Coming Up Short
06 September 2015
Everton's summer transfer window promised much but even though the club spent over £18m, in the absence of either Roberto Martinez's much-vaunted "No.10" or a marquee creative signing to transform attacking midfield it doesn't feel as though the squad has enough to support a top-four challenge.
It's fair to say that this summer saw one of the more eagerly-anticipated transfer windows of the last few years for Evertonians. That sharp drop-off in Everton's fortunes from Roberto Martinez's first season in charge to his second, the club's mushrooming broadcast revenues, the strengthening by teams around and below the Toffees, and the manager's own clearly-stated goals for the close season all combined to raise expectations among supporters that this would be a period in which some glaring deficiencies in the team were addressed.
Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu, David Henen, Leandro Rodriguez, Ramiro Funes Mori, Aaron Lennon
Chris Long, Luke Garbutt (loan)
It's equally fair to say, therefore, that many Blues will have felt more than a little let down last Tuesday night when the transfer deadline passed without the addition of the kind of quality that many fans feel the team desperately needed. If 2013-14 allowed Everton fans to dare to dream of the possibilities under a new manager who appeared to have banished the underdog mentality that has set in at Goodison, the season that followed served as a cold reality check to an anticipatory fervour that was briefly enhanced by the acquisition of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis after the World Cup. This summer afforded the manager an opportunity to inject new life into a team that struggled to match the expectation engendered by his first year in charge.
There is no doubt that the whole transfer window – and Deadline Day in particular – has become a bit of a circus; what with Sky's tension-raising countdown clocks, reporters stationed dramatically outside Premier League grounds, and Jim White entering the studio punching the air like a boxer entering the arena for a televised prize fight. It's an obvious construct of the "TV show" nature of the modern Premier League that drives the tabloid press' cottage industry of baseless speculation and allows for the kind of media-driven pursuit of players like Chelsea's hounding of John Stones last month.
The whole thing is apt for the kind mockery that has been made of it over the past week – not least because the "main event" itself was such a damp squib this time; the deadline was largely free of drama once the David de Gea debacle was out the way and most Evertonians would surely have been glad to have sat the whole thing out had Everton got its business out of the way early. Yes, as fans we've had some exciting last few hours of a window in recent years but most of us would probably have preferred that Roberto have the evening off with his business done... perhaps like his mate Gary Monk might have been on Tuesday night – reclining in his armchair with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, staring up with a contended air at a painting of Andre Ayew hanging over his mantlepiece.
Ultimately, though, the fact that Blues fans were clinging to the hope of some late drama and the last-minute deliverance of a "No.10" from a foreign land was purely down to Everton and the manager's apparent need to conduct much of his business in the final days of the window. Only recently, Martinez himself had asked to be judged not on what the club had done in the transfer market to that point but on what was spent right up to the deadline itself. On that basis, supporters could be forgiven for delivering a harsh judgement... that is if they weren't already fatigued by the usual ratcheting down of expectations and resigned, perhaps, to another frustrating season based on the team's performances in three of the four games of the season so far.
Amid criticism of the whole transfer deadline phenomenon, the argument has been made that too much stock is placed in the power of a "magic" signing to transform a team's season. But Everton's deficiencies coming out of 2014-15 were not about the need for merely one "silver bullet"; that the team clearly lacked quality and depth in a number of areas was obvious and hopes were high that Martinez had not only acknowledged this following a chastening 2014-15 season but planned to address it decisively over the summer. Frustrated by a quiet January, when a struggling team was bolstered only by the arrival on loan of Aaron Lennon, supporters had little choice but to take the manager at his word in May that, "we have got real clarity in who we want,"and that the work he and his team had done in identifying their targets would lead to a productive transfer window.
In the context of Everton realistically getting back to challenging for the top four this season and the "statement of intent" that was the signing of Romelu Lukaku a year ago, you would have to say that the club fell short. It was Martinez who effectively defined the 2015 close season as being about the search for what has become an almost mythical "No.10", the kind of role which he himself described as being very difficult to fill. Especially from the pool of domestic talent which lacks the combination of, in the managers ger's words, "technical ability...good appreciation of where to receive the ball," the ability to "give good service to the forwards," while also "having the mentality to adapt to the physicality of the British game and have an effect and also being able to control the big moments of the game."
