For most football supporters, the summer months are the longest. It is especially so this summer, without any World Cup or European Championships.
The modern era has brought with it the rise of the football agent and with the stakes increasing both on and off the pitch for all football clubs, the summer replaces the battle of the players with battles for the players.
With no games being played, the optimism that drained away so badly at the end of the season is renewed with the promise of new signings, maybe even a new manager, and the prospects of a successful team next season. For those with money, the excitement of chasing and finally capturing that supposed “missing link” is almost as good as getting the winning goal in a Cup Final.
However, the same cannot be said for fans of all teams. For Everton fans, it has become the norm that the summer is longer for them than other fans.
On the face of it, Everton have little to feel bad about. The team is a consistent finisher in the upper reaches of the Premier League, it is filled with terrific players of the calibre of Arteta and Cahill, they have one of the games most respected and sought-after managers and a large and loyal support.
Ask an Everton fan, though, and all is not as rosy as it would appear from the outside.
So what are the problems?
There are a number of them and they are all intrinsically linked, unfortunately. The lack of investment in the team and in the club is perhaps the biggest of all. A significant amount of ire is aimed directly at the Chairman and shareholder, Bill Kenwright. Always described as the “theatre impresario”, Betty Turpin’s son has made a big play of his love for the club and harking back to days of yore in the boy’s pen watching Dave Hickson.
In terms of wealth to you and I, his means are vast. In terms of football and big business, he has little or nothing to offer other than his aforementioned love for the Club. When times are good, Kenwright was hailed by all concerned: he stuck with a young manager when times were bad, oversaw a sensible transfer policy and reaped the rewards with an improvement in the Club’s league position and an FA Cup Final.
Sadly, when times are bad, the record simply sounds as though it has got stuck and his romanticising of the Club is seen as a roadblock to change and investment. Whether Kenwright has actively sought new investment or ownership for the Club is a moot point. In fairness to him, he is constricted by the rules of corporate governance and so won’t disclose who has made bids for the Club, who has been interested and whether anybody has offered any money. Most fans speculate as to what has gone on and the silence that surrounds the Club results in all manner of accusations being thrown his way.
However, he is damned whichever way he turns: he states he only wants the best for Everton and is unprepared to sell to anyone who will not preserve the traditions of one of the game’s long-standing powerhouses, but this only serves to add fuel to the fire that he is preventing change for his own personal ends, namely his desire to remain as Chairman.
Kenwright’s big idea recently has been to increase investment using the model that Manchester United pioneered in the early 1990’s: build a big ground and finance the Club through greater matchday revenue and merchandise sales. Everton are now seeking to replicate this some 20 years later, probably too late, and from a significantly weaker position. They are no longer one of the “big four” and do not have the money to proceed with the construction of a new ground without finding someone to stump up the cash.
The much-vaunted partnership with Tesco would have resulted in a brand new ground in Kirkby, financed in part by their wealthy supermarket partner, thus resolving the issue of a lack of capital to build the ground itself. The scheme was stopped following a public enquiry and Everton were forced to return to the drawing board and face the foreseeable future and beyond at Goodison Park. The Grand Old Lady is still a fantastic arena for football but the cost of refurbishment, the lack of facilities for both your average Everton fan and corporate guests means that it is holding the Club back.
The main concern for any Evertonian is the team itself and whilst there is a lack of capital in the form of a new owner or increased gate-money, it is the team that will be affected. In David Moyes they acquired the services of one of the game’s brightest managers and he transformed the Club from being perennial underachievers to challengers in the top half of the table, even breaking into the Champions League albeit for 2 games.
On paper, the secret to Moyes’ success was clear: the acquisition of players from the lower divisions allied to hard-work, a great team spirit and tactical discipline. The nucleus of Moyes’ early teams were bargain buys such as Lescott, Cahill, Carsley, Martyn and Arteta. However, Lescott apart, those players still remain the same or have retired and little has been done to freshen up the squad. When Moyes has spent significant money, the signings have, by and large, flattered to deceive and been moved on. Beattie, Johnson, the disastrous Kroldrup and, more recently, Bilyaletdinov are cases in point.
The financial position of the Club means that Moyes must sell before he buys. James Vaughan has already found a new home in the canary yellow of Norwich and it is hoped that Yakubu and Jospeh Yobo will follow soon after. It is only then that Moyes can make his moves. A generous offer was made for Demba Ba, who picked the fickle cauldron of Newcastle over Everton, but it is not believed he was a key part of Moyes’ overall transfer plan. The names of Mackail-Smith, Bothroyd, Wes Brown and N’Zogbia have all been mentioned in dispatches.
More importantly, Moyes himself has come under increased scrutiny and the critics of his management style and tactical approach have begun to grow. Many fans held the view, mistakenly perhaps, that last season’s squad could press for a 4th place finish given the players available and the form shown towards the end of the 2009/10 season. The run never materialised although 7th place was attained, despite another horrific start. Indeed, it was only when faced with a growing injury list that Gueye and Vellios were given their opportunities and, with a more-expansive system, Everton embarked on their best run of results at the back-end of the season. Another case of too little too late.
All things considered, all of the matters outlined above have caused morale at the Club and amongst supporters to fall to low. As each day passes and other Premier League sides acquire new players, the fans’ anger increases.
Should Evertonians, therefore, be worried?
If it is not already clear, I am an Evertonian of long-standing myself. I love the Club and cherish my season ticket, regardless of the Club’s plight. My view is that we are Evertonians because of the unique nature of the Club itself and the fates that inevitably befall it; success is always fleeting and is often snatched away through circumstances beyond our control. For example, only Everton could have been the side that won the First Division title the year before both World Wars and the Heydsal disaster.
We may look upon the riches of Chelsea and Manchester City with a certain degree of envy and marvel at the players they have acquired. I believe we would lose the spirit of the Club if that were to happen to us, but recognise that a certain amount of investment is required. The opportunities afforded to the likes of Osman, Hibbert, Rodwell, Coleman, Anichebe etc. would be lost and significant sections of our largely local support would be priced out of going to the match.
All Evertonians want Everton to challenge at the top-end of the table and many believe the only way to achieve this is to shop at the pricier and more established end of the transfer market and spend big money. However, precedent shows us that when Everton have challenged, they have done so as a consequence of shopping at the other end of the market, in acquiring players with little reputation and with the manager working in adversity. This summer now presents us with the same opportunity.
So, like every other football supporter this summer, I will look forward to the transfer window and hope that new players will arrive to bring success back to the Club, regardless of their reputations.
If history is anything to go by, this could be Everton’s year.