‘Imagine what we could do with money’. I doubt there’s a Blue alive who didn’t think this during the Moyes-era. As Everton relentlessly tapped at the glass ceiling, threatening but never succeeding in smashing it, this was the thought that provided comfort. We might, as a club, not be bringing home silverware or topping the table but that was only because we were skint. If we had the largesse enjoyed by our supposed betters, it would be a different story.
Since Moshiri arrived, that thought has been put to test. We might not have the revenue and transfer budgets to match the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool and we certainly don’t come close to those enjoyed by City and United, but our coffers have been swelled and Everton have spent in a way that Moyes could only have dreamed of.
Without getting ‘all red shite’ and bleating on about ‘net spend’, Everton’s various managers under Moshiri have been able to shell out over £300m on new arrivals. We were the fifth-highest spending club in Europe last summer and, according to CIES Football Observatory, the sixth highest spenders across Europe over the past two transfer windows.
The days of bringing in Denis Stracqualursi on loan seem a long time ago.
What did we expect from this? Unquestionably we expected better. I doubt any but the most optimistic of Blues (and some of those rare souls do exist) thought that we would be making an assault on the title, but the majority probably expected an improvement on what we had experienced under Moyes and (early) Martinez, in essence a shift from the Europa to the Champions League.
Instead, the club appears to have gone backwards slightly. And not just if judged by its own league standards. It’s bad enough that Everton seem to have lost the club’s position as the unequivocal ‘best of the rest’, but what’s worse is that the gap which exists between the Blues and those at the top has widened, possibly to an unreachable degree. Stasis and sense of standing still would have been damning enough of an indictment of the Moshiri-era but actual regression, both relative and absolute, damns it further still.
This sense of regression unquestionably fuels the unusual feeling of dissatisfaction and apathy that currently pervades the Everton mood. I cannot recall a time when the fans, as a collective, have appeared so listless, so dismissive of a coming season, so passive in the acceptance of coming misery. Even in the dark days of the past, the times of Walker, Kendall (III) and Smith, mixed in with the pessimism was a sense of fight, an anger even.
Why does it feel different now? After all, us Blues are no strangers to disappointment, frustrations and dashed hopes. Perhaps that ‘thought’ has something to do with it. For so long it provided comfort and a reassuring narrative. Everton were all they could be, squeezing every last drop out of the club to hang onto the coattails of the ‘elite’. And naturally, with money we would not be hanging on for dear life but instead riding with them, back amongst the big boys, gathering cups as we went on our way.
Now that the money is there, what does that mean for our story? It was meant to be a simple equation, Everton + Cash = happiness. But that hasn’t been the case. Now we have to face the reality that reclaiming a seat at the high table was not as easy as we thought it would be. And that the reality could be that this is simply us, a mediocre club, forever dreaming of the Champions League while only ever, realistically, gaining the Europa (at best). It would be understandable that such a realisation would suck the joy out of following the club for a time.
Or perhaps this sense of apathy is attributable to something else? Maybe it’s the realisation that the transition to a club with resources comes at a cost. When we think of the Everton sides of the past, there was an undeniable connection to the fans that ran through them. It was a sense that the players ‘got’ what it means to play for a club like Everton. At a team level, this translated into a strong team spirit, an admirable work ethic and willingness to put bodies on the line for the shirt.
With bigger budgets comes players with a different kind of profile. Although not all can be tarred with the same brush, there is the sense that some of these players don’t view wearing the Royal Blue as something to be proud of in itself. They have come for a payday, a stepping stone or because nobody else wanted them. Collect too many such players and something changes in the squad as a whole. Everton still have those who clearly love the club and feel for the fans but they are diminishing as a proportion of the whole, and many of them are either kids who very well might not make it or the last remnants of the Moyes old guard.
Had the arrival of such players created success, perhaps the eclipsing of the ‘old’ Everton might have been more palatable. But at the moment the club seems stuck in the middle ground. The ‘old’ Everton has been sacrificed on the altar of success, but success hasn’t come, leaving us with little to hold onto. It must frustrate many a Blue that in finally getting what so many of us have wanted, the ability to buy players, we seem to have lost what once made this club so good to support.
But was it ever going to be any different? When the starving are rescued by those with an abundance of food, the advice is not to stuff their faces. To do so only makes them sick. But that’s just what Everton have done. The club has gorged itself on cash and it’s made Everton ill. The club has overeaten, stuffing itself on things that clearly weren’t good for it and a price has been paid. There can perhaps be no better physical manifestation of a club in sickness than Sam Allardyce, a man who appears to be the perfect representation of digestive distress.
Hopefully, Brands and Silva represent a new age at Everton. After the aimless gluttony of the recent past, maybe the club will start to use money wisely, uniting the best of what we were under Moyes (sharp recruitment, a strong work ethic, a connection to the terraces) with ability to go out there and compete in the market.
But at the moment ‘hope’ is all there is. Another emotional investment required of us in what could be another false dawn. Unpicking the mess of the recent past is going to take time and it’s going to take patience. But increasingly, as a fanbase, we are unsurprisingly running out of the latter.