I would say the transfer window could be framed in two differing ways. The first is a window of two segments, notably a first half which was slow on incomings with more emphasis based upon an austere approach to cost reduction. The second framework may be that there was more opaque lines of demarcation and it was a window that started slowly before momentum picked up pace. By yesterday afternoon the speed things were moving was almost insatiable. We completed on 3 significant deals (for International footballers who play for Columbia, Brazil and Portugal respectively) and as of the time of writing it is unclear whether a 4th was added in French international and Premier League winner Kurt Zouma. There was also talk of a £22 million pound bid late in the window for Argentine defender Marcos Rojo and of a loan deal for Danny Wellbeck. After such a chaotic and successful last 24 hours it’s difficult to know how which framework to attach to the window in the immediate period afterwards. Reflection time will certainly aid that process. What cannot be disputed though, is it has been a very productive transfer window for Everton, unquestionably their best since at least 2013.
The strand that runs through all of the above discussions is the role of Marcel Brands. His conduct through the window has been calm, professional and when necessary clinical. What has impressed me most about the man is that he has always appeared calm and in control of both his actions and therefore the actions of the club. When you are dealing with finite resources and different interest groups who’s demands border on the infinite there is a sharp contradiction that exists for buyers in the market.
While it is fashionable to critique Steve Walsh his approach to the summer is in sharp contrast to his predecessor. I actually happen to think he had many qualities that would have led him to be a valuable member of a football club. It was interesting to hear Sam Allardyce say he was very close to getting both Maguire and Robertson done which I fully believe. You can add Spurs’s Son and Leon Bailey (being discussed now for a 70 million transfer) to the list of players he had identified but ultimately couldn’t close. The simplistic analysis of Walsh’s failure is that he bought bad players for lots of money. The more complex analysis is he didn’t control the process, allowed a vacuum to be filled by others (notably Koeman), didn’t trust his own judgement enough to close deals for the right players and in the anarchic system that followed ultimately negotiated poorly.
At this stage Brands may suffer the same fate. Most of the players he’s bought have not kicked a ball for Everton so it would be wrong to say at this stage whether his players are better than those we recruited over the last 2 years. The truth is they couldn’t be much worse but what has been most impressive is not just the players he has bought but the authority he exuded as pushing the process forward.
The first early signs of this were first evident to me around the Tierney transfer. The planning was good, we were targeting a player from a side who would be interested to sell, a player with the right age profile for what the club needs to do and what the manager was looking for and crucially he played in a position that we have needed cover for. The approach was swift when it came, personnel terms were agreed and a fee looked close. It went quiet for a couple of days, by which either Celtic upped the price or stated that they wanted a high % of the fee up front (they are the two different versions of the event) and Brands walked away. It was a brave decision and one that attracted the ire of some fans, an ire that would have undoubtedly grown had we been unable to secure an alternative.
The record then shows that he moved onto a different target who he secured shortly after, for a significantly reduced fee to the one quoted for Tierney for a player who while 4 years older also has a more impressive CV to date (over 20 caps for the World Champions France). That Brands was confident enough to find an alternative is a positive and so too was the speed and clarity of his decision making. This was not pondering what to do for weeks on end to then descend into a panic when time began to run out. He had a negotiation, assessed quickly the two sides were too far apart for both parties to be able to conclude a deal and moved onto the next option quickly once he had reached the conclusion. He did not allow concern as to what the fans may say if it all went wrong to cloud his decision making, instead focusing on the positives that would come as and when he secured a target at the right price point.
By not making decisions based upon fear, or concern at what others perceive is a big step forward. Anyone who thinks otherwise should ponder our chase of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Olivier Giroud last summer. I don’t believe it was ever planned for us to go much beyond £30 million for Sigurdsson and it was clear quite early on that it would be difficult to close such a deal. I would suggest that Steve Walsh (and the boards) fear of not giving Koeman what he wanted swayed the decision to end up paying £40 million for the Icelander. The Giroud negotiation was unable to be closed and no plan B was ever seriously explored within a time frame that was realistic to complete a deal.
When you are governed by a fear of either allaying fans concerns or placating what a manager wants you rarely develop a strategy to recruitment that provides longer term benefits. As with any club, trying to compete with sides above them who have significantly greater spending power a greater unorthodoxy may be required and it’s an unorthodoxy that will likely be disliked from coach’s. Nobody is wrong in that framework, each person is acted upon their own interests, yet it is only overcome by having a clear plan in the medium to long term that will then inform each decision you take in the short term. The decision to walk away from Tierney, where last season I suspect we would have paid what Celtic asked (or close to it) is a fine example of this.
