5 years have now passed since Farhad Moshiri bought into Everton, in a move that offered fresh new hope for the club. If anyone were to assess the last 5 years in terms of performance, the descriptors would range from disappointment, to frustration to being outwardly underwhelmed. What had promised a lot, ultimately delivered as yet precious little. Aside from a first year flourish, it is probably only in his 5th year that it really feels like we are moving beyond where we were when he arrived, and have any sort of momentum to move forward. The easy conclusion is a sort of fatalism, that it was always inevitably going to fail. I don’t share that viewpoint, mistakes were made along the way, and it is perhaps interesting to look at those as well as the context of where Moshiri fits into the big spenders who have gone before him in Premier League Football.
If I think back 5 years, I remember being not just excited but a little enthralled when Moshiri arrived. It is something of the stuff of dreams, that it is your club that win the lottery, are bought out by a wealthy investor who is willing to fork out copious sums of money on an objective of restoring the glory years. For a club, once backed heavily by the Moores empire and known as the Bank of England Club (and the Mersey Millionaires) it promised a return to an era that was once merely the stories of folk law. What had proceeded it, for most of my lifetimes, was a grim drudgery and a club that exemplified a sort of working class puritanism that found virtue in impoverishment. We had in the proceeding years forged quite a useful niche for ourselves, in finding a sweet spot of being able to spend less than most in the league, but maintain solid finishes in the league, and even push towards the European places. There was a large glass ceiling though, which came around every summer window when the replacement that were required rarely emerged and with each year the team improved, finding players within our constraints became harder and harder.
To some degree, the question of how that had been allowed to happen has been missed, and in a lot of ways continues to be missed. The club hasn’t marketed itself well enough, and continues to not market itself well enough but you do at least get the sense there is some awareness of the problem from certain quarters now. The consensus that existed before though, of no money but decent performances was beginning to fray. Manager Martinez had offered a potential glimpse out of this, and spoke with a charm that was initially very welcomed, but by 2016 was becoming clear that he and the club were beginning to spiral. As it dawned that there was no real shortcut to tinker with a system and improve on what Moyes had left, Moshiri’s arrival came not a moment too late, and to some extent shuck the fanbase out of an acceptance of some of the more puritanical beliefs. Whatever has followed, that could be considered a positive.
The initial reports were very positive. He been involved with Arsenal for some years and had a pitch to take over. It was a pitch that he had alongside long term business partner, friend and crucially Russia’s wealthiest man Alisher Usmanov that they felt more investment into the team was the way to go. It felt there was a desire to create an Arsenal of the north, with a new stadium and substantial investment was the aim. On GOT’s forum, respected poster (and now podcast extraordinaire) spoke very warmly of Moshiri and how Everton would look to be ambitious in their spend in the upcoming window. He spoke well on BBC radio 5 and would do so again some weeks later pointing out that Ronald Koeman may have been a manager that could improve the club if Martinez were to leave (to much derision from host Robbie Savage who felt it an impossibility, oh how we wish it was looking back).
Caught Between Moyes and Mourinho
To a lesser or greater degree, I think this was the initial contradiction for Moshiri. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, for different reasons I’m not sure either were an option (though there were some tenuous links to both, with Moyes revisiting Goodison for a Tony Bellew boxing match and Mourinho being a free agent). More the philosophy both represent.
Everton in the years building up to Moshiri actually had a recruitment system that for the most part worked very well. They spent very little yet maximised results. A study from football observatory would find they were 4th in Europe, and top in England for £s spent per point. The only other teams in the top 20 of Europe from England were Southampton and Tottenham. I had written quite early on that if Everton could maintain that performance level, and increase spend levels, perhaps 2-3 times they had a great chance of being successful. The infrastructure was there, but it needed time and a bit more money.
The alternative perspective, the Mourinho to the above Moyes essentially states that you get the best manager for the job, and give them huge amounts of money. I sense this was the approach Moshiri preferred. Less patience required, more adrenaline generated, more exposure and ultimately more love and approval from fans. Yet I’m not sure he had any idea of the scale of spend that would have been required, even back then to get close to emulating what either Manchester City, or Chelsea achieved. After 2 years, when it patently hadn’t worked out, the move to go back to a more frugal- Moyes type approach was again enlisted, with DOF’s coming, but in honesty not in any sort of convincing manner that would lead you to think the entire organisation was singularly on board with the plan. It’s messy.
