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The Mid-Nineties All Over Again

18 July 2003


Thomas Gravesen: Depressingly, the arm-waving loon still looks like an automatic pick in central midfield

It was seven years ago, but I'm sure you remember the last time Everton went into to the close season with any kind of real optimism for the future.  In fact, during two summers in the mid-1990s, we Evertonians had genuine reason to be happy with the direction in which the club was moving:
  • First in 1995, having just won the FA Cup and survived relegation under the energising stewardship of Joe Royle;
  • And again in 1996 when, similar to the season just gone under David Moyes, we were denied a place in Europe on the last day of the season.

However, both times complacency set in and the club, deceived by the signs of success on the field, failed to take the opportunity to invest sufficiently in improving the squad with the inevitable consequence that Everton failed to maintain its forward momentum and quickly returned to the wrong end of the Premiership in the 1996-97 season, albeit on the back of a horrific injury crisis.

The club, under new ownership and a different manager, are in danger of repeating the same mistake as this most interminably dull of close seasons drags on with nothing to show in the way of new players besides two failed bids for David Dunn and Sean Davis. Could it be that the same complacency which afflicted the Royle era is about to be repeated at Goodison?

Certainly Moyes, even though he plays his cards close to his chest, doesn't appear to be showing any signs of urgency in the transfer market.  The flurry of activity we expected at the beginning of July failed to materialise and, with the manager and his squad off training in Austria, there isn't likely to be any movement of players any time soon.

That is a little worrying: while the Blues' 7th-placed finish was a marvellous achievement and went a long way to confirming the long-held belief that Walter Smith was presiding over a better squad than his tenure suggested, Moyes should be under no illusions that the present squad will find it easy improving on last season's performance.  There is only so much that graft and tenacity can achieve in a league like the English Premiership and, if anything, Everton will finish lower next time around if they go into 2003-04 with the same squad and the same gameplan.

Last season's success was founded on a focus on fitness, confidence and the basics, and from that emerged an enterprising unit which played some wonderfully entertaining football with a never-say-die attitude.  In hindsight, though, the run that kept them among the European places for six months of the season was really down to the form of Joseph Yobo during that six-match winning streak in November, some crucial goals by Wayne Rooney, and the consistency of Tomasz Radzinski.

With Rooney, quite sensibly, still not guaranteed a regular starting role, question marks remaining over the consistency of Yobo's morale, and the small likelihood that Radzinski will go the whole season without succumbing to injury, you can have a scenario where Moyes will again find himself stuck with a frustrating collection of midfield journeymen without the collective talent to take the club forward towards European qualification.

The magnitude of the problem in midfield cannot be underestimated, which is what makes Moyes's apparent lack of urgency particularly worrying.  Thomas Gravesen has now proved beyond doubt that he cannot or will not reproduce the form he shows for the Danish national team for Everton in the Premiership.  He is, in short, a liability; a hand-grenade waiting to go off, the risk of which is not out-weighed by the few benefits he seems to offer the team.

Scot Gemmill and Mark Pembridge have both amply repaid their respective transfer fees but this pair of rapidly slowing veterans cannot be expected to form the nucleus of a team with ambitions of a top-six finish.  Lee Carsley and Li Tie (assuming the latter is re-signed) are competent squad players but, again, lack the flair and leadership to run the midfield, while the erratic Niclas Alexandersson needs to undergo some kind of dramatic renaissance to have even a chance being a regular starter.


Tobias Linderoth: Can he finally enjoy an extended run in the first team?

Tobias Linderoth, despite having played just a handful of games, is probably the pick of the midfield players but, while he is a tidy defensive midfielder, it is clear that he should be partnered with someone more dynamic and offensively-minded; there isn't anyone at the club who fits that description apart from Leon Osman.  While the time has certainly come to give him an extended run in the first team, we cannot expect a player who has yet to make his first senior start to become the foundation of Everton's attack any time soon.  Furthermore, given the manager's reluctance to blood Osman in the first team last season, there is no guarantee that Moyes would even employ the 21-year-old in the centre of the park on a regular basis.

Kevin McLeod is in a similar situation.  The team is crying out for the kind of creativity he can offer down the flank, but Moyes has either not seen enough to be convinced that McLeod is good enough or has been hitherto reluctant to take the plunge and give him a chance to impress.  Having signed the 21-year-old on for another 12 months, you would think that this will be the season when the manager gives him his chance.  Certainly, if his efforts in the transfer market come up empty, he will have to consider trying both Osman and McLeod because they surely offer more than the likes of Gemmill and Pembridge.