Now, in his customarily optimistic manner, Martinez has already fallen back on characterising the Blues' summer as a success based on the retention Stones, a line of argument that, unfortunately, plays right into the hands of the Goodison Board's biggest critics. Signing players of the calibre of Lukaku should be the club's expression of ambition; keeping its best players should be the minimum requirement. The concern is that by not improving the squad to a degree that will enable Everton to realistically challenge for Europe this season, they have not demonsrated sufficient ambition to keep the likes of Stones and Lukaku from looking at pastures new next summer and at clubs where their own ambitions can be realised. The manager's strategy of building a young core – a "golden generation" – risks being undermined by the fact that key ingredients that really could have transformed the Blues into the "winning team" the Catalan says he is looking to build were not secured and it leaves Everton in an uncomfortable no-man's-land position with respect to the team's immediate prospects.
While the Blues' window – in supporters' minds at least – eventually came to be defined by that fruitless quest to land a "No.10", the truth is that the side just needed a reliable creative spark, someone to replace the creative talents and imagination of Steven Pienaar and bridge the gap between an isolated lone striker and an often guile-less midfield. The club's rigid wage structure, unwillingness to write any more buy-out clauses into players' contracts, or simply pay over the odds for players in their late 20s may have precluded moves for the likes of Ayew (£100,000-a-week salary and an estimated signing-on fee of around £7m), Xherdan Shaqiri, Dimitri Payet and Yohan Cabaye, but it appears as though Everton did come close to acquiring a true "marquee player" in the form of Andriy Yarmolenko which would have rounded off the window in impressive fashion and provided a different kind of catalyst to a team that looks like it will struggle to consistently break opposition teams down. The apparent collapse of that move, while predictable in a way cynical Evertonians are all too familiar, was massively disappointing.
None of this is to overlook, of course, the fact that Everton spent close to £20m this window, the club's first significant increase in net spend for many seasons, and still secured two very good signings in the form of Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley for under £5m, plus brought the unspectacular but dependable presence of Aaron Lennon to Goodison on a permanent basis. The jury will, of course, remain out on Ramiro Funes Mori, not to mention the inflated fee that the club ended up paying for him, but there is now more depth at centre half, even if it's disconcertingly short in terms of experience.
What the "so-nearly" nature of the Blues' summer transfer window does do, though, out of necessity is offer Martinez the chance to really prove his managerial mettle and adaptabilty while also providing some players the opportunity to step into those key creative roles that the manager was unable to fill. In Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas, the club have versatile players who, while not true "No.10s" in terms of their ability to orchestrate a game, could provide that missing link and creative spark between the midfield and attack if given the license to do so. Similarly, once fit again, Cleverley offers a a bit more attacking intent as a long-term alternative to Gareth Barry, whose advancing years and slowing legs are starting to offset the benefits of his extensive top-flight experience. And then there is the ever-improving Ross Barkley who has the potential to render the whole "No.10" debate moot if he continues to mature the way he has over the past year.
There are options available to Martinez with such players at his disposal, particularly when it comes to creating genuine width and re-finding some of that offensive threat down the left – both Mirallas and Deulofeu can operate on both flanks – but he appears to have developed a reluctance to truly experiment with the make-up of his attacking unit. We can only hope that with the return of Lennon, a more industrious player who can be deployed down the right, the manager will see more scope to finally play two wingers again and restore some balance to a side that was crying out for it last season. You fear, though, that it'll merely mean even less playing time for Kevin and Gerard and more history continually repeating itself.
The core of the side that finished in 5th place just 16 months ago is in place again but it now remains to be seen whether it possesses enough quality to improve on last season's disappointing 11th in the face of the strengthening undertaken by those clubs who finished around us in the table last term and whether there is enough depth to cope with continuing bad luck on the injury front. Certainly, a medium- to long-term absence for Lukaku in particular – Coleman, Stones or Jagielka would also be serious losses – could cripple the Blues' season and condemn them to another mid-table drift. Fingers crossed he stays fit and gets closer to that all-important 20 league goals marker this time around.
The landscape of the Premier League has changed remarkably in just the last couple of seasons. Though their massive outlays on players haven't translated into the strongest of starts to the new season for all of them, the dominance of the big four clubs is unlikely to have diminished. The unprecedented influx of broadcast revenues that took spending in England past the £1bn mark this summer has certainly upped the level of quality across the board in the top flight, though, and significantly increased the competition for those clubs, like Everton, aiming to break into the top six or seven.
