Cast your mind back a few years towards late 2016. Everton was seemingly blessed with the promise of a new major shareholder in Farhad Moshiri. A Middle Eastern billionaire owner determined to revolutionise Everton’s onfield performance with high profile signings and a vision for the future. Joining forces with long time owner and Everton fan Bill Kenwright it seemed a match made in heaven for fans of the Premier League club. You had a man in Kenwright who loves the club and knows it inside out while also having the promise of steep financial investment moving forward. Kenwright himself said of his new business partner:
“I have got to know Farhad well over the last 18 months and his football knowledge, financial wherewithal and True Blue spirit have convinced me that he is the right man to support Everton.”Bill Kenwright
It seemed like there was both harmony and money at the club and that they were going to be destined to succeed. The club went on to spend an estimated total of £500 million over the next four seasons. This figure makes Everton one of the top five highest-spending teams in the Premier League for both total and net transfer expenditure. In 2019 Everton went on to appoint one of the best managers in world football in Carlo Ancelotti. So with the board, finances and manager in place, some would be very surprised to see Everton currently in an intense relegation battle, with fans protesting the owners while also facing the possibility of a points deduction for breaking spending rules. Just what went so wrong?
Extravagant Spending on Average Players
It can never be denied that Farhad Moshiri truly lived up to expectations when it comes to spending. The Iranian Businessman’s investments saw the club spend lavishly on playing talent over the last five seasons. Unfortunately, very few of those signings were in any way exciting and it often amounted to spending a fortune on players who had struggled at larger Premier League sides.
A staggering £130 million was spend on Theo Wallcott, Alex Iwobi, Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Three players that had struggled to make a significant impact in the Premier League and another who was a failed experiment at Tottenham Hotspur in Sigurdsson. It is not that these players can’t contribute to a successful Premier League side but they represented a habit of vast overspending that would go on to impact the club moving forward.
Theo Walcott at one point was an outstanding talent and would have justified a fee far beyond what Everton paid for him. However, consistent injuries had limited the former England International to less than 90 minutes of Premier League football over the entire 2017-2018 season. Even when fit that season Walcott was mostly used in the domestic cups as Arsenal had decided he could no longer contribute effectively to the first team squad.
Similarly, when Everton paid £35 million for Alex Iwobi eyebrows were immediately raised. The player was a talented winger with Arsenal but in the prior season, he was struggling to perform at a high level and had become a focus of criticism by the Arsenal support. His stock had dropped significantly and Everton foolishly still paid a premium for the player.
Morgan Schneiderlin was once a talented all-around midfielder for Southampton but had failed after a big-money move to Manchester United. In his final season there the player only managed 11 Premier League minutes. Despite this failure, Everton reportedly paid Manchester United over £20 million for the midfielder. Finally, in a truly egregious example of overspending, Everton bought Icelandic Captain Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea for a fee of around £45 million. A player who wasn’t terrible for the club but could never hope to live up to such an extravagant price tag. At this moment Sigurdsson is not in Everton’s Premier League squad as he is reportedly facing undisclosed legal issues.
A couple of big-money signings that go wrong is expected. After all, form is volatile and you never truly know if a signing will work out. Unfortunately for Everton, these are not the only examples. Close to £200 million on top of that was spent on Cenk Tosun, Yannick Bolasie, Micheal Keane, Moise Kean, Sandro, Davy Klaassen, Jean-Philippe-Gbamin and Andre Gomes. None of which have so far been a success at the club. It is astounding that any club could sign so many players from around the world and domestically and have nothing to show for it at all in terms of success. In fact, they have steadily fallen down the table from a steady upper mid-table team to now fighting for relegation at the bottom of the table.
It would be unfair to say that Everton did not make one successful high profile signing in the last few years. The likes of Richarlison, Jordan Pickford, Lucas Digne and Ben Godfrey look like they were worth the fees paid for them but these deals were few and far between.