Moyes has been looking in the right direction with the interest he has shown in players so far this summer: David Dunn, Scott Parker, Steve McManaman and Sean Davis would all be welcome additions to the squad even if only one of that quartet is the exciting international name we're all craving.  What is troubling, however, are indications that the manager will compromise his ambitions and settle for someone like Gavin McCann just to get a new face into the squad.  Moyes has tended so far to be reluctant to look further than Britain for new signings when there might be more to gain by looking for cheaper options abroad while the domestic market remains more expensive.  5M could buy two excellent foreign midfield players; a little more wheeling and dealing for loan players could improve the squad for no further outlay (another striker wouldn't go amiss) and set the team up for coming season.


David Moyes: Apparently in no rush to add some creativity and leadership to the midfield

Moyes has suggested that he will be patient and could wait until the season has started before making his first signing.  That would certainly be frustrating for those fans champing at the bit but is probably more prudent than spending for spending's sake and buying a second-rate option when what we really need are two really good additions to central midfield.  The hope then is that the current incumbents can carry through the form of last season into the early stages of the coming campaign and tide us over until Moyes can make his move.

At the moment, however, you can't help but feel a little flat about the Blues' prospects for 2003-04 because there is an apparent air of complacency at Goodison at the moment; a feeling that maintaining the status quo and relying on an injury-free start to the season will be enough.  Seeing Chelsea spend money like water, Harry Kewell move to the Dark Side, and even Birmingham City make a significant signing like Dunn is uncomfortable to watch while the inactivity at Everton drags on although that is not to suggest that Moyes and company aren't actively looking to bring in new talent.

There is still time between now and the closure of the transfer window to bring in some new faces.  Hopefully we will see someone of the calibre of Parker or McManaman joining the ranks.  Much depends on whether David Moyes feels the urgency to bolster his squad or whether he will gamble that what he has for now will be good enough to start the new campaign.  But you can't help wondering what happened to the expectation we had in May that the likes of Gemmill, Gravesen, Pembridge and Alexandersson would have been shipped off by now to be replaced by some genuinely exciting talent.

Lyndon Lloyd

Reader Responses:

Having just read Lyndon's latest submission, I have to take issue with the majority of his comments.

To accuse David Moyes of complacency is naive in the extreme.

We are all impatient for new faces, and I'm sure that I am one of thousands who feel the intense disappointment when I look at teletext or the official site and see no signs of movement.

However, we have signed Joey, and we have Nyarko back, who under the Moyes regime could well rediscover the form that persuaded Walter to sign him. We all know that we need to strengthen the midfield, and Sean Davis would fit the bill perfectly, but we cannot pay £7m for him in a depressed market. If reports are to believed, we have offered in the region of £5m (including incentive payments), which I, consider a good and fair offer. I don't want McManaman anywhere near our club, he's a kopite who flatters to deceive and would be no use to us. Gavin McCann? Maybe, but he'd be no more than a squad player.

The point is that David Moyes is the best thing to happen to this club for years, and to question his ambition is nothing short of ridiculous.
We can and will be better this season even without new signings. We have Joey on a permanent deal, which should help eliminate the dips in form he suffered last season, we have the Rad fully fit, even big Dunc is raring to go, albeit just in time for the derby, Toby is fully fit, and there's every chance that Nyarko will flourish under Moyes. Add to that Rooney's inevitable improvement, and the possible emergence of Osman as a first team player, and we look good for at least a top 8 finish.

I am sure that we will see some new faces by the end of August, but let's be patient, and please let's not start criticising probably the best manager in the Premiership, particularly for a perceived lack of urgency or ambition.

Just remind me, who won Manager of the Year?

Next you'll be telling me that we should have been in for Paul Merson and Ian Taylor.

Steve Thompson

Thanks for your feedback, but you seem to have misread where I'm coming from on this, as your final comment suggests. So, by way of clarification:
1) I wasn't explictly accusing Moyes of complacency, merely surmising whether he was a little too comfortable and has a too much faith in the squad he currently has.
2) Nor did I intend in any way to denigrate or criticise the unbelievable achievements Moyes has made since arriving at Goodison with no funds and a difficult transfer market.
3) Nor was I suggesting we should pay a king's ransom for Sean Davis or any player; I was merely saying that other alternatives exist, probably on the Continent, while highlighting what I preceive to be a UK-centric view that the manager has when it comes to buying players.
Personally, "we look good for at least a top 8 finish" is not good enough for me — and I would hopee most Blues would agree with me — and only serves to back up my thoughts in the original article; i.e. we should be thinking ambitiously and aggressively when it comes to strengthening the squad so that we actually make it into the Europe next year.


2003 ToffeeWeb


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