A rational assessment of Everton's close-season transfer dealings would suggest Martinez and the Board have not been able to accomplish enough this summer to get back to the levels achieved in the Catalan's first season in charge. It's up to him and his players now to prove there was enough talent and managerial acumen in place already and that the new acquisitions have merely provided extra options.
Reader ResponsesSelected thoughts from readers
3 Posted 06/09/2015 at 10:47:34
Firstly how do you define a number 10. Take Man U where Mata is highly regarded as one yet their No 10 of yesteryear Denis Law was regarded by many as their best ever yet the two were as different as chalk to cheese in how they operated so which was the true No 10.
At Everton in the late sixties and early seventies the No 10 role was as a second centre back - John Hurst. Before him it was Roy Vernon but he was regarded as a goal scoring inside left and inside lefts always wore the No 10 shirt.
When Pele and Maradonna wore 10 was when I think this No 10 thing really took off. Players at the top level given that shirt were expected to be 'The Man'
So all in all what our manager should be looking for is a player with pace,poise,vision,inventiveness,superb ball skills,stamina and regularly take on a whole defence and either score or assist in a goal.
No wonder the manager finds that man hard to find and if he does then Chelsea no doubt will set up an office in the Winslow until we cave in for 300 million punds.
4 Posted 06/09/2015 at 11:59:48
Looking at the whole Stones' issue from another angle..... I've a feeling that his retention could be as much a political statement as a team-building one. The fan's protest, last year's form and the hardly convincing opener were building into a bit of a sour taste..... and an opportunity for a high profile headline rebuttal of Chelsea might've been just what the doctor ordered to get the masses back onboard. Let's face it the Chelsea match is now much more eagerly awaited.
In addition to all of this of course is the ongoing saga of WHP.... with preseason rumours of it being dead in the water reaching a peak..... is there a longer term plan to save Stones till his stock has grown, and his sale can substantially boost funds for that? After all, planning permission and all other technicalities are some way off completion yet.... could it fall into place quite nicely to maximise profit on him, giving a short and medium term Win Win situation?
As ever, the next few games will set the mood.... but I think even that will be set against the backdrop of growing concerns. We'll see.
5 Posted 06/09/2015 at 12:11:25
By now it should be clear to every Evertonian that there can be no further progress without regime change (for the better, obviously) at the club. The board could have spared themselves fan outrage and further stagnation had they gone the extra mile for Yarmolenko (or other marquee player), but no; that was beyond either their means or their will.
It all begs the question: why do they bother? Theyre clearly not committed to taking the team forward; instead their mission statement seems to be "as you were". So whats in it for them? I would love a forensic deconstruction of that.
6 Posted 06/09/2015 at 12:38:16
Players being released and loaned out without any thought about cover is poor business and detrimental to the squad. Surely these out goings should be after cover is in place.
We are now in a very weak situation compared to last season especially cover at full back. Loaning out Garbutt was a bad decision and left us without senior cover as Oviedo at the time was unfit and is still struggling for full fitness. We have no cover for Coleman as Hibbert is injured.
I do not believe that Lennon and Mori were ever amongst the list of original targets and Mori is untested in the premier league. I just hope that Mori does well and salvages Robertos reputation.
By leaving things so late in acting to sign Yarmolenko we were actually doing the same thing as Chelsea were lambasted for. Surely players of his stature should have been bid for much earlier. His buy out fee was already within our means and this should have been tabled at the beginning of the window and not left until too late. We were linked to so many name players but some signed for other clubs who moved quickly. All these delaying tactics make us less attractive and it seems we are left with players that no one else bids for.
Lennon is not even on the Spurs bench yet he is considered good enough for us and that rankles with me as Spurs are supposed to be one of our competitors for Europe. I am fully aware that injuries are unforeseen but our squad was already lacking in cover across the first team in key positions. We needed 6 or 7 new squad members at the beginning of last season and the lack of players contributed to a poor domestic season. We are presently carrying too many long term injured players who are part of our first team squad and that will cost us again this season in my opinion. I am very disappointed at the business carried out in recruiting players to improve our squad. The present squad does not fill me with excitement or optimism.
10 Posted 07/09/2015 at 16:18:59
I would define the "Everton" number 10 as being what we need as opposed to
trying to define what a number 10 is or does.
I have been banging on since we sold Fellaini about our lack of a goalscoring MF player in the mould of a Fellaini, Gerrard (hated to say that) or LAmpard.
