XI, but results suggested really for the first time that Moyes has unprecedented depth of quality in his squad.
Which is what makes this such an important summer for the club. Without question, the current squad is capable of challenging for the top four but it is imperative that the Club keeps it together. Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell have already committed their futures to Goodison but for the team to carry their 2010 form into next season, it is essential that Arteta and Pienaar agree to stay as well, for I can't see Moyes being able to adequately replace either or both and assimilate their replacements into the squad in time.
Both players lie at the heart of Everton's attacking machine; their creativity and ability to create chances are, to my mind, crucial to the team's success. They proved they could get by without one but not without both and Pienaar, in particular, was sorely missed when he was sidelined through injury. His absence coincided with a spell of nine games before December that yielded just one win in all competitions and the Blues struggled noticeably without him in the game against Stoke in May that officially ended the chase for European qualification.
I'm fairly confident Arteta will put pen to paper on a new deal — having just returned from a long layoff, I'm hopeful he feels he still has something to prove at Goodison — but Pienaar could go either way at this point. Personally, I'm desperate for him to stay as I think he is central to the way we now play and I'll be torn when he takes to the field for South Africa in the World Cup this month.
On the one hand, as a native South African it would make me enormously proud to see the land of my birth not only pull off a successful — and trouble-free — tournament but also spring a surprise by qualifying for the second phase... and Steven having a stellar tournament would clearly be crucial to that. On the other, if Bafana Bafana fall flat and Pienaar does the same, it would reduce the queue of clubs vying for his signature, particularly from abroad where he would surely have to go if Moyes is to stick to his vow not to sell him to a rival club.
I genuinely believe this team is standing on the threshold of something great... at least in relative terms to the glass ceiling that has frustrated us for the past few seasons. The way the team's football just seemed to come together as key players returned from long-term injury makes me confident that they could edge their way into the top four next season if the clubs above them stayed the same.
As it is, Liverpool have a huge question mark hanging over their future, Aston Villa remain unconvincing as an outfit with the legs to go the distance, Manchester City will be throwing another few expensive players at their team and expecting everything to gel, Tottenham could well have the huge distraction of the Champions League group stages with which to contend, and Arsenal again look hesitant to add the players they need to remain a title-contending force.
2010-11 could be the season that Everton make the break through the glass ceiling but I agree with Tim Cahill that keeping the current squad while making a couple of quality additions could be key. True, no player is irreplaceable but, as the Lescott drama proved last season, the void left by a dominant presence can take some time to fill properly and there will be no margin for error this time around.
Stick together for one more season, lads, carry the form from the season just past into next season, and you and your manager will finally be rewarded.
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1 Posted 11/06/2010 at 05:16:52
2 Posted 11/06/2010 at 05:33:44
A couple of decent additions, such as Landon Donovan or a player of his ilk and cover/challenge for the defence, and we will have a reason for optimism... However, there's a lot of ifs and buts in there.
3 Posted 11/06/2010 at 08:00:23
My only reservation would be towards the end. The rather dismissive comments about other teams roll easily off the tongue but do they stand up to analysis? For instance, Spurs may not make it beyond the first round of the CL. No distraction there then. Also, they have the cash to supplement their large squad even further this Summer. Furthermore, in the case of an unlikely CL run, it could well inspire their team.
In a similar vein are the comments about Manchester City. It is easy to suggest that expensive acquisitions might not gel, but if you were to throw players of the calibre of Ronaldo and Messi together, they would still be a threat in the majority of games. And City no longer have a dork as manager.
Nevertheless, it’s great to hear so many of our fans be so positive. If only we can get a good start this time…
4 Posted 11/06/2010 at 07:44:30
It was really obvious early on that Lescott would go and if we had accepted the reality of the situation then we would have had longer to bring in a replacement.
I think it's a good sign that we have already signed 3 players. When we bring in any new players earlier, I think we have tended to do better than when it's a last-minute scramble.
5 Posted 11/06/2010 at 08:30:40
6 Posted 11/06/2010 at 08:45:06
While most people would be happy to see this squad stay together, my biggest worry is it's temperament. Over the last couple of seasons we've shown patches of great effort, initiative, motivation and spirit. We've also shown patches of piss-poor attitude and a very worrying lack of spirit and effort.
Considering we not only have to face the big four home and away this season, we will now also have to face a stronger Man City, stronger Spurs and a very decent Villa team. This season more than ever we will need to have an all-guns-blazing attitude for the full season.
