As the dust has finally settled and the transfer window has slammed shut, it seems now is the appropriate time to take stock of what has been a challenging window for the Blues.
Rating our window out of ten? Five? Maybe six at a push? But all in all, Everton fans expected more out of our summer recruitment drive.
“Bang for your buck” is a phrase I have heard a lot to describe Everton’s incomings and as true as I believe that to be in terms of the players signed, the window as a whole has to be deemed a failure for Everton Football Club and Director of Football Marcel Brands.
“The window as a whole has to be deemed a failure for Everton Football Club and Director of Football Marcel Brands”
So, let’s go back to the start of the summer.
Carlo Ancelotti has left unexpectedly and Rafael Benitez is the man chosen to replace him. An unpopular decision for some but his impressive start suggests we may have actually found a more suitable manager for this group of players.
Going into this window the priorities were simple. Add a first-choice right-back, a direct winger and then replace any outgoings. How many of those goals did we achieve?
First up our direct and pacey winger. Demarai Gray at just £1.5 million from Bayer Leverkusen was an absolute steal. He single-handedly improves our squad by offering attributes we sorely lacked, so that move was smart business by the club.
His start to life on Merseyside has been excellent and at just 25 years old he still has the time and hopefully the ambition to finally achieve his potential at Goodison Park. Top marks.
In terms of replacing outgoings?
Moise Kean, Theo Walcott and Robin Olsen were perhaps the only ones we needed to find replacements for and to be fair, we did. Asmir Begovic joined in July on a free transfer from Bournemouth and seems to offer no less than Robin Olsen would despite not costing us a transfer fee. Green tick, no issues with that signing.
Andros Townsend then came in, again on a free transfer from Crystal Palace to add some work rate and depth to our wing options and similar to Gray has looked a shrewd acquisition. His early performances alongside his impeccable commitment and hard work have impressed the Blues faithful; he is a marked improvement on the outgoing Walcott. Top marks for Townsend as well so far.
The final player we needed to replace was Kean.
Despite an underwhelming Everton career, the Italian youngster has talent and thus left a striking gap in the squad for Everton to fill. Everton’s transfer hierarchy decided that veteran Venezuelan international Salomon Rondon would be a suitable replacement. The former Newcastle and West Brom forward came in late on deadline day for another free transfer. It’s another sound move. Despite being in his early 30’s he is an experienced option who could act as the perfect impact sub to ruffle a few feathers late on in a game against tired defenders or even offer a decent threat from the start of games should he be required to do so. Again, no issues and top-ish marks on that piece of business.
Andy Lonergan was also added as experienced cover for the outgoing Joao Virginia who joined Sporting Lisbon, but with the best will in the world we hope we don’t see too much of Lonergan in a blue shirt. He is purely cover for the bench and perhaps the Under-23’s side.
So, on that basis could be forgiven for thinking I was rather happy with our recruitment as a whole, but then we come to the full-back positions.
The left-back situation is concerning to say the least. The list of Lucas Digne, Thierry Small and Niels Nkounkou which was once a plethora of depth and talent has been dwindled down to just a solitary Digne who despite being a world-class option in this position is not going to able to complete the 50+ games Everton will hope to compete in this season.
Small’s situation and subsequent move to Southampton could not really be helped, but the fact we allowed Nkounkou to leave on deadline day has left us awfully short of cover and despite the young Frenchman’s need for game time; I’m afraid the clubs needs must come first.
Should the worst happen and Digne is out for any length of time, we are left with the prospect of star centre-back Ben Godfrey being deployed out of position or even worse the myth of Fabian Delph being expected to play there.
A staggering failure in this position is this summer’s first red mark against Brands and Everton.
“The fact we allowed Nkounkou to leave on deadline day has left us awfully short of cover and despite the young Frenchman’s need for game time, I’m afraid the clubs needs must come first”
Now we come to the right-back situation.
