Everton’s club motto “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum” means “Nothing But The Best.” But for the Goodison Park faithful, it’s a motto which must have a hollow ring to it right now. With the club experiencing financial problems off the pitch and an alarming slump on it, the Toffees are currently nowhere near the best as they struggle to keep pace with the Premier League’s elite.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Newcastle was Everton’s fifth defeat in their last six league games, leaving them just one point above the relegation zone. Throw in a Carling Cup exit at the hands of Chelsea and it’s been a miserable few weeks for the Merseyside club.
Everton’s poor form has added to the gloom which had descended on Goodison Park even before the season started. While their rivals spent millions of pounds reinforcing their playing squads this summer, Everton failed to spend a penny.
With no money to spend on transfers, Moyes had to make do with loan signings, bringing in three players on season-long loans – Dutch winger Royston Drenthe from Real Madrid, Argentinian striker Denis Stracqualursi from Club Athletico Tigre and English centre-back Eric Dier from Sporting Lisbon.
Drenthe has added pace, power and penetration to Everton’s attack, but the Dutch international’s performances have been patchy, while his fiery demeanour means he looks as likely to end up in the referee’s notebook as he does on the score sheet. Stracqualursi’s most notable contribution, meanwhile, has been to spurn a glorious chance to grab a late winner for his side after coming off the bench in the Carling Cup tie against Chelsea. Dier, who’s just 17 and seen more as a player for the future, has yet to feature.
Although these are still early days for the club’s new signings, Everton’s squad looks significantly weaker than it did 12 months ago. This year has seen a trio of key players leave Goodison Park. South African midfielder Stephen Piennar joined Tottenham in January and Nigerian striker Yakubu transferred to Blackburn in August, before Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta – arguably Everton’s best player before his departure – joined Arsenal on the final day of the summer transfer window.
The departures have left Everton over-reliant on two injury-prone players, striker Louis Saha and midfielder Tim Cahill, for goals. Moyes added to his attacking options last month by bringing James McFadden, a free agent after being released by Birmingham City in the summer, back to Goodison Park. But although the Scottish international is renowned for his spectacular goals, his return after an injury-plagued spell in the Midlands has only added to the feeling among many Everton fans that their club is going backwards.
Everton’s chairman, Bill Kenwright, has promised fans that a chunk of the £10 million received from the Arteta sale will be made available for Moyes to spend in January, rather than being used to pay off the club’s debts. The chairman’s promise, however, has done little to placate the Blue Union, the Everton supporters’ group calling on Kenwright to make way for new owners capable of taking the club forward.
Last year, it was the red half of Merseyside marching in protest against their club’s owners. Fast forward to this season and it’s the blue half protesting, with hundreds of Everton fans staging a protest march before the Toffees’ home game against Aston Villa in September. The fans voiced their anger over the continued lack of investment in the squad. Supporters are also unhappy at the club’s failure to secure either a site or financing for a new stadium.
Despite the protests, Kenwright, who’s a lifelong Everton fan, still has the backing of many fans who feel he’s doing the best he can for the club. But Kenwright himself has acknowledged he doesn’t have the kind of money needed to enable Everton to compete with rival clubs backed by billionaire owners. And he insists he’s fully committed to finding a suitable buyer for the club.
Yet without the new stadium which made Manchester City such an attractive proposition to the Abu Dhabi United Group, or the worldwide commercial appeal which persuaded Fenway Sports Group to buy Everton’s neighbours across Stanley Park, the Toffees have found investment hard to find. The continuing global economic gloom hasn’t helped matters, either.
There might be some positive news on the horizon, though. Reports earlier this month suggested Indian construction giants Jain Group are interested in investing in Everton. The club’s supporters, however, have heard it all before and will believe it when they see it.
In the meantime, all Moyes can do is prepare his team for their next league game, at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers on 19 November. It’s a game Everton badly need to win, because with the club desperate to attract new investment, the last thing they need is a relegation battle.
Nothing but the best? For now, Everton fans would probably settle for life not getting any worse for the Toffees in the coming months.