Will the real Everton please stand up

everton-banner

Any good film trying to portray authentic teenage angst has it — the scene where the main character locks itself in a bathroom, flings itself into the driver’s seat of a car, or perhaps collapses against a hallway locker and screams. Screams violently and inexplicably, because there is no outlet. Nobody’s there to listen. Nobody understands. When you’re too young to have shame, drama is enough. Sometimes we all act like the cameras are on.

Everton F.C. fans, I assume, are not teenagers. At least, most of them aren’t. The club is certainly not, though relative to the Premier League (when football began, right?) every club’s young adult, at best, so maybe a hissy fit is appropriate. Still, in the face of last year’s Europa League-induced struggles and the club’s opening round stumble, it’s important to maintain perspective. Everton is one of the most storied clubs in England, and it’s legacy of success extends from the beginnings to organized league play up to the edge of the Premier League, within which it is one of the few teams not to be relegated from the circuit. Only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham can say the same.

Yet this weekend in Southampton, 187 miles from Goodison Park in Liverpool, a plane carrying a banner of protest flew in the face of that history. “KENWRIGHT & CO #TIMETOGO NSND” the trailing banner read, the hashtag a trite, anachronistic touch to a practice that was outdated before Twitter debuted. Hiring a crop duster to pull a tarp over a collection of people gathered to watch something else. Can you be any more droll?

Consider other recent times we’ve seen this technique. In May, Liverpool fans did the same, highlighted their antiquated notion by asking for Rafa Benítez in place of Brendan Rodgers. Since when do Everton fans mimic Liverpool? Worse (and more cliched yet), a similar method was used in December at Major League Soccer’s championship game (MLS Cup) to advocate for promotion-relegation. No word as to whether Bob Haldeman was involved.

SEE MORE: Everton are in danger of falling beyond the Premier League-bolstered mid-table pack

Qualms about originality aside, perhaps Saturday’s brainiacs have a point. Everton is coming off a disappointing 11th place finish, one that took the luster off a manager, Roberto Martínez, who’d been hailed as a savior the year before. Gone was the plodding functionality of the David Moyes era. Now Everton had one of those shiny young managers with today’s newfangled tactical nous. Not surprisingly, the charm of such cliches had little staying power, seemingly exposing chairman Bill Kenwright’s thin wallet.

After the first weekend’s 2-2 draw (gasp) against visiting Watford, some who surely think themselves loyal decided to fly Saturday’s banner, the last four letters of which abbreviated a Latin moto Nil satis nisi optimum (as I said, droll). “Nothing but the best is good enough,” the phrase demanded, as if deciding what’s best is so easy in soccer. Haven’t we been debating Messi versus Ronaldo for years?

Obtaining the best is far more difficult. For 99.9 percent of the world’s clubs, it’s a goal impossible enough to be foolish (a cursory lookacrossEurope shows a graveyard of teams that impaled themselves on such goals). At one time, Everton could compete for First Division titles, and although the Premier League does have an oligarchical feel, those days could, in time, return. But to take the plane’s banner literally would be to imply those Messis and Ronaldos need come to Goodison, that Pep Guardiola should be lured from Manchester City (he’s not there yet?) and Jorge Mendes should be put on retainer to ensure every talent that drifts into the super agent’s nets is delivered to the blue docks of Liverpool.

Surely, the banner’s intent is somewhat less than this utopian goal, but what? True to the awesome utility of the stunt, it didn’t explain (at least online petitions give you room to elaborate), so perhaps they’re relying on us to figure it out. Even then, the purpose of the stunt remains unclear. If it’s unrealistic for Everton to take a Manchester United or Real Madrid-esque spend until the problem’s solved approach, it’s certainly no more realistic to expect spending in line with Manchester City, Chelsea, or other clubs who’ve been blessed with rare owners. For years, Arsenal was an example of greater prudence, but even the spending on the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil seems illustrious. After all, how many teams can afford to buy players Real Madrid and Barcelona are begrudgingly letting go?

