When the manager merry-go-round displayed its entirety earlier on this summer, it was clear that some transfers between the teams would follow.
David Moyes had been the Premier League’s third longest serving manager at Everton. Yet, he took up the once in a lifetime opportunity to replace Britain’s longest serving manager- Sir Alex Ferguson who was in charge for an incredible 26 years at Old Trafford in a feat unlikely to ever be seen again. When two of the league’s longest serving managers move on from their respective clubs, you have to expect a degree of player upheaval. Exacerbating this was the fact that Roberto Martinez stepped up to the challenge at Everton after several years defying the odds by keeping probably the Premier League’s smallest club Wigan in the top flight.
Cue the speculation over which loyal players would be following their trusted managers in transferring teams between Wigan and Everton, and Everton and Manchester United. Much of the media’s attention focused on two players- in most people’s eyes Everton’s two prized assets. Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines had proved in 2012-2013 that they were a cut above a team jostling for a European squad. Baines’ form had led many to believe he was more worthy of a starting berth for England than a stalwart of the team like Ashley Cole- a high proportion of Everton’s goals came through him or were affected by him bombing down the left side or taking some of the most ferocious set pieces the league saw last season. Yet, in a huge boost to the Toffees, Baines stayed put at Goodison Park. There is no doubt that Manchester United expressed a huge interest in bringing the England man to Old Trafford but Everton displayed the best quality stiff upper lip to avoid selling him.
It was Fellaini who was looking the more likely to move on, and move on he did- in dying embers of the transfer window. In a move that could be indicative of a panic buy, United purchased the 25 year old for around £27 million. Adding to the chaotic nature of the transaction, Fellaini reportedly put in a last minute transfer request to Roberto Martinez to force through a move as well as agreeing to funding £4 million of United’s transfer fee himself. This ensured Everton received above their minimum fee release clause for their midfielder- something which would not have happened had United acted quicker in their pursuit.
Despite the loss of Fellaini, the retention of Baines is arguably an even bigger feat for Martinez and Chairman Bill Kenwright. If you had to ask them who they would rather have sold out of the two, it’s pretty certain they would have given you Fellaini every time. Crucially, Everton put at least some of the transfer fee to good use. Martinezs had already gone back to former club Wigan to sign three players- goalkeeper Joel, defender and former captain Antolin Alcaraz and Ivory Coast striker Arouna Kone. All displayed last season that their natural level is probably above that of the Championship. All added depth to the blue side of Merseyside’s squad but their addition can hardly be described as ground breaking.
Everton saved their key business for the last day of the window with good incisiveness in replacing Fellaini. Martinez went back to his regular hunting ground to sign Republic of Ireland man James McCarthy. A younger player than Felllaini with the potential to be as good. Former England man Gareth Barry also headed through the doors. He is keen to re-establish himself in the Three Lions squad for the World Cup in 2014. Again this, adds experience to the ranks at Everton- big game experience. The third acquisition is probably the most impressive. Many people were tipping Romelu Lukaku for a regular spot in the Chelsea team this season, but Jose Mourinho’s decision that he is not ready represents a clear gain for Everton who beat Lukaku’s former loan club West Brom to his signing.
All three give Everton depth that they haven’t really enjoyed for the past few seasons. Often the pundit’s line with Everton has dubbed their starting XI as capable of beating anyone on their day. Yet, a statement that often follows is ‘they’ll have a good season if they get no injuries’. This is because (often due to lack of funding) their squad has an alarming lack of depth. This is not the case this season.
With youngsters like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman getting better and better every game, experienced heads like Leon Osman and Sylvain Distin as strong as ever, and new additions like McCarthy, Barry and Lukaku giving Everton a genuinely strong spine, Martinez can be commended for making Everton stronger in the wake of losing one of their star players. Good management has resulted in Everton becoming stronger. No one will surprised if they are up there challenging the elite for a top four finish as the end of the season approaches.