Roberto Martinez was keen to emphasize that there’s a bright future ahead on the pitch for Everton in a recent interview with some local supporter-run outlets.
At the end of a season which saw the Toffees regress from daring and diligent to often shackled and occasionally soporific, the Catalonian was trying to paint a picture of prosperous campaigns come.
As an eminently positive individual, that’s to be expected. And with a core of vibrant young players, primarily consisting of John Stones, James McCarthy, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, he’s probably right to be upbeat.
But when pressed on whether the club would be willing to spend another £28 million this summer—the amount splashed to land Lukaku ahead of last season—Martinez’s retort was abrupt. “£28 million!? Maybe in a couple of years time!”
It was a quip which drilled home just how important and how difficult this summer is set to be for Everton. As was evident by the scarcely attended lap of appreciation, this disastrous campaign has manifested as apathy amongst the fanbase; improvements must be made to capture affections once again.
There are plenty expecting the club to revert to type again next season, simply because of a lack of European commitments. Granted, the Europa League has put strain on Everton and it’s been a treacherously steep learning curve for all associated with the club. But to attribute the Toffees’ issues to that competition entirely would be simplistic and naive.
Martinez has much to address this summer. It’s wonderful having a nexus of quality youngsters, but those players need complementing; as the Catalan has said himself on myriad occasions, it means Everton are going to have to get “creative” when it comes to the acquisition of various players.
Any incomings will also be offset against a host of names set to leave the club in the coming months. Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz will both depart, Kevin Mirallas’ future remains a mystery and the promising Luke Garbutt could walk away for nothing. Question marks also linger regarding the role a lot of aging, injury-prone players such as Steven Pienaar, Arouna Kone and Tony Hibbert; all experienced figures, but if they were to move on, would recoup very little in terms of monetary value.
It’s going to be a testing off-season. Martinez has already outlined the need for a player with guile that can fill the void which has been left by Pienaar’s perennial injury problems. But the reality is that all facets of the squad need replenishment and that’s before the aforementioned cull even begins in earnest.
Young players will have to be drafted in, that much is a given. The Goodison faithful have been given a taster of Brendan Galloway lately, who showed an endeavor and intelligence that belied his 19 years in two Premier League starts in the season’s final two matches.
Others will need to play a role too. Garbutt, if he stays, has the talent to push Leighton Baines for a starting spot. There have also been fleeting glimpses of Tyias Browning and Ryan Ledson around the first team squad, although none were entrusted with a starting spot as Everton’s disastrous campaign meandered to a disappointing end.
In addition to some shrewd on-field dealings, there also needs to be some overdue direction from the top. Of course, a poor season breeds unrest, but there’s an increasing number of supporters who are becoming disillusioned with those in executive roles at Everton. With good reason too.
The news that another potential stadium project at Walton Hall Park is on the brink of collapse has done little to placate matters, especially when added to the King’s Dock disappointment, the Kirkby move, the Kitbag deal, Everton Place and various other fiascos that have failed under this regime. These are bald facts and in the case of the King’s Dock stadium, defining opportunities that have slipped by.
Is there any wonder there’s burgeoning concern that this team is sleepwalking towards plain insignificance? After all, following a Premier League in which plenty went exactly as expected, the Toffees’ deterioration should have been a significant story.
But questions about the club’s continued financial plight, the lack of direction and years without a trophy have been scarce or simply asked of other, more illustrious institutions. Indeed, gallingly for some, these questions are being asked of Liverpool—a club that splashed in excess of £100 million last summer, are expanding their stadium and finished second in the Premier League 12 months ago— by local and national media outlets, but not Everton.
— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) May 24, 2015
That’s no criticism of the press—who can only reflect the current demographic, plenty of which are content with matters—nor is this a call to arms to sack the board and boycott. But some proactive action is clearly required to prevent the Toffees becoming an irrelevance, because at the moment, that’s their sentence. That’s where they are heading if no initiative is taken and the first signs of that process have began manifest.
It’s where these issues tie back in with what goes on on the pitch. In terms of personnel, the Toffees have an exciting foundation and a clutch of prodigious players many will look upon enviously. But the club is stuttering blindly into a flush new era of Premier League football, while others are primed wide-eyed to pluck the riches that are there for the taking.
If that continues to happen, how long will Everton continue to cover their ears with one hand and point towards an effervescent nucleus with the other? How long will they be able to realistically stave off interest of illustrious outfits sniffing around these players? And when those days do eventually and, at this juncture, inevitably come, will anyone other than those in royal blue even care?
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball