For years there was a relative simplicity about Everton’s narrative. It can be summed up simply as: ‘We’re hard up’. That was the handbrake that prevented the club from re-joining the ‘elite’, to become one with our former peers from the pre-Premier League age.
Under the David Moyes Restoration Project (the art-rock band name that never was), we became the nearly men of English football. If only we had cash, so the lament went, we’d be back amongst the big boys. There was a seductive logic to this. Everton were the ‘best of the rest’, on the cusp of breaking into the big time. But the ‘elite’ was a club with a strict door policy, one whose main criterion was: ‘You Must be This Rich to Enter’. It meant that the equation for us was straightforward:
A Side This Good + Money = Back to Where We Belong
And that’s where Moshiri came in, the long awaited ‘Money’ part of that particular equation.
Only it’s not turned out to be such a simple sum in the end. Despite investing millions into the club, there is little doubt that the current Everton squad is worse than the one Moshiri inherited. It is one that is so incoherent, devoid of character and horribly prone to capitulation, that it now stands on the cusp of relegation. That is a damning indictment of the Moshiri-era, the fact that the money that was supposed to ease our transition into the elite looks instead to have potentially greased our descent into the Championship.
And the picture is even bleaker if you look at Everton’s performance off the pitch. We have gone from being a relatively well-run club, albeit one that was commercially naïve, to a loss-making monster, a bloated joke of a business with a ballooning wage bill, multiple depreciating player assets and the kind of financial performance that should’ve seen heads rolling in the boardroom.
And, of course, just to make it all typically ‘Everton’, we’re still commercially naïve. Because, why wouldn’t we be?
The headline figure from the recently published accounts was the £372m loss over the past three years. Even accounting for Covid, that is disastrous.
Ironically, it has made us ‘elite’ in one sense, as we now stand as reigning champions of the loss-making table. Since 2016, nobody in the top-flight has lost more than Everton. In fact, nobody has even come close. Our nearest rivals, Aston Villa, are some £80m behind. We are the ‘Man City’ of financial fuckuppery, a powerhouse of accounting calamity.
While there are lots of contributing factors towards this, the figure is doubtless not helped by the club’s wage/turnover profile, which in 2020-21 stood at a lofty 94 per cent. Pretty much every modern tale of financial woe in English football has uncontrollable wages at its heart. It is a symbol of a club that is running out of control. And in Everton’s case, what it perhaps more depressing is what the club has bought with that money. It’s like spending a fortune to buy the home of your dreams only to find out that the house in question is actually made out of papier-mâché. About to fall into the sea. And built on a native American burial ground.
It all makes you wonder how on earth Moshiri became a billionaire. Maybe it’s easier than it looks because if someone this incompetent can do it, there could be hope for us all?
From the very beginning, you get the feeling that our owner bought into the simplicity of that ‘Everton + Money’ equation, reasoning that if enough cash was thrown at a club of our standing, then European football, and its accompanying promise of riches would inevitably follow. And had that happened, the financial picture would’ve looked very different. But instead, Everton have gambled a fortune on black and the instead the table has tuned up red.
It’s left the Blues in a precarious position, one that is certainly not going to be helped by the financial impact that relegation will have. Aside from the considerable drop in income, the club will also find itself shifting assets at a much lower price (estimates suggest a 50 per cent reduction for clubs selling in the Championship) and potentially saddled with high earners – some of whom do not have relegation clauses in their contracts – that are difficult to move on. You often hear fans talk of the need for a ‘clear-out’ in the summer. But who would want so many of our players, especially considering what they are used to earning?
And as bad as all of this is, it doesn’t even take into account the future financial burden that the new ground will doubtless load onto the club.
When we opened our arms to Moshiri, we did so knowing that things would change, that Everton would start to become a different kind of animal. ‘Money’ always alters football clubs. It can be positive, of course. It can expand ambition, it can fund welcome changes to infrastructure, it can sharpen commercial performance. But it can also be negative, bringing with it unaccountability, unsustainable spending and the arrival of a more ‘mercenary’ element within the squad.
The problem for Everton is that is has only been those negative outcomes that have impacted upon the club. Almost nothing of benefit has come with Moshiri’s money.
What’s more, the volume and the speed with which it was spent at Goodison has been massively destabilising. Everton have behaved like some poor, impoverished soul whose numbers have come up on the lottery. The years of penny-pinching penury have given way to a dizzying orgy of consumption. Whereas once Everton recruited smartly, always aware that a false move could leave the club stretched, when money is limitless you spent with impunity, filling your shopping cart with Sandros, Cenk Tosuns and Davy Klaassens.
It’s undeniable, both on and off the pitch that our ‘deal with the devil’, our selling of our soul for easy cash, has been a demonstrable failure. And so, the obvious question arises: Was it worth it?
For all the frustrations of life under Moyes, are there any Blues who would prefer this current incarnation of the club over the one from back then? Regardless of his evident willingness to put his money where his mouth his (£595m since February 2016), we appear to have handed our club over to a man whose erratic and incoherent style of management has gutted Everton from the inside out.