Liverpool is a special case, having spent themselves into confusion, leaving only the Tottenhams, Southamptons, Swanseas, Newcastles and Stokes of the world as comparables – other teams which have consistently breached or threatened the table’s top half over the last handful of seasons. But is the gap between these clubs and Everton so large that we need the crop duster doomsday device?

Perhaps that question’s presumptuous. Is there a gap at all? Consider the last decade of top-tier life for the 20 clubs currently in the Premier League:

TeamSeasons in top flightAvg. WinsAvg. PointsAvg. Finish
Aston Villa101248.111.7
Arsenal1021.3733.6
Bournemouth0000
Chelsea1024.480.72.4
Crystal Palace21346.510.5
Everton10 (t-1st)15.8 (7th)58.9 (7th)7.1 (7th)
Leicester City1114114
Liverpool1020.069.24.8
Manchester City1019.5666.2
Manchester United1025.382.62.0
Newcastle United912.446.412.0
Norwich City31041.313.7
Southampton31452.39.7
Stoke City7124711.6
Sunderland99.237.814.9
Swansea City412.547.810
Tottenham1017.862.85.8
Watford152820
West Bromwich Albion710.340.714.0
West Ham United911.744.112.8

There are six clubs that have performed better than Everton — Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City — but if Tottenham is that sixth of six, is Everton really that far off? Two years ago, the Toffees finished above Spurs, just as they’ve done two other times in the past decade. Spurs’ highs have been higher, finishing fourth twice (Everton’s highest finish in the last 10 seasons is fifth, three times), but their lows have been just as low, having slumped to 11th in 2007-08, albeit in a season the club claimed the League Cup.

So Tottenham has been better than Everton, but who’s next? Southampton, on wins- and points-per-season, but that’s also a club that was in the third tier four years ago. Aston Villa, the team which Martin O’Neill pegged above David Moyes’s while the two were at Villa Park and Goodison? That team hasn’t finished higher than 15th in four years. West Ham, Swansea, Newcastle? None of these teams have had the consistent success of Everton.

And yes, it is success. Being a reliable presence in the top half of any major league is a success, if a relative one. But with a team of Everton’s means — with limited stadium revenue and commercial potential which, while still unrealized, will always be sixth or seventh in the league’s pecking order — it’s notable that a £28 million player is on the books (Romelu Lukaku). James McCarthy cost the club £13 million. The club spent a combined £12.7 million in the summer of 2012 to bring in Bryan Oviedo, Kevin Mirallas and (bring back) Steven Pienaar.

Sure, this isn’t Manchester City, but that’s an unreasonable standard. When the club has needed players, it’s been able to spend reasonably to do so. When it needs to take on the wages of a Gareth Barry, it can, while a windfall like Marouane Fellani’s means it can get a secure a Romelu Lukaku. All the while, the club has been able to keep players like Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka in blue, and having garnered a reputation as a place players have enjoyed playing, Everton is better situated than most to leverage the grotesque television money about to flood club coffers.

That’s not as much transfer activity as Spurs, who’ve used the draw of London, the club’s commercial power, and the benefits of White Hart Lane to edge ahead of Everton, but to ask Kenwright and his board to overcome all those obstacles is to ask for something remarkable. And to ask for only the best, as if Everton will ever reasonably compete with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in that regard, is to buy into a fantasy more cliched than Saturday’s crop duster. Only a set of fans short-sighted enough to ignore the 72-point season finished 15 months ago would ever come of that conclusion.

Everton have problems, but they’re relative, and with the realities of the Premier League, those relative problems will always exist. You can’t spin a propeller and make the Toffees into Paris Saint-Germain, nor can you pull back on a joystick and make Kenwright into an oil baron. With the new Financial Fair Play restrictions, it’s unclear how much that would actually help. And while Goodison Park remains behind the times and the club’s commercial potential remains just that, potential, what would those improvements even mean? Perhaps catching up to Tottenham — a team on its fourth coach since 2012 — but the teams above that are out of any foreseeable reach.

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5 Comments

  1. John sweeney August 17, 2015
  2. Rod Dickinson August 17, 2015
  3. Dave Teece August 18, 2015
  4. Anthony August 18, 2015
  5. peter smith August 18, 2015

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