By Patric Ridge
A Missed Opportunity? Why Everton’s transfer window has left as many questions as answers.
Following deadline day in August 2018, on which Everton confirmed the signings of Bernard, Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and Kurt Zouma, Marcel Brands spoke of his wish not to repeat a similar scenario next time around.
Heading into the window, on the back of a strong end to last season, there were four clear transfer targets; secure the permanent arrival of Andre Gomes, re-sign Kurt Zouma, bring in a striker and sign a right-back.
Three out of four of those goals have been achieved.
The sales of players such as Ademola Lookman and Idrissa Gueye – who leaves a huge void to fill in the middle of the park – meant the arrivals of a winger and additional central midfielder also became key.
But while each player brought in will undoubtedly add to their squad in their own way, one glaring omission has presented the first mark on Brands’ copybook.
— Kurt Zouma (@KurtZouma) May 13, 2019
Everton’s activity had seemed to have been trickling on nicely throughout July. The free signing of Jonas Lossl proved Everton’s only activity early on in the window, but there was a patience, understanding and trust from the fanbase that the club would succeed in filling the positions desperately required. Brands had proved himself last year, after all.
Gomes followed Lossl through the door. With Everton paying £22million, Brands was rightly lauded for his tough negotiations and patient approach. Fabian Delph, for a bargain fee, came in as the third arrival.
Yet five days before the end of the window, Marco Silva was still airing his frustrations at a lack of action, telling reporters after a 0-0 draw with Werder Bremen on Saturday that he still expected the club to make five more additions, though that included a deal for Moise Kean, which was subsequently wrapped up and announced on Sunday. Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Gueye’s replacement, had arrived a day prior.
Monday brought news that Monaco right-back Djibril Sidibe, was on the verge of joining on loan. Three down, one to go, in terms of the four initial signings needed.
However, throughout the close season, there has been a swell of anticipation that Everton – along with Wolves, Leicester City, West Ham and, perhaps Watford – can lodge a challenge to the top six domination.
And so when the opportunity to bid for Wilfried Zaha arose, Everton took it. With their opening bid, they offered to break their club-record fee to even get Crystal Palace. That first and, depending on who you believe, only offer, reportedly worth £55million, was rejected.
Rumours continued to swirl over Zaha. Another forward, to take the pressure off teenager Kean, was desperately required if Everton were to push on. But while Zaha ultimately did not get the move he wished for, it appears the Blues at least had a suitable back-up in the form of Alex Iwobi. A move was late, but it got over the line.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a crucial role at the other end of the pitch.
| Another target captured!
— Everton (@Everton) August 8, 2019
While Everton were seeing multiple bids rejected for both Zaha and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure, no links to a centre-back, bar vague reports of interest in Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori, emerged.
It had become abundantly clear Zouma would not be making an immediate return to Goodison Park, yet it did not seem the club had a clear alternative. Indeed, when news broke of a sale from Chelsea, it was David Luiz who was leaving Stamford Bridge to join Arsenal. Any hopes of Zouma or Tomori – himself by no means the rounded defender Everton require – rocking up on Merseyside had been extinguished.
While Brands and Everton cannot be held accountable for other clubs’ decisions, the failure to be proactive in their targeting of alternatives has to be called into question.
Seemingly desperate loan moves for Chris Smalling and, on Thursday, Marcos Rojo, were lodged, and swiftly rebuffed. But no other moves, no other late deals, that have been made public knowledge, at least.
And that was that. A problem that the club – that Brands – had had all summer to fix, has not been solved.
Micheal Keane had a fine season last term. Yerry Mina had an injury hit campaign but comes into 2019-20 on the back of an impressive Copa America with Colombia. But fitness, for both players, has proved an issue in the past, and in reserve, Silva has only Mason Holgate – loaned out at West Brom for half of last season – and an inexperienced Lewis Gibson to call on. Gbamin has played in that position in the past, but not regularly.
Simply put, they are not the options of a side wishing to break into the top six.
There had to be an alternative to Zouma not only identified, but also lined up and ready to go. One that was not dependent, such as Tomori, on Chelsea keeping the rest of their squad intact.
The club will, of course, manage. Keane and Mina will be eager to prove they can form a formidable partnership. But one injury, or suspension, could throw the entire side out of whack. And given the loss of Gueye will require a change in team structure, if not style, it could easily become an oversight with severe ramifications on Everton’s hopes of chasing down the elite should Kean, Richarlison and co not manage to hit the ground running.
Brands has earned the trust of the fans, and rightly so. A shrewd negotiator and a director of football with an apparently clear plan, but in this instance, it appears he has got rather lost in the fog. Ultimately, what appears to be a small black mark on an otherwise impressive record, could well cost Everton taking full advantage of an opportunity to gatecrash the big boys club once and for all.