It would be a bonus to find some creativity and ability on the ball a la Hazard and if he could tackle and pass long and short. Well we can all dream cant we.
However I think the importance of goals from MF is not taken seriously enough particularly by RM who if he had his way would have 0-0 draws every week as long as the players kept passing the ball.
A team needs to score over 60 league goals to have any chance of top 4/5.
Even if we pitch Lukaku in for 20 league goals which is a bit of a stretch where are the other 40 going to come from.
Thankfully Barkley has now started to contribute although that is offset by the demotion and demotivation of Mirallas who no longer seems to be first choice plus we miss the free kick assists from Bainesy.
Longwinded way of saying that I believe there is enough creativity what we lack is directness and a player who is capable of banging them in.
14 Posted 09/09/2015 at 20:59:04
At no stage did I feel Martinez could land such a player. How could he, given the funds available to him ?
Osman is the closest thing we have to a modern day number 10. He has the guile, the skill and indeed the bravery, but his lack of strength and pace meant he was never going to be quite there. besides, how often will we see him in the future ?
We have to adapt. we have to forget about the little matador we wanted to see playing off Lukaku, he aint coming.
I feel much depends on Lukaku's this season. I'm a fan, but I have been disappointed by many of his performances. Young Kane at Spurs has shown the difference an in form striker can make, even to an ordinary team, He's not a number 10, doesnt have a number 10's skill, but he is a proper street fighter and as such will create and make goals. Lukaku has to emulate him, in the absence of a little schemer, the onus is on him to keep the ball and bring the others into play.
15 Posted 10/09/2015 at 10:32:45
I don't see us being in a position to get a top four place and we'll have a job achieving 6th.
Roberto said when he became manager, that we would not be able to just buy success but we could achieve it with picking and developing good young talent.
Since then, the clubs have seen a massive increase in their funds from TV and they have used those funds to good effect in many cases.They will be able to challenge us (possibly overtake us) for the 6th spot.
I think our debts weigh us down and although we can spernd more, we still seem tyo have to wait until almost the last day to finish our transfer in business.
I don't know whether we could get Yarmalenko, as their main man seems to be a difficult man to deal with, so if that's the lad Roberto wanted, then we missed out. Maybe in the January window we'll get him but if he's that good. other teams will surely want him.
We seem, to me to be having to wait it out while the young lads are ready to move into the first team; and having to make do with the likes of Naismith and Barry, McGeady and Lennon, Tony Hibbert and soon enough, Jagielka.
I'm hoping we can have good cup runs and maybe (dreams can sometimes come true!) win one! I don't see Rpoberto just wanting the players to pass the ball around regardless of results. I think we have some players who can handle the fast tempo of passing that he wants and others can't. They didn't do it under Moyes, they weren't expected to so it's new to them. I look at Jagielka. In my view a good stopper but poor in bringing the ball out or even passing it positively.
That isn't meant to be a criticism, just my observation of him. If we ask, as the miseraqble buggfer behind me often does, them to "Kick it up the field" who does ity go to? We usewd to do that with Ferguson and once the temas had cottoned on, and it didn't take them long, he was left isolated while two at least waited for the ball while one jumped up with him.
We've now got the makings of a good passing side but there's a few pieces in the jigsaw, not quite fitting. I'm hoping that Delefeu, Lennon and Miralles can become a good nucleus of attacking players with Ross Barkley becoming more effective as he learns the game.
Although he is an excellent reader of the game, it seems to me that Gareth Barry is not able to keep ur with fast passages of play throughout the game and McCarthy is more of a stopper than an attacking midfielder, so I'd like to see one of them replaced but it'll take time.
Until we get a Board who want (or are capable of) achieving a progressive club, then to me, our only option is to see what Roberto can do withy the meagre resources available.
I hope the two young South Americans can succeed and there are one or two young players who look excellent prospects and maybe we might see them this season. Otherwise, we're going to have to wait!
As for the "Midfield Maestro" who can orchestrate our play. Yes, I'd dearly love to see us bring such a player in but the competition is fierce for such a player.
On a slightly different note. It appears that the Council will be making a "statement" regarding the proposed plans for a ground in Walton Hall Park. Early days, but if this doesn't come off, we must re develop Goodiason Park. This is the only hope we have of becoming, once again, one of thew major players in the Premiership.
Does this Board have the will and the vision to make it happen?
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