Revolving Door Managers
Things started well for Everton in 2016 when Farhad Moshiri appointed Ronald Koeman to lead the club into his new era. The Dutchman had a successful spell at Southampton coupled with trophies to his name in both the Netherlands and Portugal. With Romelu Lukaku in outstanding form, the club finished 7th in the Premier League and looked like they would start to challenge further in the next season. It was this early into Moshiris reign that the early warning signs appeared. Ronald Koeman was given the largest transfer budget in Everton’s history but this came at a cost. The star man Romelu Lukaku was sold to Manchester United and not replaced Koeman has since stated that he had asked for a striker to replace the enigmatic Belgian but this never came to fruition. Everton went into the following season without a top-class striker and Koeman was soon sacked with his team in the relegation zone. Rather than stick with a successful manager that had begun building a team, the Everton hierarchy removed Koeman only a few months into the new season.
The club gave up on the Dutchman’s footballing vision and turned towards an established Premier League manager in Sam Allardyce. In the short term, Big Sam performed above expectations and the club went on to finish in the top ten that season but the Englishman had always stated his desire to leave at the end of the season. This forced the club’s vision to change for the third time in under three seasons. This time Watford boss Marco Silva was given the reigns. The Portuguese manager had some early success at Watford but when interest from other clubs was revealed in the media, his head was reportedly turned and Watford went on a run so poor that Silva was relieved of his duties. Nevertheless, he was the man that Everton wanted to start a new project with. Like his predecessors, Silva was able to spend significantly and managed to achieve a top ten finish in his first season in charge. Unfortunately for Silva he was subject to the same fate as Koeman and was sacked before Christmas in his second season.
Landing a Big Fish
It was then that Everton made a legitimately huge signing that made news around the football world. They had attracted Carlo Ancelotti to Goodison Park. A world-class manager with an outstanding track record of success from all around the world. A move that seemed to revitalise Everton’s faltering attempts to compete with the Premier League’s biggest clubs. Immediately there was an impact and in his first full season, Carlo Ancelotti had his Everton side second in the Premier League at Christmas. Unfortunately, this success simply did not last and the side steadily fell down the table in the second half of the season. Things would stagnate and never recover for the Italian who decided to move on to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
The Wheels Falling Apart
This is where the situation began to unravel. The Everton fans were already disappointed by the lack of success despite all the promises made to the club’s higher management and the club had a limited budget available due to FFP and were straining the Premier Leagues own rules for profit and sustainability. Moshiri was understandably desperate. He would be unable to support his next manager financially for a few transfer windows but still wanted to attract a big name to steady the ship. Whoever he chose would be given a talented squad capable of playing out from the back and pressing teams aggressively.
This is where the biggest single mistake was made by the Everton hierarchy. They brought in Rafa Benitez. A manager who was most famous for being a Legend of their biggest rivals Liverpool FC. Fans were immediately outraged by the decision and began to point out exactly why. It wasn’t just that Benitez was so closely linked with their rivals it was that he was known for a very old school style of counter-attacking football that did not suit Everton’s current squad nor did it match the ambitions of the fans to play attractive attacking football.
Toffees fans had gone from promises of challenging for the Premier League title to watching an ageing Salomón Rondón lead the line. In fairness to Rafa, he was handicapped from the beginning. No budget and a fan base who were ready to hate him meant that he was always facing an uphill battle to succeed. Couple that with a horrible injury crisis that has seen key players Yerry Mina, Dominick Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, André Gomes and Abdoulaye Doucouré out for large parts of the season and you have a recipe for disaster. The Spaniard was soon sacked and Everton now finds themselves with an unproven manager in Frank Lampard trying to steer the club away from the looming threat of relegation.
This represents yet another change in vision from the club as Lampard is a young manager with an attacking philosophy and will have to undo much of the previous manager’s work before he can put his stamp on the team. At the moment the club is nosediving towards the championship so the Englishman will not have long to do so.
No Clear Plan
Trying to work out Everton’s five-year plan is a task better suited to rocket scientists than it is to sports journalists. By the time Everton’s financial fortune arrived we had case studies to show how such spending could succeed. On top of that, we are all now aware of Financial Fair Play. What this means for a club like Everton is that they can spend big for a limited amount of time ~3 years before they are held accountable for their financial outcomes over that period.
Put simply the spending must elevate the status of the club to a position where that spending is matched by achievements on the pitch. If this happens then it is likely that prize money, increased sponsorship deals and more valuable on-field assets can offset some of the fees paid out on transfers. That risk should have meant that the decision-makers at Everton carefully calculated a strategy knowing that they needed returns on their investment within 3-5 years. This wasn’t the case for other clubs in a similar situation.
