Everton head into the new league season bidding to beat the main drawback to their league form over the past few years – their notorious slow start. So where does the fault lay? Is it with boss David Moyes? How much of a threat would Everton be to the top four if they started the season how the often finish it?
Last season, Everton finished 7th in the league, the best of the rest as it were, and crucially, as a matter of local pride at least, ahead of Liverpool. They finished eight points behind behind sixth-placed Chelsea and 13 points off an increasingly out-of-sorts Tottenham side who limped over the finish line on 69 points in fourth.
After 12 games last season, by late November, Everton had already lost six of their opening fixtures and were 10 points off the top four – the damage had already been done. David Moyes’ pre-season training camps are almost legendary within the game for their intensity, which could partially explain why the side start slowly in the league, as their bodies are already somewhat fatigued by a gruelling training schedule. It also explains why they often finish so strongly, with those extra reserves that they have picked up from pre-season coming in handy down the home straight.
Everton head coach Jimmy Lumsden had this to say on Moyes’ pre-season training routine: “To be fair to the gaffer he does sometimes admit it might be a little bit old school, but he does it mostly for mental reasons rather than physical. If they can do these runs they can do anything. They drag each other through them and that’s an important aspect too. Coming to the last 10 minutes of a game, if you can drive yourself that little bit harder, go again that tiny bit quicker, than the seeds were sown in pre-season. It’s mental training.” But do these players require it year-on-year? After all, the turnover of players at Goodison Park is hardly huge, so the methodology may be not only exhausting but repetitive.
Another reason for their perennial slow start, which the club have certainly suffered for the last three years, could be due to their transfer activity, or rather lack thereof, while they often have to sell at least one key player every summer – last year for example, it was Mikel Arteta to Arsenal on deadline day, and the effect that this can have on a settled team’s style of play can be detrimental, while in 2009-10 the transfer saga involving Joleon Lescott ultimately played a part in a lack of focus within the side.
Conversely, the side also did some tidy business in the January transfer window which helped provide a welcome boost and fresh impetus to the entire squad. The signings of Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson on permanent deals and Steven Pienaar and Landon Donovan on loan all proved pivotal in turning around their season as they became a livelier and generally more creative outfit.
Everton’s strong second half to the season doesn’t make them a top four side, though, just like their poor start to the season doesn’t make them a lower mid-table side or relegation candidate. While they have the basis of a top quality side, for as long as players like Tony Hibbert, a fading Tim Cahill and ageing Phil Neville remain first-team regulars, the crushing lack of optimism that surrounds the club due to their lack of activity in the market will continue to play a part.
As with most issues affecting Everton, the root cause is the lack of investment and the unstable financial footing that the club find themselves on. Caught in a vicious cycle, each summer they will have to do their transfer business late as they often don’t have any sort of significant budget until they’ve let several players go, and by then, most other clubs have done their business and done it early.
You could attribute some blame to Moyes for the heavy pre-season schedule, but considering the circumstances and constraints he’s working under, there’s not really much more else he could realistically do.
The club’s decision to take a pre-season tour of Australia in 2010-11, as they attempted to cash in on Tim Cahill’s popularity over there, was also another mis-step, as in the end a combination of the hot climate, long travelling hours and sub-standard opposition meant that while it may have benefited the club financially, it had a negligible impact on the players ahead of a new season in terms of preparing them for the rigours of the top flight.
Every club has financial commitments to uphold, with various tours of China, USA or India being factored into most teams pre-season schedules now, with Everton themselves travelling to Indonesia this summer for a couple of games. Football has long since given into the craven commercial interests that run the game as they seek to exploit emerging markets across the world, and it’s bound to have an effect on those sides with smaller squads and finite resources when they travel around to them.
Everton are notoriously slow-starters under Moyes, and while the taxing pre-season training may be partially at fault, the lack of investment means the squad can easily be unsettled as bigger clubs cherry-pick their top talent – with Fellani and Baines the latest doing the rounds this summer – which along with the pressing need to fulfill financial obligations across the far flung corners of the globe, can often lead, or at the very least, attribute to a lacklustre start.
It’s one of the Premier League greatest anomalies, and there’s no definitive reason to explain it, but the club do need to change it up to avoid a repeat performance this coming year. What’s the definition of stupidity again?
What do you think the reason for Everton’s perennial slow start is?
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