I’m in absolute disbelief that we are going into yet another season with Seamus Coleman as our first-choice right-back. That is no slight against Seamus I must add. A tremendous Captain and servant to the club, he simply does not have the legs to play every game across the season.
Nor does deputy Jonjoe Kenny have the quality to offer an alternative. So essential was the need a for a younger, more athletic right-back at the beginning of this summer that had you told me back in June that we still would end the window having not signed one I’d have been more shocked than if somebody said we had signed Lionel Messi.
“I’m in absolute disbelief that we are going into yet another season with Seamus Coleman as our first-choice right-back”
An appalling failure in recruitment. Yes, there are financial constraints to consider, but I am no accountant and I can only call it how it is from a fan/journalist’s point of view and that is that Brands has failed in the one essential remit he had this summer.
There can be no excuses. Names such as Denzel Dumfries and Max Aarons were all touted around to whet the appetites of expectant Everton fans.
Ok, we only had a very limited transfer budget but Everton fans have seen teams like Burnley and Southampton sign full-backs Connor Roberts and Tino Livramento from Swansea and Chelsea respectively, both who could well have filled the void at Everton.
The fact that Everton even got close to the final day of the window without a target secured was beyond a farce. As were the unsuccessful late moves for Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rangers’ youngster Nathan Patterson.
The biggest of red marks against our recruitment team on this one. The huge failure of the club and Brands to secure a right-back will be the soundtrack to the whole summer with many Blues now questioning the competency of our once coveted Director of Football.
“The huge failure of the club and Brands to secure a right-back will be the soundtrack to the whole summer with many Blues now questioning the competency of our once coveted Director of Football”
Another constant drama this summer has been the future of James Rodriguez. The Colombian superstar’s future was always going to be in question when Ancelotti left but not many Evertonians believed there would be a scenario where the club literally tried to give him away at any cost.
Many fans were much more expectant of the midfielder himself forcing a move, something which never truly seemed to happen. In the final days of the window its clear Everton’s tried to move the player on in order to relieve themselves of his reported £200k a week salary but to no avail.
It leaves mixed feelings, as he is without doubt our most gifted player but the reluctance from new manager Benitez to include him in his plans for the season seemed to suggest to me a move was the only option.
Now that the dust has settled and he remains an Everton player for the time being I have hopes he will not be frozen out completely by Rafa as a player of his ability, regardless of faults, must be utilized. Should he stay and remain a peripheral figure then he remains a very expensive one at that. Surely now Everton must make the most of his talent until he does leave?
“Not many Evertonians including myself believed there would be a scenario were the club literally tried to give James Rodriguez away at any cost”
Another concern Everton faced this summer were the expectations and desires of their new manager.
Benitez has often duelled with owners and directors in the past over a lack of support regarding transfers and the Everton hierarchy will be wary of facing the same this time. Burnley winger Dwight McNeil was a name Rafa wanted. Luis Diaz from Porto was another if the media are to be believed.
Neither came in and Rafa’s request of another creative winger was denied. In the infancy of his Everton tenure, it remains likely that whilst Benitez was aware of Everton’s need to sell-to-buy, he will have no doubt been as frustrated as us all come the end of deadline day.
Farhad Moshiri has brought in a fiery character in the veteran Spaniard and he is not likely to accept another window like this without passing public comment. A situation Everton’s power figures must fear.
“Rafa Benitez has often duelled with owners and Directors in the past over a lack of support regarding transfers and the Everton hierarchy will be wary of facing the same this time”
All in all, it’s been a mixed bag for Everton this summer.
No Premier League team has spent less but the players we have managed to bring in have added something to the squad.
Are we better off than when the window started? I would say yes.
Are we better off than we should have been given the expectations this summer? I am afraid that is a resounding no.
Brands may be fortunate he has only just signed a new contract thus making any immediate departure unlikely. That being said, pressure is surely mounting on his lack of decisive action this summer from those above.
For the fans his suitability for the role will only be subject to further scrutiny for a while to come. Answers and explanations will likely have to wait the next AGM, which promises be pure cinema for the watching Evertonians.