The phrase ‘Baines and Fellaini’ has been published, discussed and bandied around so much this summer already that I’m beginning to think the two should start their own cop show based on their dynamic partnership. Located in Merseyside, the Everton pair could solve low-level crimes, Baines doing the talking and Fellaini doing the fighting.
Joking aside, there is just cause for the futures of both Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini being so widely debated and documented – the duo have both come to the end of sensational seasons at Goodison, the former recording five goals and five assists from defence, and the latter finishing up with 11 goals and five assists, with some top-class individual performances along the way. The two are the summer’s most hotly anticipated transfers expected to stay within the realms of the Premier League.
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With this summer break constituting massive change on the blue half of Merseyside, following the departure of David Moyes and the appointment of Roberto Martinez as his replacement, it seems the time is right for Baines and Fellaini to finally to take the step up, with both seemingly destined for a higher calling, whilst the Spaniard has the opportunity to forge a new philosophy and bring his own players into Goodison.
It begs the question whether or not Martinez should let his two talismanic stars leave over the course of the summer. Should he cash in on Baines and Fellaini, with the two coming at a shared price-tag of around £40million, in order to achieve his own ambitions at the Everton, or would he be better off keeping as much star quality as possible, considering it will be the Spaniard’s first season at Goodison Park and the potential for disaster.
One of the arguments supporting the case to move on the pair is that it would allow Martinez to work with a clean slate. Despite the protests already made against it, based around notions of Everton’s typically English identity, Martinez will undoubtedly take his new club down a different path in terms of philosophy next season. The Spaniard will be keen to continue playing to the Toffees’ strengths, yet the focus will undoubtedly switch from aerial threat and power to controlling the game through ability on the ball.
But I do not buy into the argument that the current Everton squad, and Fellaini in particular is at odds with the style we’ve seen from Martinez during his tenure with Wigan. The first team’s creative hub lies firmly in Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Leon Osman, who all possess great technique and guile, but lack in any particularly athletic physique. Kevin Mirallas finished off the Premier League’s team goal of the season against West Ham, with the Toffees passing progressively and positively up the pitch in a stellar move, allowing the Belgian to find himself in a few years of space on the edge of the box.
Therefore, despite Fellaini and Baines being two integral parts of Eveton’s old style, known for its emphasis on direct football and aerial threat, I see no reason to sell them on the grounds that they won’t fit into Martinez’s possession-based approach. Footballers are capable of modifying their game, and many of the afro-bearer’s goals this season have come from outside of the box utilising his feet, rather than in the air.
Yet, £40million, although rumoured in the red tops and by no means a concrete figure, is a difficult sum to turn down. The Toffees are desperate to land a new striker, with Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic scoring just 13 goals between them this season. Whilst Arouna Kone has been linked, due to him having a strong campaign under Martinez at Wigan last season, should the Everton boss really wish to achieve his self-imposed ambitions of pushing his new club into the Champions League, they will need a more prolific, better quality and younger acquisition than the 29 year old. In January, a bid was made and rejected for Alvaro Negredo, and although the Spaniard represents the calibre of player Everton need, it will cost them at least £17million to get Sevilla around the negotiating table.
Similarly, plenty other areas of the Everton squad could do with strengthening, at centre-back for example. Phil Jagielka’s future appears secured after being offered the captain’s armband, but there are doubts over the longevity of Johnny Heitinga, with the Dutchman clearly falling out of favour with Moyes last season and making just 17 Premier League starts. Furthermore, whilst Sylvain Distin is still yet to show signs of ageing after another strong and consistent campaign, there is no getting away from the fact the defender is now 35 years of age, and will not be able to maintain his current level of performance much longer.
No disrespect to the current Everton roster, but it’s no secret that David Moyes has been getting the utmost out of his cast for some time. If Martinez cannot gaurantee the same standard of motivation, he will need to bring in added quality in all departments to not neccessarily greatly improve the Toffees but simply to maintain their current level. Similarly, the lack of depth at Goodison is arguably one of the most pressing issues – during Moyes’ tenure, cup runs have been few and far between, and the club’s second string fringe players are much lesser in terms of quality compared to Everton’s divisional rivals.
On the other hand, if the true ambition is Champions League football at Goodison, and it’s not simply a case of ‘reach the stars and you’ll hit the moon’ rhetoric on Martinez’s part, it seems rather illogical to sell two of the club’s three Champions League quality players – the other being Phil Jagielka – in his inaugural transfer window. Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forwards, but Baines and Fellaini are amongst the top performers in the Premier League, and any team of any style Martinez wishes to forge has a stronger justification to be built around the pair, rather than made out of the profits their departures could provide.
Considering their integral roles on Merseyside, would the Everton boss be able to find a full-back as creative and gifted on the ball as Baines at less cost? The Englishman provided the most chances to score out of any Premier League player last season according to OPTA. Similarly, is there another footballer on the planet who can provide the unique skills set of Fellaini, encompassing height, power, an imposing frame, ability on the ball, an eye for goal and defensive awareness?
£40million is a lot of money – especially for a club like Everton. But, at least in the short term, the potential deal cannot be of benefit to the Toffees. There are no direct replacements for either Baines or Fellaini on the horizon, and even if the money was on the most part spent on a new striker, it will be hard to find one that will be attracted to a club of the Toffees’ stature and also have as big an impact on results as the Everton duo.
Yet, it seems that the fee alone may be too good an offer for Bill Kenwright to turn down – finance and resources are always limited at Goodison, and the Everton chairman may have to simply accept his club will have to take a step backwards next season, as a result of the departures of two key personnel.
But it does give Martinez the opportunity to forge a legacy – should the money be spent wisely, in addition to the Spaniard adopting the philosophical approach we’ve seen him employ at Swansea and Wigan, providing relative success for both clubs and at times outweighing the importance of any particular individuals, the Toffees could begin to reap the benefits over the next few years.
Should the pair be sold for profit, it will undoubtedly create a difficult start to Martinez’s tenure, and overall, the Toffees will have to endure a step backwards next season. But the £40million can be reinvested in young players, in mirrors of the models seen at Borussia Dortmund on a large scale and Aston Villa on a much lesser scale this season, which could allow Everton to reach the desired goal of Champions League football in the years to come. However, the potential plan would certainly be in the long-term, and there’s every chance that the Spaniard’s spell with the Toffees could well have ended before he is privy to its rewards.
Should Roberto Martinez sell Baines and Fellaini?
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