Don’t you just love the summer? The stench of cremated meat, the sudden infestation of psychotic wasps, the sight of men in open-toed sandals.
Who doesn’t love sunburn, packed beaches and the fetid stench of your fellow man?
And aren’t barbeques wonderful too? Forget cooking that meat in an oven situated just a few metres away in the kitchen, they say, let me take it outside for you and both over-cook it and under-cook it at the same time. Then, later, when the vomiting has subsided, we can all play the new guessing game: Which drumstick had the salmonella? (The answer: All of them!)
The summer, in all its shiny, sweaty, man-toed horror is unequivocally the sh**test time of year. But somehow, with repetitive certainty, season after season, Everton get me yearning for its arrival. And this year is no different.
The desire is rooted in the summer’s eternal sense of promise. It is a time when the dross of the recent season finally comes to an end, when the decks are at last cleared, when new players arriving will allow the club to build for a better tomorrow.
It’s a period of infectious optimism. God bless the summer, when all of football’s happy outcomes remain deliriously possible. Is there any part of the football calendar more imbued with hope than right now?
Even the most hardened of Evertonian pessimists, the kind who will write our season off when Tom Davies gives the ball away two minutes into the opening game of the campaign, cannot fail to succumb to the sunny optimism of the summer.
These months have a near miraculous quality. You approach the season’s end weary, tired of football and all its predictability. The campaign has chipped away at your reserves of hope. You’re ready for a breather; a break from Everton being ‘Everton’.
But the close season does something to you. Not long after the campaign’s conclusion you are resurrected. Like Lazarus rolling back the stone, you emerge anew. And this reborn self is barely recognisable from the world-weary wreck of just a few days ago. Sunshine and optimism are everywhere as you approach the season to come.
All rumours are considered entirely plausible. The players that arrive will be transformative. The deficiencies of the last campaign will be addressed. This year will be different. This is the season when it all comes good.
But will it?
I feel like Evertonians are stuck in a cycle at the moment: summer optimism, crushing reality of the season, a palpable desire for the campaign to end, summer optimism, crushing reality of the season, a palpable desire for the campaign to end, and on and on it goes…
Perhaps one of the most galling aspects of the recent capitulation to Manchester City (even taking into account the context: title presentation, players playing for a place in the Champions League Final, the fact that City are mesmerising), was the presence of so many players who have been patently inadequate for some time. Despite claims, window after window that we will see the dross moved on, Everton remain burdened by a debilitating number of players who are clearly not good enough.
Worse still, we appear to have added to their number during these supposed windows of transformation. Sigurdsson, Bernard, Iwobi, Gomes, Delph, these are names that should haunt any one of us who think that the coming summer offers easy answers to the club’s problems.
Although the manager should not escape criticism for the City drubbing and the other humiliations of the past season, it is difficult to weave gold from s**t. And perhaps this is more the case with a manager like Ancelotti. This is no Moyes figure, the kind of manager who recruits hard-working pros, galvanises the current set up and makes a side robust and difficult to beat. Doubtless, had we recruited a manager of that ilk, Everton would now be less prone to embarrassing defeats to lesser lights, likely boosted by the arrival of players with more back bone than we have seen at Goodison of late.
Ultimately though, that is probably all we ever would be under such a manager. Figures like Moyes do not enable you to permanently crash into the Champions League positions, to bring home silverware, to restore the club to the elite of the game. They just get you moderately competitive, the ‘best of the rest’ in perpetuity.
Which is why Everton turned to Ancelotti in the first place and not the craggy faced Scot.
But if you do hire someone of Ancelotti’s calibre, someone used to working with the best, then you’re going to have to arm him appropriately. Which takes us neatly back to the coming summer and the hope that fresh arrivals, and a clearing of the decks, will give the Everton manager the necessary tools to do what he does best.
Although the club’s recent track record in the transfer market has been fairly underwhelming, the past season did offer a glimmer of hope to those who believe that the summer might represent a watershed moment of transformation. For the first time under Moshiri, Evertonians could look back at the club’s business over the past 12 months and judge it a success. Godfrey, James, Allan and Doucoure, when fit have represented an undeniable improvement on the existing squad. It’s fair to say that had all these players featured a lot more during the season, Everton might now be looking forward to Europa League football.
What undid the campaign was the old guard, the dross that still clogs up the system. We are paying a heavy price for what has occurred under Moshiri, cursed by a bloated squad that makes little sense and which is filled with mediocre players incapable of elevating the club to the higher reaches. This is still a squad that represents the managerial churn of recent seasons rather than one that reflects the current manager. And when brought more frequently into action, through injury or rotation, these mediocre figures inevitably diminish the side.
The hope, and with Everton the word ‘hope’ is always a dangerous thing, is that the club is able to build on last summer’s successful window and bring in players of equal quality to the likes of Godfrey and James, while moving on figures such as Delph, Iwobi and Gomes, to produce both a first XI that is stronger than last season and a squad that is better able to weather the inevitable injuries that strike every football team. This, when combined with existing and emerging talents, might mean that frustration, finally, becomes a thing of the past.
Although the profound desire for the summer to arrive still marked the end of Everton’s season, maybe we should take heart from the fact that it arrived late? In contrast to recent campaigns, the club had something to play for until the very end, even if those closing weeks were an increasingly hard watch. Perhaps that is what happens when you appoint a manager of undeniable quality and bring in the kind of players he wants. The fact that it wasn’t enough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong track, just that we probably need a bit more poke to reach our destination.
That’s the optimistic take on this season. And, despite Everton’s seemingly long-term aim to extinguish optimism from the fanbase, it’s the perspective I’m willing to take. Not only because I genuinely believe that the foundations are being laid for something better under Ancelotti, but also because to think otherwise means that in a year’s time I am going to be back here again, willing for the summer to arrive. And nobody in their right mind should ever do that.