7 Posted 11/06/2010 at 08:56:10
Game by game, in most seasons, I have seen us get the odd 50/50 decision and also lose the odd 50/50 decision — but these decisions usually ended up evening out.
As for playing well and then taking nil points coupled with playing shite and taking all three points — well that scenario usually evened itself out over the season as well.
Now last season, well I think Moyes definitely stepped in the biggest pile of dog shite because we rarely had any luck on or off the pitch. The number of games we dominated and ended up taking nothing, or 1 point, would be probably go into double figures but games we played shite, well, we nearly always got stuffed (Arse at home; Man U & Hull away).
Hopefully the four-leaf clover has returned to GP, with all leaves intact. We will once again see EFC reverse early goals scored by the opposition, score when dominating, and not hit the opposition's bar or post with regular abundance.
8 Posted 11/06/2010 at 09:31:58
We are better than we were in 04-05 and the usual suspects aren't as good as they were. But, as is said above, luck will play a part and on balance we are due a bit.
Dononvan or a comparable replacement must be found and Pienaar must have a below par, but injury free World Cup and have to take the Plan B of our offer and not the mega bucks his agent would like (poor bugger).
So to sum up: one or two more in, nobody leaving, not too many injuries and a good start; add the 24-year historical imperative and it's job done. And if Sir Terry can come in and sort out the ongoing front-of-house fiasco, well the world's a mollusc of your choice.
9 Posted 11/06/2010 at 09:54:30
Now, don't misunderstand this point — I think Pienaar has developed into a decent player and would prefer it if he stayed. But to suggest he is irreplaceable is, in my view, far from reality. No doubt he has been instrumental in the development of semi-coherent passing football last season... But it was also apparent that an average player like Landon Donovan had a similar impact on the development of our passing game.
I think wide players like Pienaar and Donovan give us a good idea of how balance and passing improves any game of football... but that doesn't mean they are the only players who can produce the 'beautiful game'. What's more important is the players who orchestrate the forward movement... and that would be Mikel and Fellaini.
I think we're only a few players away from a cracking, balanced team as well... however, I think Pienaar's importance to that is rather overstated.
10 Posted 11/06/2010 at 10:29:52
I'm not over-impressed by the recent acquisitions — remind me more of the signings made by a Championship or League 1 team in Champ Manager. But they are squad players nonetheless, and have no excuses not to bed in early to the set up at Goodison.
If we keep the current squad intact with 1 or 2 headline signings (3 if Peanuts buggers off) then we should be in excellent shape for August. Oh and for the love of Jebas, don't loan Coleman out again next season — his stint with Blackpool proved he is more than ready for first team action.
11 Posted 11/06/2010 at 10:30:13
I know in the past we have tended to do our deals in the transfer market a lot later and towards deadline but, if we are to start well and really kick on this season, it's important for new players to be in early on. Again, in my opinion, getting players in before the season kicks off.
My second concern is that Everton cannot always get away with playing the 4-5-1 formation. We have to adapt and change, especially at home, and play 4-4-2.
Moyes needs to establish who his two strikers will be and getting a settled partnership going. Is it going to be the Yak and Saha? Again rumours of the Yak could be on his way out so that another area that'll need addressing. But Moyes has to be a little bit more bold enough and go 4-4-2 and go for the win, none of this sitting on the fence and keeping it tight.
To push on from last season, we'll have irradicate those silly draws at home to the likes of Stoke, Wolves, West Ham, Brum.
I believe with Man City's spending power and Spurs who have strength in depth and will no doubt make further additions will again be the sides the likelier to finish 4th and 5th. Questions mark over Arsenal — could they be the side to drop out of the top 4 this year? Dependent on players in and out will dictate whether they finish top 4 or not. I hope I'm proved wrong and Everton are still 4th or within touching distance of 4th next April. My gut feeling is a top 6 finish above the Villa and the Shite!
12 Posted 11/06/2010 at 11:37:08
This will leave us in a quandary on whether to splash the cash on a top creative midfielder to support Arteta or on a top goalscorer. This will be the crucial summer decision for Moyes and Co.
Can he hope that Arteta, Fellaini, Rodwell provide enough creativity or does he believe that Beckford can replace Yakubu? Suppose that's why he gets paid £3M or whatever outlandish salary he gets paid.
