The death of Howard Kendall a few months ago reminded us of what Everton once was. This season’s topsy-turvy Premier League made us dream of what Everton could be again. But instead of competing with the likes of Leicester City and Crystal Palace to qualify for Europe, the Toffees are struggling to win games even at Goodison Park and appear stuck in neutral. What is even worse is that this current Everton squad is arguably far more talented than any of the sides that David Moyes guided to consistent top 8 finishes between 2007 and 2013.
When Roberto Martinez replaced David Moyes as Everton manager almost three years ago, making the top four was an established goal. Martinez, who had guided Swansea to promotion from League One and kept Wigan improbably in the Premier League for many years while also winning a FA Cup trophy, was seen as a manager in demand. The type of slick passing football that Martinez advocates had become part of the ethos of Swansea and allowed Wigan to punch slightly above their weight for a few seasons.
But the jump from provincial club to Everton, a historic powerhouse, is not always smooth.
The Toffees played slick football in 2013-14, In Martinez’s first season, Everton fell just short of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. That season, Everton finished ahead of Manchester United for the first time in the Premier League era. Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Gareth Barry all came to the Toffees on loan that season and excelled.
However, the last two seasons have shown the limitations of Martinez’s managerial capability. While the side has been able to spend more freely than in Moyes reign, evidenced by the outright purchase of Lukaku, the club has found itself in a mid-table mire the last two seasons. In the final seasons of Moyes tenure, the financial situation at Goodison Park was so bad that Everton had to get creative with transfers, depend on loan players and develop scouting networks in the Americas to find bargain players nobody else in England were looking at.
Contrast that with today where the club, instead of selling its top players, was able to reject a reported £30 million offer from Chelsea for John Stones this past summer, and bring Deulofeu permanently to Everton from Spain.
Martinez’s side has won plaudits for their attacking intent, slick passing and silky movement. This came after years of pragmatically negative tactics by Moyes, who often relied on the ability of Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini, among others, to play above their talent levels in a regimented tactical setup. Yet under Martinez, the results are plain and simply not as good as they were under Moyes. This cannot be disputed even by the most ardent Martinez proponent.
In a season where the traditional top Premier League sides are all struggling in some form, the opportunity for an outsider to strike and finish in the top four or perhaps even win a Premier League title is greater than ever before. Everton is a club that has been lurking just beneath the top sides for so long that it’s logical to think, especially with the rich goal scoring form of Lukaku, that this should have been the year they made the top 4 and pushed for the title.
When the club rejected Chelsea’s overtures for Stones, my thinking at the time was that Everton’s Chairman Bill Kenwright and Martinez both smelled the opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Champions League by finishing in the top 4 and were holding onto Stones for that reason. Now with the January window open and Everton sitting behind the likes of Leicester City, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Watford in the Premier League table, it’s entirely a different situation.
Martinez’s image has been crafted by a likable media personality, and his frequent appearances as a pundit on American television during major international tournaments. Moyes, by contrast, was always seen as dull and boring, a dour man to match his tactical inflexibility.
But Everton this season seem well-adrift of where they should be.
A saving grace, perhaps, are the opportunities that come in the form of cup competitions. Martinez has a chance to make the finals of League Cup if he can successfully navigate Everton through the semifinals against Manchester City. Ironically, Martinez’s greatest triumph was leading Wigan to an improbable victory in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 2013 over Manchester City. But since taking over Everton, Martinez has drawn with Manuel Pellegrini’s side once and lost four times. By contrast, David Moyes’ last eight matches against the same Manchester City side as Everton Manager featured six wins, one draw and one loss.
It’s difficult to put a positive spin on Martinez’s Everton record when compared to Moyes. Martinez has a more expensively crafted and talented side that is achieving inferior results – this simply cannot be challenged. However, since Everton is unlikely to ever be relegated from the top flight (the club has spent more seasons in top flight English football than any other), perhaps fans prefer the entertainment of a Martinez side to the monotony of what Moyes built at Goodison Park? If this is not the case, Martinez better start winning quickly because by any objective standard Everton is not hitting the heights they should at the current time.
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