Our league finishes of the past few seasons, our aspirations now as fans and the increasingly common view of media and fans elsewhere would have us seen as a “Top Six” club.
However, I am not sure what this means anymore. It used to have relevance in the pre Sky days, when clubs were more evenly matched and any one of six clubs were in with a shout of winning the Division One title. However from the early 90’s onward the dominance of four teams has made this largely an erroneous phrase, with only our own Club threatening once to break the monopoly and Villa now looking to do the same.
Being a Top Six club now means, that we have realistic aspirations to maintain a Uefa Cup spot, but it doesn’t define us as it once did; as being a Club which an compete for the title. The current point’s difference alluded to above brings this into sharp relief. We are well ahead of the teams below us, but we are well behind the teams above us too. People talk about a league within a league, but I actually think next season we may see three tiers; Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool (unfortunately) and Arsenal still commanding the top four spots, but with Villa, Everton and Man City in a chasing pack and the rest some way behind. No doubt a debate is to be had around the assumption of who fits where, but unless things go drastically awry in what’s left of this season and we don’t perform to our now high standards in the next one, it’s safe to assume we will be 6th or thereabouts again.
Last summer was eagerly anticipated as the summer in which we would “push on” with signings which would allow us to barge our way into a Champions League placing this season. The signings were always tantalisingly out of reach and we ended up with what looked like panic buying at the last minute to bolster a paper thin squad. Plenty has been written about this and I think most agree it was shambolic. However, even if we had made two or three quality signings (the improving Fellaini being too little too late), do we really believe this would have enabled a real charge for (say) 4th spot? Difficult though it is, ignore the awful performances of September and October 08 and the many reasons for this; even if we had played well and won more home games, do we think we would have done enough to push us into 4th by season’s end, given the summer spending by the clubs above us?
Whilst never impossible (we have done it once), the purchasing power, quality and consistency of the teams mentioned above have meant that they are able to typically keep us at arms length. Villa is now added to that number (although I agree they have had large slices of luck this season too) and for all their current problems, Man City will elbow their way into the party next year as well.
I think we are playing some great stuff at the moment and I am enjoying watching one of the best Everton teams I have seen since the 80s; Moyes has his faults but I wouldn’t swap him for any of the EPL alternatives and can’t think of any realistic alternatives further afield. However, until we find the investment and therefore spending power of the aforementioned clubs it looks increasingly likely that Everton will for the foreseeable future be stuck in a bubble of our own; sitting it out each year in sixth, qualifying for the Uefa competition (whatever it’s name), better than the rest but not able to compete with the big spenders.
More worrying, knowing the cyclical nature of teams as they develop their potential and then disband to re-form, the continued lack of investment may even see the club drop away again for a period whilst ageing players are replaced and styles of play change to accommodate this. Nor can we expect an ambitious (for trophies) manager to stay forever, watching moths fly out of BK’s wallet whilst elsewhere cash is splashed with abandon.
We need to enjoy this Everton team’s performances and our general on-field renaissance whilst we can, but the pressure needs to be kept on BK and his agents to find the investor who will allow our current momentum to be maintained and the Team’s undoubted promise fulfilled with some shiny new trophies in the Goodison cabinet.
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