I personally feel that if we loose Pienaar, we need to replace with quality — haven't got a clue who, but we can't rely on a fit Arteta all season. Again, if we loose Yakubu, we need to replace him as Saha will undoubtedly miss 30% of games and Beckford/Silva will take the season to adjust.
So, to end this tale of possible woe, we will have as good a chance as any in cracking the Top 4 if we keep the current squad together, but loosing Pienaar and Yakubu, we will need two good replacements rather than the top quality single signing.
One final warning — we need to find a new defensive pairing (from Heitinga, Jags, Distin, someone new) which will give us a solid defence; we conceded at least 10-15 goals last year over and above that neccessary to ensure Top 4 place.
13 Posted 11/06/2010 at 12:03:00
A few points:
1. City's first bid was £15M
2. Distin and Bilyaletdinov cost around this amount; the extra cash from Lescott secured us Heitinga, a brilliant buy.
3. Moyes was holding out for £30M if memory serves and caved in a week before the deadline. Having got City to move from £15M to £23M, do you blame him for not accepting their second offer?
The issue about last summer is not, IMHO, the timing of Lescott's sale, it is that we once again had to sell a player and Moyes is only able to make purchases once this is done.
The absence of investment means that squad disruption is always likely as the club finds it difficult to fend off bids if a club really pursues one of our players.
If Man Utd consciously pursued Arteta, I have no doubt he would leave. Not because he is disloyal but because, if the offer was large enough, our penniless shareholders would take the cash. The club still has significant debts and in Moyes the Board has found a manager who can operate within these financial restrictions.
Our situation will not change unless we receive an injection of cash, reduce our debt and go on the offensive ourselves — i.e. start to attract star players away from rival clubs. Until then, we continue to fight above our weight and credit goes to the manager for that.
14 Posted 11/06/2010 at 12:13:15
I undertstand Ciaran's point. I perhaps rate Pienaar higher. He has become quite fabulous for us and the thought of him, Arteta and Fellaini bossing most (if not, all) teams, with Bily and (why not) Donovan providing width... well, where could that take us?
Pienaar offers a wonderful balance of attributes. Speed, strength, guile and spunk. He also knows us, he's already in the jigsaw. There's a nice symmetry of having someone so gifted and so settled (well, he was!).
In truth, I can't see how he stays. And quite frankly, if Moyes holds him to the last year of his contract so that we keep an unhappy player and lose out on £15M, then he has truly lost it.
I want Pienaar to stay more than I want new faces. I think we have possibly the best midfield in the whole premier league and one of the best anywhere outside of Barcelona.
My biggest concern for next season is a) reclaiming defensive solidity, and b) having a goal scorer or two on the books.
But in ending, no offence Lyndon, but I almost hope Pienaar sprains his ankle after 30 mins today and Bafana Bafana fail to qualify. It would be sad for SA I know, but on rare occasions I can be a right selfish bastard. :)
15 Posted 11/06/2010 at 12:14:52
I agree with most of what you're saying, this is a very good Everton side, no doubt about it. Forgetting about other factors, we are simply a better team than City, Villa or Spurs and now perhaps Liverpool.
United, Chelsea and Arsenal have some work to do if they are to avoid further weakening this summer. The points are going to be even more evenly spread next season. We've a real chance to compete at the top if we hold what we have and get lucky in the transfer market.
Pienaar was the run-away player of the season; he's an all-rounder in terms of work rate, ability and tenacity. Very difficult to replace, I really hope he stays.
The transfer market is changing, there are lots of players running down their contracts, to panic and sell him may be a bigger risk to the team than losing out on the fee. Giving us (and Moyes) a year's notice will allow our manager time to search for a replacement. In a system where players leave clubs for free, sometime you win and sometimes you lose. With a manager like David Moyes, I believe it is a positive development for us and we will benefit from it more often than lose out.
16 Posted 11/06/2010 at 12:47:46
If Pienaar goes we have to find TWO wide men who have pace, can cross and will gel with the work ethic and playing style of the existing team immediately.
Donovan is likely to cost between £6M and £8M (which we don't have at the moment), so if we are forced to sell Pienaar we need to ensure that we get enough money for him to be able to fund Donovan PLUS another quick winger (ideally left sided). There is no way this is kind of quality is available for less than £8 -10M, meaning we have to aim to get £16M for Pienaar or he is not worth selling. We keep him and let his contract run-down.
