Everton’s 3-3 draw with Bournemouth on Saturday was symptomatic of Roberto Martinez’ reign; thrilling football for the Premier League’s neutrals, yet an underwhelming result for a club that should be striving for better.
It’s hard not to like Martinez. He’s charmingly well-spoken, devoted to attacking football and recorded one of the greatest underdog achievements in FA Cup history upon lifting the title with Wigan Athletic in 2013.
But the Spaniard was appointed Goodison boss on the proviso that he could take Everton to the promised land of Champions League football after the Toffees’ decade of knocking on the door under David Moyes, and so far he has failed to deliver. In fact, they seem to be moving further back in the queue, now finding themselves ninth in the Premier League table and leapfrogged by clubs like Leicester City, Crystal Palace and West Ham who were plying their trade in the Championship not long ago.
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That may seem harsh considering Everton’s limited resources when compared to divisional rivals – particularly Liverpool. The Toffees’ net spend from Martinez’s five windows at the helm is £34.5million; their Merseyside neighbours’ from the same time period is more than double at £85million. Barring one season of Luis Suarez-inspired brilliance, Liverpool are no closer to making it into the top four – which shows how difficult a challenge it truly is.
But it’s the lack of progress I find most concerning. Even if you offset Everton’s eleventh-place finish last term, their worst in nine years, with their 5th place finish the campaign previous, their best since 2008/09, that isn’t an improvement upon Moyes’ accomplishments.
It’s not particularly a step backwards either, but Martinez possesses a squad Moyes could only dream of and arguably Everton’s best since the title-winning days of the 1980s. Romelu Lukaku, John Stones, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley are all coveted by Champions League clubs and capable of playing at that level, whilst Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Tim Howard and Gareth Barry are all experienced top-six players.
Under Moyes, only Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini seemed destined for greater things and the Scot’s transfer budget was a shoestring in comparison. Martinez’s net spent has been on average £11.5million per season; his predecessor’s was around £1.5million per season. Even considering the ridiculous inflation of Premier League transfer fees over the last decade, that’s still a eight-fold difference.
Likewise, keeping this team together has required backing and sacrifice from the Everton board. They could have taken in near £40million from selling Stones in the summer, whilst fees for Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku would’ve been in the same ballpark. It is certainly commendable – and a testament to Martinez’s persuasion skills – that the Toffees held onto all of them in the summer, but what is the point in a starting XI of such great promise if Everton’s results aren’t moving forward?
Take a look at Tottenham Hotspur, for example. Mauricio Pochettino has improved the side immeasurably since his appointment in summer 2014, in terms of both results and performances, despite his net spend being just shy of £9million. They play exciting football and have geared the squad towards promoting young players – in fact, goalkeeper Michel Vorm is the only first-teamer aged 30 or over – and look set to finish above Everton for the second season in a row.
It’s very much the Toffees blueprint executed far more effectively, but the irony is that few Spurs players, perhaps excepting Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane, would have made it into Everton’s starting XI before the season kicked off. It’s a similar case with Crystal Palace and West Ham; although they boast a handful of exciting talents between them, Everton still have a stronger squad and a superior starting XI than both.
Of course, Martinez’ appointment was a long-term one that now won’t expire until 2019. If Everton qualify for the Champions League once or win a cup in that time period, most will mark it as a fantastic accomplishment on par with what he achieved with the Latics.
But unless there are signs of progression, Everton won’t be able to hold onto this team for much longer. Chelsea are almost certain to return for Stones next summer, Coleman is surely in the thoughts of any Champions League club looking for an attacking right-back, almost every Premier League team would happily take home-grown Barkley if he were available and PSG are already throwing flirtatious glances at Romelu Lukaku.
There needs to be a greater incentive to keep them at Goodison, because bumper contracts and Martinez’s persuasive abilities can only go so far. Right now, results aren’t providing one and overall, it feels like this team of such obvious promise are underachieving under a manager many regard as one of the best in the Premier League.
Of course, we’re just 14 games into the new season and much can change between now and May. They’re only six points off a Champions League spot, face Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday evening and still have another shot of silverware in the FA Cup.
But the summary of Everton’s quarter-term report is quite simply; ‘must do better’.