Everton have been the most proactive Premier League club in the transfer market this summer by quite some distance.
We’re not even two weeks into the international transfer window, which officially opened on July 1st, and the Toffees have already signed seven players.
With Romelu Lukaku’s £75million plus add-ons move to Manchester United only being confirmed last night and Ross Barkley’s expected departure yet to materialise, logic suggests Everton’s summer shopping spree is far from finished – those exits will give Ronald Koeman even more to spend should the Merseysiders pick up the £50million they want for the England international.
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After decades of modest spending, this is shaping up to be the summer in which Everton’s outlay starts competing with some of the biggest clubs in Europe and perhaps most importantly, the clubs who finished above them in the Premier League table last season.
Furthermore, Koeman’s squad was in need of a revamp at the end of 2016/17; five of the nine players to make 25 starts or more for the Toffees in the top flight last term were aged 29 or older; and he’s already sought to address that problem, signing a young goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford and injecting some much-needed fresh blood into the heart of defence with a swoop for Burnley’s highly-rated Michael Keane.
In fact, excluding 31-year-old Wayne Rooney (who is actually almost four years younger than captain Phil Jagielka) all of Everton’s signings this summer are aged 24 or younger.
With Everton’s two biggest stars and most valuable entities, Lukaku and Barkley, moving on, Koeman has embraced the chance to deconstruct a team that never reached its full potential under Roberto Martinez and is now building his own side, based on his own principles and judgement of player quality.
The problem, however, is what history tells us. And in the context of Everton’s summer spending thus far, it’s that replacing top-class talent by holistically recruiting players just below that calibre rarely works out. In fact, it usually leads to a downturn in league standing, managerial sackings, transitional seasons of soul searching and consequently, small fortunes in transfer fees thrown down the drain.
The most recent example is Liverpool, who made eight major signings in the wake of Luis Suarez’s £75million move to Barcelona three years ago. The Uruguayan had inspired the Reds to a runner-up finish the campaign previous and the theory that Liverpool could replace a talismanic entity by improving depth in a variety of departments quickly proved flawed.
They finished the next campaign in sixth place, 22 points worse off, and just a matter of months into the season after Brendan Rodgers lost his job. Of those eight signings, who cost a combined £105million, only three made more than 25 top-flight appearances for the Reds last season. Two have left the club and two more will likely move this summer – Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
But the Anfield outfit aren’t the only club guilty of that mistake. Just one year earlier, Tottenham Hotspur sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a world-record fee and much like Koeman, Andre Villas-Boas used the departure to rebuild a squad he’d inherited from Harry Redknapp that didn’t quite live up to its billing.
£104million was spent on seven players, only two of which are still at the club – Erik Lamela (who may well move on this summer) and Christian Eriksen. Villas-Boas, meanwhile, was sacked in December, leaving Tim Sherwood to oversee a sixth-place finish in the top flight – one position and three points worse off than the year before.
Of course, those situations aren’t exactly identical with Everton’s this summer.
Barkley and Lukaku, although clearly phenomenal talents, weren’t talismanic for the Toffees in the same way. Suarez and Bale were the inspirational driving forces of their teams; Barkley, on the other hand, wasn’t even been a guaranteed starter last season and although Lukaku’s goals will be hard to replace, his overall involvement in all-round play was often limited. Everton will be losing a focal point and a lethal finisher, but not a player who pushes forward the rest of the team with Bale’s match-winning ability or Suarez’s incredible commitment.
Likewise, although Koeman restored Everton to seventh place last season after two years in the bottom half, it wasn’t exactly a stellar campaign on Merseyside. Liverpool were a whisker away from the title when Suarez left and Spurs narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification in the months before Bale’s departure, but last season really wasn’t where Everton want to be – in fact, seventh place and Europa League football is very much the minimum requirement.
And yet, Koeman still faces the same intrinsic problem as Rodgers and Villas-Boas – namely, how much patience Everton’s paymasters will have following the most expensive transfer window in the club’s history. Villas-Boas was given just six months to bed in his new-look Tottenham and Rodgers was given the best part of a year.
Everton have never been a hire-and-fire club, but who knows how long Koeman’s stay of execution will be if the Toffees don’t start next season strongly – rather worryingly, they face five of last season’s top six in their first nine top-flight fixtures of the coming campaign.
Likewise, thus far, Everton have made the same mistake as Spurs and Liverpool in not directly replacing their most important player with similar ability. Tottenham’s answer to losing Bale was signing Lamela, whereas Liverpool’s approach to replacing Suarez was swooping for Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli.
Perhaps Koeman has another striker signing up his sleeve but currently, an ageing Wayne Rooney and a 22-year-old Sandro Ramirez who has never plied his trade out of Spanish football before will be asked to fill the goalscoring void of one of the best strikers in Europe, who finished second in the Premier League’s Golden Boot rankings last season and reached double figures in the top flight during all four of his campaigns on Merseyside. Evidence to suggest they’re up to the task isn’t wholly convincing, especially when coupled with the fallacy of trying to replace one with two.
History has a worrying knack of repeating itself in the Premier League and in addition to Tottenham and Liverpool’s disastrous attempts to replace world-class quality, there is a recurring trend of clubs recruiting widely in anticipation for the Europa League, which Everton will be involved in next season, only for their following season to fall apart both domestically and on the continent – West Ham in 2016/17 providing the most recent example.
So amid a summer in which £30million is the new £20million, you have to wonder how glamorous Everton’s signings actually are, whether they have the quality to compensate for what Lukaku and Barkley will take away and inevitably, if Everton would have been better off making two or three huge, top-class additions rather than seven (at a minimum) who may or may not go on to reach that status in the coming years.
At first glance, Koeman may be spreading the risk; but in reality, he’s watering down a squad that finished last season with top-class entities. It’s now a matter of survival for Koeman; can he last long enough to not only get so many players from so many different footballing backgrounds to settle, but also to turn the club’s enormous investments into profitability on the pitch?
Right now, he’s tight-rope walking the same transfer booby-trap that eventually cost Rodgers and Villas-Boas their jobs and compelled both Spurs and Liverpool to several seasons in the wilderness.