17 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:10:27
Pienaar - £16M
Vaughan - £2M
Donovan - £8M
Ben Arfa - £10M
18 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:21:43
Pienaar is a fantastic player for us but not irreplaceable. We also must score more goals.
19 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:13:44
A very well written and thought out post.
The only point I would like to make which one other poster has alluded to is our defence. We did not keep anything like enough clean sheets even in the latter half of the season.
Part of it lies in the more adventurous style of play we suddenly found and part of it can also be accounted for by Fellaini and Rodwell's injuries but for me Jags has never returned to the form he showed pre-injury and Distin and Yobo lose concentration too many times in a game.
In fact, the only time we looked good in defence was with the Lucas Neil/John Heitiga combination.
The Distin/Baines partnership will never work IMO so I hope we get a quality replacement for Distin and use him as "Bench" cover only.
Pienaar's work rate and enthusiasm are also key to Bainesey's penchant for getting forward so if he does go we would need a replacement who is prepared to track back.
Other than that, I am reasonably confident for next season but feel those issues are the difference between top 4 and top 10 finishes.
20 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:24:06
I think the key part of the article is where you talk about Arteta and Pienaar together, and that we can get by without one or the other but not both.
What we need to do therefore is find another two players of this type. In my opinion that's what this squad needs. That way we could do without Pienaar and Arteta and rely on (just suppose) Bentley and Ben Arfa to do the business (I've referred in the past to signing Bergkamp and Kanchelskis, as I think those are the archetypes of the players we need).
Mikel and Steven are match winners, and unless Louis Saha is right up for it they're our only ones. This is where we lack depth and the only thing that NEEDS improving (as opposed to could be improved). I still hold out hope that a fresh and fully adapted Bilyaletdinov will be another one of these players, and if Moyes is clever, the sale of one, Pienaar, might finance the buying of two.
21 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:43:20
I rate Arteta (who is irreplaceable) Fellaini and Saha (granted when on form), as match winners. Somewhat controversial, but I would rather have Cahill than Pienaar every time, although totally different types of players I agree.
22 Posted 11/06/2010 at 13:47:58
The fact is that Pienaar is a type of player that is not that uncommon. It may be out of our price range to find a suitable replacement if he goes, but if Cahill wasn't there we would not be able to find a replacement (because there isn't one)!
Jay - I disagree about the defence. You have to give Jags more time to recover. He made the difference on a handful of occasions last season (Spurs away he was fantastic when he came on in the 2nd half). I think he and Heitinga could be an outstanding pairing at the back. The problem was when Pip and Felli were both injured at the very end of last season Johnny played in midfield, so we only saw Jags and Johnny together for a handful of games. I think they will be brilliant next season.
23 Posted 11/06/2010 at 14:37:56
An interesting view that I agree and disagree with... It would be impossible to find a replacement for Tim — who can do the things Tim does well with equal measure... he's probably the best in the league at finding space and meeting the ball in the box.
However, it would be possible to find a replacement for Tim who has other qualities to make up for this deficiency... other qualities that Tim doesn't have.
To be honest I think we've already found one... and his name is Bily.
24 Posted 11/06/2010 at 15:29:10
One poster made the comment that we haven’t got the capacity to play badly and win, which is the sign of all Champions, something I’ve been saying all season; however, the last 6 games we won 3, drew 3 and played well below par, and strangely enough it’s that run of games that makes me think that we could go close next season — and no, I don’t want to use the ‘C’ word!
25 Posted 11/06/2010 at 16:02:40
What are his wage demands?
What are we offering?
How does this compare to other top earners at the club?
I would be happy for Pienaar to be joint top earner, because I believe he is our second most important player. Is he asking for me than that or are the club being tight?
26 Posted 11/06/2010 at 16:57:16
I don't know numbers, but I am guessing that a number of players (Heitinga, Cahill, Arteta) have a parity clause in their contracts that ensure the are on as par with the highest earner at the club.
I think this is the club's problem with matching Pienaar's agent's requirements. It's not just giving him £60k a week as opposed to £45k (for arguments sake) it's giving the other three an additional £15k a week. It increases the wage bill by £60k a week. Not something the club can afford!
27 Posted 11/06/2010 at 15:02:48
And that, really, was my point about Pienaar. He's not a world beater on a consistent basis — as he just proved with a fairly anonymous performance for South African against Mexico — but he was clearly our best player last season and, as with a number of players, he appears to be at his best at Everton under David Moyes.
