The January transfer window looks set to cast a shadow over Goodison Park, with the media spotlight focusing upon demoralising departures rather than potential new arrivals. The influential duo of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines will be a constant source of speculation as the club reluctantly begins to batten down the hatches.
Former PSG striker Guillaume Hoarau had been linked with a cut-price move to Merseyside, but his decision to shun Everton in favour of a lucrative move to the Far East highlights the persuasive power of financial incentive. David Moyes recently revealed that his transfer budget is “only enough to get me a loan deal,” which will serve as a crushing blow to their Champions League aspirations.
There is a genuine fear that a top four finish is the only thing that can prevent a mass exit in the summer, with the likes of Baines and Fellaini currently mulling over their future. Chairman Bill Kenwright is a dedicated fan, but his inability to inject the same level of investment as his foreign adversaries, has forced the club to repeatedly defy expectation. However, even if he were able to provide a blank cheque, would Moyes flourish or be hampered by his new-found fiscal freedom?
Moyes’ reputation has been boosted recently by the shrewd captures of Kevin Mirallas and Nikica Jelavic alongside useful freebies Steven Naismith and Thomas Hitzlsperger. However, his spending hasn’t always been as fruitful and if we examine the prominent purchases – those over £5m – the resounding feeling is one of regret.
Before Moyes struck gold with Jelavic, he blew a collective £25m on James Beattie, Yakubu and Andy Johnson. Although the latter was sold for a profit and the Yak made a promising start, there can be no denying that these signings failed to merit their inflated price tag.
In 2009, Moyes dropped around £10m to bring defensive rearguards Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga to the club. While both centre-backs were perfectly competent signings, they pale in comparison to the value-for-money purchases of Phil Jagielka (£4m) and Joleon Lescott (£2.5m). Things certainly look less rosy when you throw in the name Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and consider the fact that Everton effectively paid Spurs £2m to take Steven Pienaar on loan for a year.
However, the fiery Scot has proved a formidable bargain hunter during his decade in charge. His former midfield maestros Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta were both signed for a mere £2m while Moyes has showcased a certain penchant for reviving the fortunes of those struggling at Old Trafford. His ability to transform the likes of Phil Neville, Tim Howard and Darron Gibson is perhaps one of many reasons he’s been tipped to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson.
In many ways the diminutive batch of players at Moyes’ disposal has helped create the formidable force they are today. There is a strong sense of cohesion in the squad, bereft of any obstructive egos and while many top flight managers insist on a rigorous rotation policy, Moyes is busy promoting the benefits of a consistent and recognised starting XI.
This season, Everton are on course to resume their position on the European stage and have shown on many occasions that they can compete with the Premier League elite. Their opening day victory over Manchester United was no fluke and the club has gone on to beat fellow high flyers Tottenham while also securing an impressive point at the Etihad. In fact, their only defeat against a ‘top’ side came against Chelsea, with the team heavily weakened by injuries, tired legs and suspensions.
If stories emanating from the rumour mill hold any truth, Chelsea will soon activate Fellaini’s buyout clause, just as they did with Demba Ba. The pressure will then fall upon Moyes to replace such a unique threat, but with debts hovering around the £45m mark, the likelihood is that Everton will once again have to dig deep into their prosperous youth academy.
It seems as though the Toffees are destined to playout the familiar tale of ‘so close, yet so far’.