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Everton Season Preview, 1999-2000

Walter's 2nd Season in Charge


As far as close seasons go, 1999 has seen a strange three months. I realised for the first time recently that I have been suffering from transfer fatigue, a phenomenon borne out of watching one too many deals involving prospective and departing players at Everton drag on for weeks and months at a time; coupled, of course, with the fact that the club's financial situation is still far from secure.

So, it has been with relative ambivalence that I have watched the likes of Bosnich and Sutton sign for United and Chelsea respectively for 10m. They seem now to be events from another world, a world that Everton will unfortunately have to compete in again in a week's time.

On the flip side, it has been with a mixture of amusement and anger that we have watched the saga involving Arsenal and that cocky upstart Nicolas Anelka unfold. Player power and the spiralling trend in wages are ugly phenomena that are threatenening to destroy the game and it is probably due to Everton's parlous financial state that our player problems are smaller scale.

As the last season of the century dawns, it is the decade we are exiting that above all has defined what football will be like in the 21st Century. The changes that the game has seen in the 1990s, not so much from the footballing point of view but more the way the game is run and the profile it enjoys on a national scale, could never have been predicted at the end of the 80s.

And it has been so unfortunate that this financial revolution in football has in the main been played out by clubs other than Everton, the original big club, and has had the effect of marginalising a club that has the potential to rival Manchester United in size, revenue and success.

Everton's experience of the new order has been an overwhelmingly sour one and what is worse is the possibility that Peter Johnson will still have his claws in the club by the time we reach the new year. What will be more interesting is to see if Everton are made any more attractive by the improvement in the club's financial plight brought on by the sale of 13m worth of playing talent this summer. We will probably find out whether or not the 20m overdraft that threatened to wipe the club out was the main reason why no-one is interested in Everton as an investment.

On the broader scale of things, 1999/2000 promises to again be a keenly contested season. Manchester United may be the biggest club in the world, but their liquid cash for transfers does seem to be in surprisingly short supply. It means the the Treble winners have made few high profile additions to their squad and that, coupled with possible complacency after last season's stunning achievement, they could find the defence of the Premiership title a difficult task.

Arsenal will remain a potent threat, with or without Anelka, and Arsene Wenger will no doubt be looking to strengthen his squad as the season progresses. It will be important for them to make an impressive start and put United on the back foot early on if they are to reclaim the title off their new arch rivals.

And, of course 1999/2000 could be Chelsea's year. Gianluca Vialli has invested wisely in Didier Deschamps and his experience and talent could be an important factor alongside the likes of Zola in the midfield. And given the hegemony of the two Red sides in recent seasons, many neutrals would probably like to see Chelsea take the title if their own club can't, even if they have bought a squad full of foreign players!

Few would argue that those three clubs will again be the favourites in the chase for the title but the chasing pack will probably be just as interesting, with Leeds looking like dark horses again and Aston Villa continuing to invest large sums of money in players. It will be interesting to see if the likes of Derby, West Ham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Middlesbrough can iron out the peaks and troughs in their form in order to pose a real threat to the top four. And Tottenham under George Graham will no doubt be strong contenders for a European place.

Of the newly promoted teams, Sunderland, on the back of their runaway Nationwide First Division title victory last season, will be looking for a top 10 finish, while Bradford and Watford will, obviously, be looking to survival as their main goal.

The remaining teams will, no doubt, spend much of their time floating between the pack chasing European qualification and the relegation zone with one or two surprises in each direction. Exactly how the likes of Coventry, Leicester, Southampton, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday will fair in the coming season is difficult to say.

Where Everton fit in to all of this is, as usual, anybody's guess. It won't be clear for a few weeks of the season just how much the likes of Olivier Dacourt and Marco Materazzi will be missed, if at all. Noises coming from the Everton camp recently suggests that the team spirit has improved now that much of the foreign contingient (which included Bakayoko) and has been sold on this summer to the tune of 13m.

There is no doubt that all three are gifted players but it became abundantly clear last season that none of them were particularly suited to the English game and way of life. And whether any of them will actually be missed is another question. While Dacourt was deified by the fans, he was unquestionably lazy and temperamental and he didn't always fulfil the attacking role he was capable of.

Materazzi was another extraordinary player who suffered at the hands of the Premiership referees and while he was error-prone, at the age of 24 he has the potential to be one of world's best in his position. From that long-term point of view, he will be missed and with Craig Short on his way out and Bilic seemingly unfit, the Blues may struggle for central defenders should the veteran duo of Watson and Gough find the going a bit tough.

Of those three players, though, Bakayoko was the biggest misfit. Capable of winning a game on his own (which he did on more than one occasion last season), the Ivorian would appear to be suited more to the Continental game and could never seen as the solution to Everton's scoring problems.

Given the apparent improvement in squad morale and cohesion, coupled with the permanent acquisition of Kevin Campbell, it would appear that Everton's chances of securing mid-table respectability are high if Walter Smith can field a settled side with consistent tactics.

As usual, the adage that has been well-peddled on this forum applies; namely that the Everton squad has enough talent in its ranks to surprise a few people this season. Of course, that has been said in previous season previews but 1999/2000 will be the acid test for Smith's managerial abilities.

How last season's experience has affected the former Rangers boss' view of the requirements of management in the Premiership will more than likely dictate how he sets out on the coming campaign. Smith had his critics last season for sticking almost unwaveringly to a 5-3-2 formation when there times when it was clearly failing.

Personally, I think last season's baptism of fire will have served the manager well and even though he will clearly be operating under financial constraints, he showed towards the end of last season that he probably has what it takes to give the team a stable foundation and some direction based on a close-nit squad and high team morale.

Again, a mid-table finish, coupled with a couple of sound signings, would clearly be progress. Given the ephemeral and seemingly interminable nature of Everton's takeover saga, a another season of stable rebuilding is probably all we can hope for. And if the team really clicks, who knows!?

Predicted Premiership Standings 1999-2000

 1. Arsenal
 2. Manchester United
 3. Chelsea
 4. Leeds United
 5. Aston Villa
 6. Newcastle United
 7. Liverpool
 8. Tottenham Hotspur
 9. West Ham United
10. Sunderland
11. Everton
12. Derby County
13. Middlesbrough
14. Wimbledon
15. Sheffield Wednesday
16. Leicester City
17. Coventry City
18. Southampton
19. Bradford City
20. Watford


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