There is a certain enigmatic quality about the current Everton setup that gets the very best out of players, see Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, and even Lescott for examples. Credit Moyes for that and that is why, unlike Ciaran, I'm going to reserve all judgement on the new acquisitions until they've had a chance to settle in and play.
28 Posted 11/06/2010 at 17:15:20
No one "knows" the real numbers involved. I've heard £100k a week bandied about and I've also heard that the club haven't offered him parity with John Heitinga (who is thought to be on £65k a week) but it's all hearsay and rumour.
Obviously, if we're serious about keeping him, we offer him the same salary as the top earner at the club, otherwise he could justifiably get the hump and start looking elsewhere. But we can't break the wage structure to any degree near £100k for any one player and if that *is* what Pienaar is demanding, then I think his head's inflated a little beyond reality!
29 Posted 11/06/2010 at 19:25:13
The irreplaceable ones are Arteta and Fellaini, as Ciaran rightly states. Those two will be immense and we need to keep them at all costs.
30 Posted 11/06/2010 at 19:42:41
This is the best squad we've had for years, with a real chance of winning a trophy. Moyes is bulking out the squad with impact players, he already has a first 11 which is a match for any team and if he keeps them fit, who says they couldn't win the league!?
This is Moyes's defining season, he knows it and we know it and the players know it. I am more optimistic about this coming season than I've been since I started watching them in the 60s... The reasoning for this is simple... It's taken years to assemble by a manager who has been honoured by his peers twice without winning anything — they know a good manager when they see one.
Lastly, remember 'Appy Harry's comment towards the end of the season when he stated he was so glad Everton had had such a poor start to the season. He knows he's got 4th by default and with the 2nd half to the season we had he (and the rest of the league) know it's Everton they're all going to worry about.
31 Posted 11/06/2010 at 19:41:01
I don't consider stating that our new signings are cheap gambles — as passing judgement on how they'll perform on the pitch for us.
I'd consider that as passing judgement on our financial realities.
No idea why you singled me out either — it's a farily common perception.
32 Posted 11/06/2010 at 20:12:44
33 Posted 11/06/2010 at 20:25:37
34 Posted 11/06/2010 at 21:04:25
I've never ever seen Mucha or Silva play — so judging them would be a bit ludicrous... I'm even avoiding the usual YouTube analysis.
35 Posted 11/06/2010 at 22:07:25
36 Posted 11/06/2010 at 23:27:39
My point was that people said the same thing about the likes of Cahill but, on reflection, I take your point. I'm guessing (hoping!) that these are the squad-filling acquisitions and that a couple of eye-openers are in the works after the World Cup.
Hey, a man can dream...
37 Posted 12/06/2010 at 07:24:52
But I think there is a seimic shift in our team and squad in general over the last few seasons. Can anyone honestly remember a time when so many teams were targeting / linked / inteterested in so many of our players? Jags the latest prized asset for Wenger. Add Arteta, Pienaar, Johnny, The Yak, King Louis, Screech... the list goes on.
If we can hold onto all these coveted players, and manage to attract a few high calibre names, we really do have something to be optimistic about.
38 Posted 12/06/2010 at 13:45:03
been just media speculation.
39 Posted 12/06/2010 at 15:53:47
I can't see Jags or Arteta going anywhere. Johnny has a long contract and we are under no pressure to sell.
I am take it or leave it with Yak. I think he is a good player, but he has definitely lost some of his hunger after the injury. I would hope that Moyes can revive him and save us some money, but the next six months will tell all.
Pienaar is as good as gone, we just have to get s much as possible for him now, and make sure we can afford to replace him with a like-for-like player.
40 Posted 15/06/2010 at 00:41:42
Next, wow! 40 comments deep on yet another thread winnowed down to Pienaar. With all the folks who've declared him not that important in the other threads (repeatedly) right back here again. Ha.
In that spirit:
a. Pienaar is not leaving. He'll accept the raise offered or DM will let him play out his contract. Never mind shining in the World Cup, Stevie will spend next season auditioning for the mystery teams seemingly clamoring to sign him away (according Peanut's agent and no one else). I'll be surprised if he's not in Everton Blue next season.
b. Landon will be back in Blue. Around X-mas granted (for sure Galaxy have their own ambitions). Worst case, a loan turned into a signing.
For the rest, regarding Lyndon's post: EFC on a roll 2010-11.
Hopefully, Tim Howard won't desert us for a "Big" team.
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