In what was a week in football that had almost unparalleled turbulence, Everton’s Director of Football Marcel Brands signed a new contract tying him to the club for the next 3 years. For the most part, most of the supporters seemed satisfied with this, as the Dutchman has made a reasonable fist of pushing the club forward. There are areas of further improvement required, and it is perhaps worth noting how the first 3 years have progressed under Brands and what may have led to both sides coming to this agreement. It is worth noting that football has become an increasingly instantaneous game, one where success is demanded yesterday, and that 3 years is by no means an inconsequential period of time to make an initial judgement on Brands. There is certainly enough time to draw some conclusions and perhaps outline some targets of where we would like to be in 3 years’ time.
Brands came in, in truth in something of a crisis for the club. 2 years into Moshiri’s reign, the club had essentially gone nowhere. When Moshiri took over the club had got to 2 semi finals and finished 11th with 47 points. In the following 2 years there was an upturn in year 1 and a regression in year 2, finishing with just 48 points and being dumped out of cup competitions at the 1st hurdle. The crown jewels that existed in the squad (namely Barkley, Lukaku, Deulofeu and Stones) had all been sold and a hefty additional premium on top had been wasted. In 2018 there were no obvious equivalent jewels in the crown, and no easy sales available to help bolster spending.
There were some promising younger players, Vlasic, Lookman, Onyekuru, Davies, Calvert-Lewin and Holgate but none had the track record of the aforementioned “Fab 4” who would net the club close to £200m in sales about around 150m in pure profits. The success of the above was mixed. Vlasic was sold, perhaps a little prematurely for a good fee, Onyekuru had to leave on account of a lack of work permit (for a decent profit and fee) while Lookman probably should have been sold in that 1st summer for what would have been a peak price. Calvert-Lewin has emerged as a player who could rival the fab 4 in terms of performance level, and has repaid the faith Brands showed in him (outlining him as a key player moving forward) while Holgate has benefitted from a loan move to West Brom and has established himself as a decent versatile 1st team player. Richarlison, signed in his 1st summer has added to the younger players whose value has risen, and is arguably Brands’ biggest success story. If and when one of Calvert-Lewin or Richarlison is sold is going to be a thorny issue for a DOF, but it’s a better problem to have than not really having any major assets.
In terms of overall performance, the team sort of matches his own in terms of the transfer market. There have been 2 good summers and one disappointing one. The 2nd summer, Sidibe, Delph, Gbamin, Iwobi and Kean all didn’t work out. We are fortunate that Kean’s performances abroad may go a long way to paying for the outstanding fees for the remainder. The other 2 seasons recruitment have largely been positive and helped move the club forward. Last summer Godfrey, Doucoure, Allan & James have all really helped the team and has led to an improvement on what has gone before. On the time of writing we are now just 1 point off the previous highest score under Brands of 54 points. We will almost certainly go past that with some way to go.
When I evaluate any performance I try to avoid emotion and look at the bigger trend as well as some of the fundamentals involved. I tend to find emotion, hype and euphoria in the end will lose out to a sound reading of the fundamentals. Brands took over a team with 48 points. In the following 3 years he has spent the 6th most (gross) and the 7th most (net-i.e deducting sales). Interestingly in the 2 years that went before Steve Walsh was 4th (gross) and 3rd (net) in those two categories. There is an art to evaluating performance, and how much more weight do you put on 3rd & 4th in spend against 6th & 7th perhaps underpins how far you feel it was perhaps fair one DOF was sacked and another retained. How far you factor in the saleable assets Walsh had, is again an interesting question. However purely off of those numbers you could conclude Walsh was perhaps slightly hard done by and Brands may have been a little more fortunate to be given some more time.
That said, Brands has had backing that would be considered above average compared to his peers. It is worth acknowledging this to Brands defence. It is not the sort of game changing investment that managers of Manchester City and Chelsea had enjoyed (and continue to) nor is it even equivalent to the first 2 years of Steve Walsh. But it is above average, just about the top 3rd in each category and the sort of investment that should show some signs of improvement.