When Manchester City started their extravagant spending sprees they weren’t accountable to FFP. Even with that caveat, the vast majority of big-name signings brought in by City went on to be successful signings. Everton needed to be even more careful to avoid the pitfalls of FFP.
To begin with, Everton went with a Director of Football model with Chief Scout Steve Walsh essentially filling this role at the beginning of Farhad Moshiri’s involvement. Walsh was a sought after talent having been credited for scouting the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Ngolo Kante during his time a Leicester City. On the face of it, Steve Walsh can take a fair amount of the blame for some of the poor signings made during the 2016-2018 period. Out of 23 transfers he was involved in only Jordan Pickford, Dominick Calvert-Lewin and Idrissa Gana Gueye could be called successful. Walsh himself has criticised the Everton hierarchy for not backing the deals that he had in place. According to Walsh, he wasn’t truly backed by the Everton board in the transfer window stating that Everton passed up on the opportunity to take some big names to Goodison Park on cut-price deals. Speaking to The Athletic Walsh said the following:
“While I was at Everton, I offered them Andrew Robertson and Harry Maguire deals, when they were at Hull, and it was worth £20 million for the pair, Everton wouldn’t take them.” “I had a deal done for Jonny Evans too before he came to Leicester, but again they wouldn’t take him.” Finally in the most concerning move of all Walsh also suggested that Everton passed on a move for Erling Haaland when the striker was scoring regularly at Red Bull Salzburg.
“I had convinced Erling Haaland and his father and the transfer could have been done for four million euros.”Steve Walsh
If true that is a serious indictment of the decision making at Everton. Walsh was eventually relieved of his duties after falling out with the hierarchy following the poor start to the 2017-2018 season. This left Everton temporarily without a Director of Football to sanction transfers, with this responsibility falling on interim manager Sam Allardyce, who had stated that he planned to leave the club at the end of the season. The Englishman proceeded to spend £50 million on Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun. Two unsuccessful signings drained the club’s resources and never fit into the style of play of any manager after Allardyce left the club. It’s amazing that a stated interim manager could spend so freely.
A Director of Football could have ensured continuity of both transfers and style of play as coaches changed but Everton failed in this regard. The role was eventually filled by the former PSV man Marcel Brands. The Dutchman was reportedly given more power over transfers than his predecessor and wasted no time bringing in the likes of Richarlison and Lucas Digne. For the most part, Marcel Brands’ signings were successful in their individual performances but none could help lift the team up the table. Many of the players that his predecessor had brought in were still floating around the squad and a number of the key players he brought in struggled with injuries.
Finally, the Rafa Benitez saga truly painted the club’s hierarchy as incompetent. Some of the decisions made during this period are stunningly stupid and show no foresight by the management. Appointing a Liverpool Legend as a manager with no money was bad enough but when the writing was on the wall for Rafa the club refused to act. They had sacked multiple managers for poor performance but they waited far too long to remove Benitez. It was at this point that fan protests against Kenwright and Moshiris management would take place. The good feeling had well and truly gone at Goodison Park and Everton were feeling the heat of the angry fanbase.
Incredibly it was at this point that the Everton Hierarchy decided to double down and saw fit to give Rafa a massive vote of confidence. They allowed him the power to sack the club’s chief doctor, gave him ultimate power over Marcel Brands for transfers and also allowed him to force an excellent player in Lucas Digne out of the club. This leads to Brands also leaving the club. They then let Rafa spend around £40 Million in January 2022 to replace Lucas Digne and an ageing Sheamus Coleman. It looked as if the club were going to commit to the Benitez project. Unfortunately, Benitez was sacked just days after spending the club’s budget and replaced by Frank Lampard. It is simply staggering that the club’s hierarchy would give a manager the power to remove some of the club’s prize assets only a week or so before sacking him.
Frank Lampard has an uphill task ahead of him to keep this turbulent club in the Premier League. At a minimum, they may just stay up as so many of the clubs below them are performing even worse than they are. Perhaps Everton’s failure to launch despite significant investment will serve as a warning to teams like Newcastle United who find themselves wadding into similar waters all these years later. It would be such a shame to a club as big as Everton suffered their first relegation due to the mismanagement of Moshiri and co.
Toffees fans please comment and let us know what you think of the current situation at your club.
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