To give some idea for context it is perhaps worth comparing the 3 clubs and their respective takeovers. In the 1st 5 years in charge, Everton spent £526m, Manchester City (2008-12) £566 and Chelsea (2003-07) £464. In terms of net spend this reads as £255 for Everton, £412 for Manchester City and £380 for Chelsea. The initial point would be that Everton have had to sell more than the other 2 sides, and in real terms it means Lukaku, Barkley, Stones & Gana Gueye have all left. I’m not going to make the position that if all had stayed we would be title winners by now, but there have been more sales relative to spend for Everton compared to the other 2 sides.
The big point though, which I feel is often missed in all manner of commentary’s is that inflation has played an enormous role in how you expect a team to do. The £460m Chelsea spent from 2003 goes a lot further then than now (if you look at the raw spend data probably 4 times as far) just as the £566m spent by Manchester City from 2008-12 goes probably 3 times as far as the same period as Everton’s spending.
If you are to place each side into a league table within the said period, the results are quite striking. Since Moshiri arrived, Everton have spent the 5th most both gross and net since his arrival. Manchester City and Chelsea 5 years on from their respective takeover both sat 1st in both categories, but also sat substantially further ahead of the rest of the league compared to the modern spend table (which has become far closer). Chelsea’s gross and net spend is around 2.5 x the side in 2nd (Manchester United, with Liverpool in 3rd) while Manchester sit around double the 3rd place team in gross spend (again Liverpool) but 4 times the rest placed team on the net spend table (oddly enough, Stoke). It isn’t just that Mansour and Abramovich went and outspent the rest of the league, but they did so in a manner whereby the rest of the league were not even close to their level of spend. For Abramovich it meant traditional spending giants Manchester United and Liverpool (2nd and 3rd in gross spend) were around 40% of his spend total) and for Mansour, he then blitzed Abramovich in terms of a net commitment, nearly doubling the Chelsea spend and being at least 4 times the rest of the league in terms of a net commitment.
To give some context within the last 5 years, in the case of Abramovich, if his gross spend was matched to the current biggest spenders (Manchester City) the nearest competitors would be 10th place Wolves (who have not even been in the top division for the duration of 5 years). If you were assessing from a net perspective, and made equivalence of Manchester City’s first 5 years, the 3rd place competitor in spend would be Fulham in 11th (again who haven’t spent all 5 years in the top division). If they were to have outspent the current Manchester City spend over the last 5 years to the same degree, an equivalent takeover a gross transfers spend of around £2bn across the 5 years for Everton on the Abramovich numbers and around £1.4bn of it net, while around £1.2bn net in terms of the City spend level.
When you start looking at such numbers, such things as getting it right off the field in terms of transfers becomes a lot more secondary. You have to get a good manager in, and give him the best players to work with- essentially the Mourinho paradigm. With the nicest will in the world, this is not the level of spend Everton have been operating on. In truth, outside of potentially the most outrageous Saudi investment (very unlikely to have materialised, and even less likely to be allowed now within the PL) it is very difficult to imagine another scenario where such an occurrence can happen. Blowing out of the window largely millionaire owned clubs, before the enormous globalization of the game of the last 10 years was a possibility. How do you blow Sheikh Monsour out of the window? You may be able to compete with him, but you will not be leaving in trailing in your wake as happened previously.
From an Everton perspective though, the level of spend was substantially increased. As indicated previously, the club sits 5th in both gross and net spend over the last 5 years. While this isn’t 1st it is a big improvement on the previous 5-10 years. In the previous 5 years we sat 19th in terms of gross spend and 19th in terms of net spent. In the previous decade those numbers were 12th gross spend and 24th net spend. Of the previous 3 managers, in gross terms Moyes was 11th across the league, Martinez 10th & Smith 9th across their tenures and in net spend terms the numbers were starker with Moyes sitting 15th Martinez sitting 11th and Smith in 20th. You have to really go back to the mid 90’s and Joe Royle to see a similar spend to the one we have over the last 5 years under a specific manager, with Royle spending the 2nd most gross and 4th most net (albeit that accounts for spending in the summer before he arrived). So relative to what went before, Everton greatly upped their level of spending relative to the previous 15 years or so, for most of the period to plateau and not move forward.