So how to evaluate against that. In truth it is challenging. As with most progress it has certainly not been a linear journey. The 2nd year dip, in part on the back of a wayward and ultimately unsuccessful set of recruitment saw the club plunge to depths not seen even under Steve Walsh. To be in the bottom 3 15 games into a season is about as disappointing as it can get. Fortunately in terms of a dip, that is about as low as it has got, and for all concerned you hope as low as it will get moving forward. We managed to claw our way back to 49 points but a disappointing 12th place finish. If a decision was being made then, the case against Brands would have been stronger and it would have been harder to put a defence. The upside in the 1st season of 54 points was only around 10% higher and we had reverted back to the 49 points we had achieved on his arrival.
To date this season looks like it will show the biggest step forward, and make analysing a 3, rather than 2 years trend easier. While it is notoriously difficult to predict the remainder of a season (one where you sense we finish between 5th-8th or potentially even as wide as 4th-10th) a reasonable synopsis would have Everton finishing at around 60-61 points. If we replicate our seasons form across the next 6 games we get 61.75 points so I will be slightly cautious and work to a scenario whereby we end up on 61 points. This gives us an improvement rate of around 25% since Brands has arrived over a 3 year period. That really ends the key fundamentals I would look at in terms of reviewing Brands performance.
Of course the easy part of any analysis is plugging in the numbers, the challenge comes how to interpret them and ultimately arrive at fair and repeatable conclusions. 25% upside over 3 years is a challenging number, as it would not be unreasonable to expect more eye catching numbers, but I’m also inclined to think that it is a decent return thus far, especially when you factor in the significant though by no means eye catching sums of money made available. When you drill down further, as we have discussed, we have seen no downside in a season, one where we improved around 11% and one where we are on course to improve at around 25%.
Whenever I consider performance I always ask, would this be acceptable for the next 3 years? I can’t speak on behalf of all fans, and it is very much at the discretion of the reader as to what you would feel would be realistic be ambitious enough targets. If over the next 3 years, 1 season we finish against with 61 points, one season we get to 67 and a final season we finish on 76 points? In essence that will be 1 season which will in all likelihood be a top 6 finish, another which will be in and round a top 4 finish and a final season where you would expect we would be comfortably top 4, and potentially as high as the top 2. Would you be happy if in 3 years if Brands had delivered 1-2 CL finishes and the club were in Europe each season? Again it’s not for me to answer yes or no, but my own personal feelings are this would represent important and significant progress for the club.
The difficulty with this analysis, is that it does get harder to compound successes as you go on. The amount of money Everton had spent, and continued to spend over the past 5 years meant that in reality Everton were in all likelihood performing below where an objective intrinsic value may have been pitched. There is probably a reasonable argument to say we are now performing close to, or perhaps slightly beyond (depending on the finish) where an equivalent intrinsic value ought to be. Dragging a company back to it’s intrinsic value is easier than ultimately re-shaping a company to further improve. One question is going to be, how much more can we eek out in terms of improvement from historically poorer performances before we have to start making more fundamental changes? You look at for example Leicester, they are showing the rest of the league the way to do this currently, so it remains possible, but more challenging.
The positive is that some of the changes that may be required to do this are beginning to occur. The manager is as good as any in the league and you sense will relish working with improving and better players. While it’s a separate article, the academy is starting to show some impressive performances, with the under 18’s knocking out the best 2 teams in the country in the youth cup while the under 23’s have gone from one of the oldest in the league to one of the youngest. A number of promising younger players are performing well and getting decent exposure on loan. There is now probably a greater continuity than at any point in Farhad Moshiri’s somewhat fraught regime. You get the sense that if Brands and Ancelotti can’t stay together for the next 3 years, the targets outlined above, of 76 points in 3 seasons can’t be reached. This should now be the aim moving forward for Marcel Brands, having committed himself to the club long term.