This week, Everton Football Club achieved a couple of feats many supporters believed to be beyond them.
After enduring 22 years of almost unrelenting pain at Anfield, the Toffees finally secured a success there on Saturday against Liverpool.
Then the club made a significant step in their push to build a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock, as Liverpool City Council unanimously granted planning permission for the project. After failed attempts to move to King’s Dock in the city centre and outside of the city limits to Kirkby, an iconic new home away from Goodison Park is more of a reality than ever.
On February 27, 2016, supporters also rejoiced on a day they never thought would come—an elusive billionaire backer emerged.
After a prolonged search for investment, Everton confirmed that Farhad Moshiri, a British-Iranian businessman and chairman of telecommunications giant USM, had bought a 49.9 per-cent stake in the club after selling his shares in Premier League rivals Arsenal.
Everton’s previous lack of financial muscle had left them unable to compete with the elite sides in the division and finally having a billionaire on board represented a potential new dawn. They had been competitive in English football’s top flight, although never a real threat in terms of signing the best players or winning the biggest trophies.
“It was frustrating because it always felt as though we were on the cusp,” said Mat Flusk, an Everton season ticket-holder and shareholder. “[Chairman] Bill Kenwright’s biggest sin is he isn’t a billionaire and that’s not his fault.
“What we did [under former manager] David Moyes for nearly a decade—turning over players, getting ridiculous bargains and qualifying for the Champions League in 2005—it was miraculous really. Especially in that era where there were four teams (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) that were completely dominant.”
Such a significant moment in the club’s recent history prompted a variety of responses.
There was hope Moshiri would help Everton break through that glass ceiling quickly. An excitement at the Toffees being able to throw their hat in the ring for some world-class players that summer sizzled in the fanbase.
When Everton went to Aston Villa—who were destined for relegation after a tightening of their finances by then-owner Randy Lerner—and won 3-1 on March 1, 2016, the supporters in the away ended chimed out “we’re fucking rich” over and over again.
“I remember that,” said Flusk. “When it happened my first thought was ‘so are Villa’! They have a billionaire owner and they are going down! I never thought it would solve everything overnight.”
Apprehension proved to be warranted, as Everton embarked on a spell of seismic change both on and off the pitch.
Moshiri restructured the coaching staff, sacking manager Roberto Martinez in May 2016 and appointing Netherlands icon Ronald Koeman the following summer. He also brought in Steve Walsh as director of football; Walsh had been heralded in his previous position at Leicester City as a scout, helping them to one of English football’s biggest shocks when they won the title in 2016.
After a promising first season under Koeman, finishing in seventh place, the plans began to unravel.
The sale of star striker Romelu Lukaku in the summer of 2017 prompted a flurry of transfer activity, the team failed to gel and with Everton sitting in 18th position in the league in October, Koeman was sacked.
Sam Allardyce was drafted in to save the team from a relegation battle, but left at the end of that campaign after serving up turgid football. Walsh followed him out of the door.
“I think Moshiri got off on the wrong foot,” Phil McNulty, BBC Sport’s chief football writer said. “Not particularly by appointing Koeman, who was a manager with a big reputation, but the partnership with him and Walsh was an uncomfortable one. Walsh wasn’t really a director of football, he’d been a very good chief scout at Leicester.
“The structure he put in place felt like a bit of a dream. Moshiri had a vision in his head of a big-name manager and a director of football, but he almost went about it the wrong way around, appointing the manager then the director of football.”
It was around this time that Moshiri started to make frequent media appearances too. On the final day of the 2017 summer transfer window, he called up Sky Sports News to reveal intimate details of Ross Barkley’s proposed transfer to Chelsea, which fell through before being resurrected the following January.
At the start of the 2017-18 season he made reference to “unexpected losses” on the pitch in a statement to TalkSport, much to the annoyance of some supporters after a summer of big spending on new players.
Moshiri also said at Everton’s Annual General Meeting in January 2018 that a “voodoo message” was one of the reasons why Lukaku didn’t sign a new contract with Everton and went on to move to Manchester United. It was later reported the striker was considering legal action over the remarks.
Although in the early years of his tenure there were undoubted missteps, it was clear Moshiri’s ambition for Everton was unrelenting. It’s a virtue that have become more effectively channeled as his time in charge has rumbled on.
“I did get the sense he had the best interests at heart,” said Flusk of his impressions of Moshiri in those general meetings. “You get some billionaire owners who turn up and the club is just a toy. But for him? He seems like a football nut. He just wanted his own little kingdom inside the game. And that might be why he called up places like TalkSport frequently!”
And perhaps that’s why, with Marcel Brands performing well as the club’s director of football—a new contract appears to be imminent for the Dutchman—and a world-class manager in Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout, the media appearances are scarcer. There’s more trust in the workforce he’s built around him to do the talking after half a decade.
Everton aren’t looking ahead to their current exciting future without Moshiri’s investment. He had already pumped in £400 million to the football club as of November 2020.
“Off the pitch, there is no doubt he has put money into the football club the likes we have never seen before and his continued commitment is staggering,” said Rodger Armstrong, host of The Blue Half and Everton Business Matters podcasts, noting recent reports that Moshiri will fund another £100 million from his personal fortune towards the new stadium.
“He’s recapitalised the business, which makes us a more attractive company to lend money to and he has underwritten a great amount of our dealings…his financial commitment is unquestionable.”
The vision, determination and capital required to take Everton to the waterfront was absent before Moshiri became involved in 2016. And it is questionable whether the club would ever have had the ambition to approach a stadium project like this or approach someone like Ancelotti before Moshiri walked through the door.
“You heard stories of when he first arrived that if he could have got anyone, he would have tried to do it,” said McNulty. “If someone had said ‘you know you can buy Cristiano Ronaldo for £100 million?’, he probably would have tried to get it done! And where he pulled it off was with Ancelotti.”
“In December 2019, when we got Carlo, that’s when everything changed,” added Armstrong.
All the indications are that Moshiri will remain a key part of Everton for a while yet. He’s moved the club’s offices to the iconic Liver Building, which he owns, and seems intent on laying down roots in the city.
His presence around the football club may not be as obvious with media appearances now increasingly rare, but being the man in the background pulling the strings seems to better suit the 65-year-old and the club.
“I am 100 per-cent happy with the direction the club is going under Moshiri,” said Armstrong, who made it clear he wants to see more elite talent in the club’s boardroom as well as on the field. “We have the stadium on the horizon and it’s virtually impossible for the government to turn it down. I can see no reason why that stadium doesn’t get built.
“The line that we tread, like so many other clubs, is that there are 10 teams with a chance of getting into the top four. There are some teams who could finish 10th or finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League. So if we can qualify for European football and keep Ancelotti until we move into Bramley-Moore, we’ll be in a very, very good place.”
It’s hard to know what the state of football and the world will be at the end of the current season—Everton sit seventh in the Premier League going into Monday’s match with Southampton—never mind another five years down the line. Indeed, so much has changed at Everton in the five years Moshiri has been involved. Largely and eventually for the better.
In the future, with Moshiri growing into his role at the top of the football club and his vision of Everton finally taking shape, it feels as though the club may yet scale some more heights few thought they’d be able to.