When we were the scrappy underdogs, punching above our weight and squeezing every ounce possible from the meagre resources available, Everton’s story was a narrative that was easy to buy into. Following the club and going to the game was driven by more than obligation. Despite the frustration and the sense of being ‘nearly men’, there was a pride associated with being a Blue that it entirely absent today. It was a feeling of pride fuelled not just by that ‘narrative’ but also by a general likability that permeated the club, seen in both the way it conducted itself off the pitch and by the successive squads of hard-working pros that Moyes regularly assembled.
The Moshiri money has changed much of that. Our story today is a less appealing one. It’s a ‘narrative’ populated by disinterested mercenaries, by tainted Russian cash, by the sense of a club being run as one man’s vanity project.
As a fan you obviously don’t get to choose who owns your club. Equally, as a supporter, your connection is for life, irrespective of how your club is owned. Nobody has a right to expect success or to expect that everything will be run in the way you want it to be.
But, as the people who pour millions into the club every year, we do have the right to ask questions, to ponder if the path that Everton are on is necessarily the right one. Right now, we are suffering all of the downsides of having a wealthy owner with what feels like none of the benefits. And it’s not just this season, as bad as things have been. The sense of a club pulling away from what we want it to be has been there for some time now. Moshiri’s money and influence has transformed Everton over the course of six years, year-by-year, slowly eroding much that was ‘good’ about following the club.
And perhaps the most worrying part about all of this is that he’s not finished. We are about to bulldoze our ancestorial home and saddle ourselves with a generation’s worth of debt. But for what exactly? English football is evidently in a state of flux. The European Super League has not gone away. FIFA and UEFA are making noises around elite competitions of their own. Momentum within football is moving in one direction and that is growing elitism. Football as we know it now will unlikely be the same in a few decade’s time. There is too much cash swirling around the concept of a higher league for some version of it to not become a reality, something that will inevitably diminish the domestic top flights left in its wake. And even if it isn’t a breakaway league along the lines of the ESL, those behind whatever emerges will clearly do everything they can to ensure that membership is restricted to the super brands of Europe. You saw a hint of that in UEFA’s recent pitch to allow clubs with a Champion League ‘legacy’ to qualify for the competition if they were to win the FA Cup.
If the recent history of the game has proven anything, it is that money dictates the path the sport takes. And ‘money’ wants a closed shop for the European elite. ‘Money’, importantly, also doesn’t want Everton. A new conversation is taking place around the future of the game. And it’s one that does not include our club.
This matters. The new stadium is supposed to lay the foundations that would enable the Blues to become more competitive in the future. But ‘competitive’ in what? In a diminished domestic league where Goodison, despite its limitations, would not be the albatross it has long been contended to be? There is a danger here, regardless of how impressive and shiny the new ground is that Everton are currently arming themselves for the last war, riding into battle on horseback while everyone else is climbing into tanks.
For a long time, we have laboured under a set of assumptions of what our club needs. They were assumptions that were rooted in the realities of our national game in the pre-ESL-era, that to get on and compete with the ‘big boys’, all you needed was cash and a new stadium. Our recent history has proven that the former is no guarantee of success. The future of the game might well illustrate that for those who are not part of the ‘elite’ conversation, the latter could be pointless. But it would be a hugely expensive act of pointlessness and one that would destroy one of the few joys of supporting Everton that has remained undimmed in our recent turbulent history, namely Goodison.
The Moshiri money, when it arrived, offered Everton a shot at the ‘big time’. It’s very possible that in ballsing that up, we have missed our chance of getting back into the elite just as that window is closing, potentially forever. And if that is the case then we should be asking questions about where the club goes from here. If we cannot be a ‘United’ or a ‘City’, then what should we be? Do we want an owner like Moshiri? Do we need the financial drag of a new stadium? Is trying to keep up with an ‘elite’ that is light years ahead of us even possible or desirable, specifically when you consider the impact that the chase has already had on the club?
Football fandom, historically, has always been about upward progression. You lend your support to a club because you want them to win games and to finish as high as possible in the pyramid. But the changing nature of modern football, for a club like Everton, is making that desire increasingly complicated. There is a limit to our aspiration at the moment that seems unbreakable, no matter how many millions we throw at the challenge. Were this monied assault on the elite entirely benign, then that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. However, it seems that with every penny spent, the Everton that we love diminishes incrementally.
Back in 2016, the arrival of an owner willing to spend big and offering to finally push through a new stadium seemed like manna from heaven. But six years on, it feels like a colossal bad joke for which we, the fans, are the punchline. And who knows how much worse that joke could get. The game is littered with horror stories of clubs who have been run into the ground by an owner drunk on power and cursed with incompetence. Just because they haven’t been of Everton’s stature doesn’t mean that we are immune to modern football’s propensity for financial immolation. So much so, that you have to imagine in the halls of Amazon and Netflix at the moment, some sharp-eyed executive must be mulling over the prospect of an Everton series.
But what will it be called? Everton is the Reason I’ll Die? Everton: Nothing and Nothing? Everton: Pass the Ball, S**t the Bed? The possibilities are endless.