With a number of deals already going ahead, it can be easy to forget the summer transfer window doesn’t officially open until next Saturday.
Plenty of English clubs have used the no-man’s land between the end of 2016/17 season and the start of the summer window to get a head start on their divisional rivals, none more so than Everton.
Indeed, the Toffees have already acquired the services of Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen, shelling out just shy of £60million, and are reportedly on the verge of announcing a deal for striker Sandro Ramirez as well.
At this point in the summer, the only club that can rival them in the quantity and value of their arrivals are title-chasers Manchester City, snapping up shot-stopper Ederson from Benfica and Monaco playmaker Bernardo Silva.
Everton’s early spree isn’t simply by chance either; Ronald Koeman has a gigantic summer ahead, requiring a bigger rebuild than last term’s seventh place finish might initially suggest. In theory, Koeman needs a right-back who can step in for the injured Seamus Coleman, a left-back to deputise the ageing Leighton Baines, some young blood in the centre of defence and most pivotally direct replacements for Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, who both look set to leave Goodison Park.
Everton’s attempts to fill those positions are boosted by Farhad Moshiri’s investment last summer. Koeman didn’t get much of a chance to take full advantage of it during his first transfer window as Toffees boss and although some impressive additions arrived in January, namely Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman, this summer represents the Dutchman’s real opportunity to revamp the squad he inherited from Roberto Martinez – further financed by the enormous sums Barkley and Lukaku should bring in.
So far so good, then. Koeman has already addressed the questionable quality in Everton’s goalkeeping department with a sizable swoop for Pickford, added to his midfield armoury with Klaassen and potentially his strike options with Ramirez. If there’s one concern to be had regarding Everton’s ambitious early spending, however, it’s what becomes of the exciting young, English players who forced their way into the first-team picture at Goodison last season.
To claim Everton have a fully-fledged Class of ’92 on their hands may be a tad hyperbolic, considering how quickly young Englishmen rise and fall in the Premier League these days. Likewise, no player aged 21 or younger started more than half of Everton’s Premier League fixtures last season – during a campaign in which the Toffees squad’s average age was 27, ranking it the 12th oldest throughout the top flight.
But the starting line-up of the England U20s side that brought the first World Cup back to these shores in 51 years just under two weeks ago included a staggering four Everton youngsters – not least including winning goal-scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin – and the Toffees were the most represented club throughout the entire squad with five. That rabble didn’t even include Mason Holgate and Tom Davies, the two youngsters aged 20 and 18 respectively who featured prominently for Everton during the second half of last season.
It takes more than luck to win the U20s World Cup – three of the last five winners are all countries that have reached at least the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup or Euro 2016 – and it’s vital that Everton’s participants don’t find their paths to the first team suddenly blocked by Koeman’s summer additions.
The Toffees gaffer appeared more than willing to use them last season but that was very much a transition campaign which offered Everton little to play for post-Christmas and Koeman’s track record of developing young players, at least in England, isn’t is as exemplary as you’d expect for a former Ajax and Barcelona star.
In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of his two seasons at Southampton was his reluctance to use an academy set-up that is still widely revered as the best in the country, producing five players to have represented England in the last twelve months. He only actually issued Premier League debuts to four players aged 21 or younger in two years at St. Mary’s – that’s one every six months.
Furthermore, already spending the kind of money you’d expect of a side looking to force their way into top four reckoning, there will be much more pressure on Koeman next season – improving on last term’s final standing of seventh will be the bare minimum requirement despite the incredible competitiveness in the Premier League. As we know, Premier League managers have a fascinating knack of shying away from young players, especially English ones, when they’re put under pressure for results.
But Tottenham Hotspur have shown the benefits of bravery in such scenarios. Spurs’ English contingent is now the beating heart of the national team and the main driving force behind their back-to-back title bids; it’s rather incredible to think that, when Mauricio Pochettino arrived at the club, Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were all viewed rather negatively by the Premier League audience, whilst Dele Alli was plying his trade in League One and Eric Dier was a backup defender at Sporting Lisbon.
Who’s to say Everton’s youngsters can’t go onto similar feats in the coming years, especially if Koeman uses the summer signings to compliment their strengths and weaknesses rather than upgrade upon them? And that’s not just crucial for the Merseyside club but also the Premier League in general; of the 543 players to feature in the Premier League last season, just 42 were English and under the age of 22 – less than eight percent – and just eight of those made more than 15 appearances – less than 1.5 percent.
No doubt, this summer represents a fantastic opportunity for Koeman to rebuild Everton, to cash in on Lukaku and Barkley, to utilise Farhad Moshiri’s investment, and create a side that, in the long term, can compete at the very top end of the Premier League.
But as vital as any new signings is further integrating the likes of Calvert-Lewin, Lookman, Davies, Holgate, Kieran Dowell, Jonjoe Kenny and Callum Connelly. Big money additions come and go, Lukaku is testament to that, but these players are Koeman’s real chance to forge something special on Merseyside that can upset the Premier League’s established order.