My favorite matches of each Premier League season come down to the fight for European qualification. I find these matches have an even greater intensity than any final, including the World Cup. There is no holding back. Win and you’ll have the chance to play in the exclusive Champions League. Lose and it’s oftentimes a season that almost was.
Qualifying for Europe isn’t the same as winning a trophy, but you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference by the euphoria from the winners. And while we can count on every season the usual big three or top four to qualify easily, there’s always a club or two that’s on the outside looking in, waiting and lurking for a chance of a team to slip up. It seems though that every season for the better part of the past 6-7 years that Everton have been one of those clubs, on the edge. Ever since they finished fourth in the 2004/2005 season, they seemed pegged as the club that might finally challenge for a spot in Europe and do it consistently. But for whatever reason, they’ve been doomed with horrid starts in their campaigns and while ending up respectably in the top 6 or so, they’ve never really been able to kick it to another level that we’ve all been waiting for. And while the fans and the owner have been patient and faithful, this season may be their very last shot at glory.
Everton, in recent memory, have largely been a selling club. Their manager, David Moyes has been commended for his ability to keep Everton as a top 10 caliber club on a shoestring budget. In every transfer window, there seems to be headlines and rumors of an Everton player being plucked away by a bigger club offering higher wages. To date, Everton have been successful at bringing through players that they’ve been able to sell for a handsome amount (Wayne Rooney to Manchester United, Jack Rodwell to Manchester City, Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, and Joleon Lescott to Manchester City). And while most clubs’ fans enjoy the transfer market and love the speculation of incoming players to help improve their club’s chances, I have found many Everton fans dreading this period as the papers often just link their best players to being sold rather than them buying anyone (for example, Leighton Baines to Man Utd and Marouane Fellaini to Chelsea.)
This could be a make or break season for Everton. If they cannot secure qualification for Europe, I cannot see how they can hold onto Baines and Fellaini to balance their books or match the players ambitions to win silverware. They will get good transfer fees from both players, but it won’t change the attitude or the mindset that Everton are a selling club.
But this could all stop with one match in the Champions League. If they succeed in a top 4 finish and win qualification, they’re guaranteed a minimum of €17.2 million. (This is based on the previous two years’ distribution. €10 million, a very conservative estimate, from the market pool and €7.2 million from just participating.) This doesn’t even include any performance bonuses (€800,000 for every win and €400,000 for every draw in the group stage) or gate receipts which the club is allowed to keep.
An injection of cash flow would give the club the chance to change the operations of the club and start competing with the top tier of the Premier League. Top 6 finishes are acceptable and even welcomed when you are battling relegation by the halfway point of the season, but with this campaign they are sitting comfortably in 5th place with a little under half the season to go. I believe it’s time for Everton to finally reach the promised land of the Champions League group stage.