Rather than asking why the club haven’t emulated what Chelsea or City did it might well be a more prudent question to ask why was this ever thought of as a feasible option, and why did a club that had a system in place that allowed it to overperform it’s generally spend figures ultimately fail when more finances were available. While the answers are multi-faceted one point is absolutely clear- that there was a very clear break with what went before, and a seemingly effective system was dismantled and replaced with a much poorer one.
In trying to understand if Everton are now on the right track, it is a more difficult question. The first point, which has been made above but must be repeated- is that if we are to be successful it will not be emulating the manner either Chelsea or Manchester City did it. FFP prevents it, and even outside of FFP, the real world prevents it. The idea that anybody is going to come in and lash 2bn to spend over 5 years to spend is highly unrealistic.
To some degree Brands is some of the problem. Under his reign Everton have spent the 6th most gross and the 7th most net though he did take over a team with 48 points in a season. This is more moderate relative spend to the 1st two years where Everton were 5th (gross) and 4th net (though only 3m above 5th placed Arsenal). Under Brands Everton were just above average in terms of spend relative to the rest of the league, and it is only now that you might say there looks to have been just above average progress. If you were being harsh, you may well have the expectation that he needs to amplify “just above average” into something much higher. He may say with the stability that can hopefully come from the manager, it will allow him to execute this.
The other positive for Everton, is that in a deflationary market, some of the marginalisation of Moshiri’s capital will be reversed in such a scenario. From an Everton perspective, a hope that money drastically falls out of football, while their owner remains committed to a similar level as the 1st five years is grounds for optimism. There is every chance that if the spend in the game halves, theoretically at least his investment should go twice as far. It may not play out quite as simply as that, and it may be that rather than doubling in such a scenario it goes to 80% of what it was worth previously. The exact numbers are not the key point though, that is that deflationary pressure will likely suit Everton at this point.
Both Mansour and Abramovich were fortunate to buy into the league after quite severe deflationary pressure (for Abramovich the collapse of the ITV deal for the football league sucked money out) and for Mansour the 2008 Great Recession had a similar impact. If you were cynical you may say that they observed those occurrences and new it was the right time to buy to maximise influence. Certainly with Abramovich, the advantage that came from the rest of the football pyramid belt tightening and him being the singularly big spender was startling. While Mansour and to a degree owners of Wolves and Aston Villa (although both have reigned in spending) mean it won’t be a singular benefit for Moshiri, there is a good opportunity to capitalise on competition over the next 5 years if such a scenario plays out again.
If I had any advice for Moshiri, it would be that unless he proposed to pump £2bn into the club over the next 5 years for transfers (in which case, do what you like, as frankly that level of money will cover for ordinary practices) it would be to aim for stability and continuity on the football side of the business. While Smith, Martinez and even Moyes were by no means the best managers available to us, and there were moments in each’s tenure that were underwhelming and disappointing, across a near 20 year period, with limited spending they took a side that was perennially in the bottom 6 to one that generally finished half way up and better. Moyes particularly deserves credit for this. Smith had a good eye for a player, Moyes was a very good defensive coach, and aspects of Martinez possession based game were innovative, but it is the time they had at the club that allowed for change to come.
Continuity brings multiple benefits for a football club. It allows players more time to get settled at a club to perform and also to improve along the way. It creates on field spirit for the team and a collective identity. In recruitment it allows for short-medium and long term planning to link to one another, and the academy of a club to prepare for what the first team is looking for. It will save money on transfers and make the business more efficient.
While Ancelotti is universally popular amongst fans and a world class manager in his own right, there are more questions over Brands, but allowing both time together can only benefit the club. If we are able to sustain another 5 years, where Everton are even in the top 10 for net and gross spend, but keep those two figures together, you feel progress is likely to come.