It’s been a stellar season for Everton. Although the Toffees missed out on their ultimate aim of Champions League football by seven points, you’ll find few Goodison goers disappointed with the progress made since David Moyes’ resignation last summer.
Roberto Martinez has hit Merseyside like a swirling wind of hot-yet-crisp Iberian-Peninsulan air, bringing in his gust a brand of intoxicatingly aesthetic football that will leave Evertonians feeling only positive about future endeavours. That all-important unique identity is the kind of footballing phenomena that can breach any lack of finance or resources – just take a gander to the other side of Stanley Park.
But could second season syndrome – that Premier League cliché previously used to describe the plights of Reading and Hull City to name a few – be looming in for the Toffees and their manager? Their first recording was a chart topper, but will they struggle when it comes to that notoriously difficult second album?
My immediate concern is that three key members of the Everton band will most likely not be at Goodison next season. For example, although Martinez has already announced his attentions to use the full powers of Bill Kenwright’s purse this summer to keep 15-goal front-man Romelu Lukaku on Merseyside permanently, the chances of doing so remain relatively thin.
Even if he decides to quit parent club Chelsea for the sake of first team football, Everton’s interest will most likely be eclipsed by many of his Champions League suitors, including Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund to name a few.
Likewise, Manchester City loanee Gareth Barry has been rocking the baseline groove at the heart of Everton’s midfield all season. His ability to illusively transcend between the roles of a holding midfielder and third centre-back are vital to the Toffees game-plan; that simple yet instrumental movement is the trigger for Martinez’s men to switch from a 4-3-3 in defence to a 3-4-3 in possession.
The 33 year-old’s defensive work is expectedly solid, whilst his three goals and four assists is an equally positive contribution. Perhaps most tellingly of his vitality to the Everton cause, his average of 68 passes per match this season is the most of any player on the Goodison roster. He’s very much at Everton’s core.
Admittedly, the Toffees have a better chance of acquiring the England international permanently this summer in comparison to Romelu Lukaku, having been officially released by the Premier League champions last Friday. But any deal at Everton will have to take Barry’s age into account and honour the £2.5million agreement written into his initial loan agreement. With that in mind, reported interest from West Ham, Arsenal, Spurs and Leicester will trouble Martinez.
Then there’s Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu, the shredding guitarist of the act, if you wish to maintain our band-member analogy. Admittedly, the high-potential Spaniard isn’t as intrinsic to the Everton make-up in comparison to Barry or Lukaku, but his ability to change the dynamic of the Toffees attack, adding a frighteningly direct threat at goal, has been influential throughout the course of the season.
Perhaps I’m exacerbating the problem slightly. After all, although Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu represent three of Everton’s best performers this season, it would be wrong to say they’ve been the three best performers in that exact order. Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith and Leon Osman have been essential influences too and that water-tight back five – containing two of the Premier League’s leading full-backs – still remains from the David Moyes days.
Likewise, although both have been linked with multi-million moves away, it would be surprising if England duo John Stones and Ross Barkley weren’t at Goodison next season. Judging from the performances of both throughout the current campaign, their quality can compensate for any loss of personnel this summer.
Furthermore, due to the sensational progress Everton’s loan signings have made this year, Roberto Martinez has previously claimed that clubs are queuing up to offer him their hot prospects for next season. Should the Spaniard run the rule effectively, he could replace the Toffees loan contingent from 2013/14 with an equally as impressive one. Also, if the Mersey boss is prepared to throw his entire transfer budget at Romelu Lukaku, there’s obviously a fair bit of money to spend this summer.
So maybe Martinez’s second season at Everton won’t be a complete catastrophy, but it’s hard to envisage it paralleling the progress of the first. After all, last season was very much a unique Premier League campaign – next term, Manchester United will almost certainly be back in the Champions League fold and Tottenham will be looking to make up for lost time too.
Arsenal are keen to spend this summer and Liverpool appear to only be moving forward, whilst Chelsea and Manchester City are dead-certs for the top four, so competition for fourth spot will be more ferocious than ever.
My lingering concern is how Martinez will cope. In my opinion, the 40 year-old is a world-class manager in the making; part purist philosopher, part transfer market gem-finder, part public diplomat, part motivation machine, the Spaniard truly is the total managerial package.
But up until now, his career has only moved in one direction. From Swansea, to Wigan to Everton, Martinez has continually soared – even the disappointment of relegation with the Latics was offset by the historic achievement of last season’s FA Cup.
The coming campaign however presents the likelihood of stagnation. The honeymoon is over and the hard graft truly begins. In many ways, that difficult second season at Everton will be the toughest challenge of Martinez’s management career – the truest test of his abilities to date. But Everton is a well-run club, and the fan-base showed continual patience under Moyes.
They’ll accept the inadequacies of the second album, as long as the third is filled with as much beauty and promise as the first.