The other point that is worth noting within this window is how late much of the business was done. In the past we have made a success of deadline days, but much of it was based upon no small amount of good fortune. In 2013 we wanted Demba Ba not Lukaku and it’s unlikely the ability to sign McCarthy/Barry could have come had Manchester United not bid for Fellaini. Without the above 3 players it’s unlikely the season would have gone as well. It’s not to demean what was very good business but to point out it’s hard to repeat such an approach. However with this window it felt anything but lucky. Bernard was secured some days before after Brands and Silva took the logical step of considering the free transfer pool as a viable option for Everton. The same is likely true of Zouma and the loan market (if it completes). He was also willing to be patient for Yerry Mina and wait for the right player to exhaust his alternatives elsewhere and the relationship that we have built with Barcelona also allowed us the additional bonus of signing a talented midfield player to boot.
I have always wondered why Everton have never made more of both the loan and more importantly the free transfer market. It always seemed a very obvious thing to do if the level of resource you have doesn’t always meet the ambition you hold for the club. Perhaps sometimes the best ideas are very simple ones, but I also think until Brands has arrived I doubt Everton had the skill, level of respect and connections enjoyed by him to be able to finalise such deals. Likewise in attracting a young coach keen to improve players we make ourselves a valuable resource for teams looking to improve younger players to either maximize sell on value or prepare them for their own first team. For some this will be an obscuring of our motto but I would argue it is the sort of pragmatism that we need to adopt to bridge the gap to the team sides. Our links to Barcelona that have been established this window will be a big positive for the club and if Dembele continues to struggle he may emerge as a left field option for a loanee for the club.
The total of all of the above is that Everton have opened up opportunities and channels of recruitment that are not available to most of their competitors and many of the sides above them in the league. It is worth noting that this is the first window for Marcel Brands, working with a new CEO above him and a new coach below him. As all 3 become more settled in the role there are enormous opportunities for these channels to be deepened and expanded. Likewise I also think new areas, such as the South American market will begin to be opened for Everton. In the first window it looks like a high priority was placed upon signing as low risk players as possible. If a solid base is established I would anticipate we may look to sign players such as Mina, Richarlison (and heavily linked) Lozano directly from “source” as opposed to from a 2nd/3rd club for a higher price. I think future windows may see less signings, who may be more obscure names but who resemble players signed at the upper end/ambition level of what PSV tried to do.
The recruitment itself, in both approach, consistency, logic and end result has been very impressive but Brands has also moved players on very well. Klaassen went for close to £15 million as did Mori, while Rooney’s wages were said to be covered in their entirety in MLS. We have also found suitors for Mirallas and Williams. Unfortunately deadline day deals for both Besic and Bolasie (for over £20 million) fell through (the hope has to be that in the panic on January if both can up their performance in the cameo roles they may have between now and then will allow their value to hold or even grow). Moving players on will be an important part of his role and he has shown early signs that he is very capable of doing this effectively. I suspect we will see the sale of players continuing for at least the next 2 windows. Perhaps for the first time since Moshiri came, the ruthless rhetoric around expectations of performance has began to be met by initial signs of action. There has to be a hope that this will prevent some of the “clocking off” we saw from certain offenders for the majority of last season, as it is very clear now that unless the performances are to a high standard a player will have no future prospects at the club.
As a result of the window there is now a positivity amongst the fan base that I have not seen since (at least) 2013 in relation to a transfer window. While we bought many players last year there was an acute feeling that we had not addressed all of the key areas (notably a Centre forward). The window ended on a negative note and a mixture of this allied to a fiendishly difficult start to the season saw pessimism set in at all levels of the club. Particularly in the modern era, where football clubs are simply not a resilient in dealing with fan upheaval as they once were this can be very damaging and last season there was a toxic atmosphere that went from many of the supporters all the way to board level inclusive of the management team and the players. It is almost impossible to succeed where this is the case.
The optimism of 2012 carried the club forward and a similar situation occurred in 2003 when Wayne Rooney emerged and the entire club seemed happy and united behind a successful team. With an enticing opening set of fixtures and a manager who has started well at both his previous clubs there is a unique opportunity for Everton to quite quickly and sharply change the narrative that has existed from the last 12 to 48 months. While it’s important to hold people to account and be critical at the right moment, it is also just as important to not hold only a utopian vision as the only thing that is praiseworthy. If Everton can start well this season allied to the feel good factor then perhaps the optimism that emerged in the aftermath of Moshiri’s takeover may not have been misplaced but perhaps had just come too early. In recruiting 5 (or 6) high caliber international players to work alongside a talented coach and a squad with ability in, we have should embrace and enjoy the positivity that is around the club currently and be bullish about our chances this season.