Following a summer of seismic change at Everton in 2013, the club’s long-term ambitions were unclear. Reeling after former manager David Moyes and former star player Marouane Fellaini traded Merseyside for Manchester, plenty anticipated a Toffees demise.
But just over 13 months into his reign as Everton boss, Roberto Martinez — the man who succeeded Moyes — has transformed the club for the better. And there has been no greater indicator of the progress made than the beaming smile on the Catalan’s face as he unveiled Romelu Lukaku in a club record £28 million deal.
Typically, when the terms “£28 million” and “Everton” have been thrown around during summer breaks gone by, it’ll be a paper reporting a story — albeit, usually an unreliable one — about the Toffees selling one of their premier talents. So it’s easy to see why the supporters can’t wait to reach the end of the window with their squad intact.
These days though, there’s a different aura lingering around Goodison Park. For long spells of Moyes’ tenure — while he did a very capable job — supporters were accustomed to tempering their hopes and managing expectations. But ahead of the 2014/15 season, refreshing positivity and ambition anew emits from every pore of the club.
It’s a massive shift in mentality that has left many Evertonians feeling a little vulnerable, it must be said. After all, the club has never spent £28 million in a transfer window in their history, never mind on a single player. A statement signing like this is a very un-Everton thing to do, truth be told.
But after coming so close to a return to Europe’s elite competition last season, Martinez has replaced the stifling aversion that has long accompanied Everton’s transfer windows with his invigorating and infectiously upbeat stamp. The club have acquired one of the brightest young forwards on the planet after all, just a day after tying down a young midfielder of comparable quality and potential (Ross Barkley) to a new long-term deal.
Ultimately, it’s the manager who has played the most pertinent role in facilitating these bold changes in mentality. During his time in the Goodison Park hotseat, he has implemented an enthralling and adaptive stylistic mantras, reduced the average age of the squad and afforded young players a chance to make an impression in the first team.
Martinez has also challenged the narrative of “plucky little Everton” and irritantingly clichéd tags like “consistent overachievers”. He’s chosen to immerse himself in the fabric of the club, embrace its glittering history and draw on that for inspiration. He’s not treated Everton’s rarely mentioned nine league titles and five FA Cup wins as an unattainable, intimidating totem, but a benchmark for the current crop to aspire towards.
The signings he’s made have been superb, too. After receiving spades of criticism for the astute manner in which he utilized the loan system last season, Martinez has already brought back two of the club’s three loan stars from 2013/14 on permanent deals. You suspect in the latter stages of the window, the Everton boss will look to utilize that particular market again.
Muhamed Besic — a player whose acquisition was somewhat overlooked amongst the furore surrounding Lukaku and Ross Barkley — also looks a very clever purchase for £3.5 million. He too, is just 21 years old.
But the biggest statement of the lot — in terms of premium, significance and somatotype — is indisputably the signing of Lukaku. For almost a decade, the Toffees have been desperate for a player to alleviate their striker deficiencies and in the 21-year-old Belgian, they’ve signed arguably the hottest young striker in the game. In short, it’s an enormous and overdue show of ambition from the club.
It’s an unavoidably exciting purchase for Everton, more so than any other signing because those associated with club know exactly what they’ll get from the Belgian. Admittedly there were spells last season where his game still looked a little raw, but that’s to be expected from any player in this stage of their development.
The most pertinent indicator of his ability are the goals that he has scored in the Premier League; 17 for West Brom — many of which came as a substitute — and 15 for Everton in a season where he missed 10 weeks through injury and two games against Chelsea due to the terms of the loan agreement.
Perhaps this infographic best illustrates the magnificent strides Lukaku has already made at this point in his short career:
Lukaku hailed his new manager as a vital factor in his decision to rejoin the Toffees. And it’s easy to see why.
Martinez improved Lukaku’s game substantially during his loan spell on Merseyside; the forward is sharper off the ball, stronger with his back to goal and much more decisive in possession. From an Evertonian perspective, it’s going to be exciting to see what the duo can produce with a full pre-season together and a five-year deal in the bag.
Indeed, the future looks astonishing bright for Everton. In John Stones, James McCarthy, Barkley and Lukaku, the Toffees have a talented young spine and those players can be the bedrock of Everton development for years to come.
They are four players that for one reason or another were nowhere near the Everton first-team last season. But after just over a year in charge of the club, Martinez has established an exciting and youthful nexus of players that he hopes in time, will be capable of inspiring the club back to the peak of the Premier League.
The terms used by both Lukaku and Barkley throughout their respective press conferences offer a glimpse into the kind of environment the former Wigan boss has conjured at Goodison Park: “hope”, “ambition”, “titles”, “belonging”, “exciting”.
Martinez has this club on a rapid ascent, and clearly, one of the most exciting young strikers in the game thinks so too.
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