Plus ca change. It has, in recent seasons, got to the point at which we could set our watches by the undulations of Evertons season. Pre-Season grumpiness at a relative lack of activity in the transfer market, followed by a slow start to the season during which the a feeling of discontent hangs heavy in the air over Goodison Park and a strong second half to the season which sees the club finish in, all things considered, a relatively healthy position. This time last year, we spoke of this club with an air of weary resignation, a feeling that here was a club that was not reaching its potential through a lack of investment in its playing staff. That feeling remains the same this summer, but with the club not having suffered anything quite as traumatic – yet – as last summers loss of Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, there is, perhaps, a greater feeling of serenity surrounding the clubs support than there was twelve months ago.
Another part of this has been the exceptional form of Nikica Jalevic, whose form last season turned out to be the more pleasant surprises of their season. Jalevic has turned heads but will almost certainly start the new season at Goodison Park, and the arrival of a player at the club who is capable of scratching the itch that supporters have for a figurehead around which they can gather may have had something of a pacifying effect upon a support which remains tetchy after seventeen years without a major trophy. Likewise, the return of Steven Pienaar to the club on a permanent basis after a relatively unhappy spell with Tottenham Hotspur could be regarded as another example of the club satisfying the desires of the support. Pienaar was a popular face at Goodison Park and his return to the club further perpetuate the the feeling that normal service is returning to the club. Joining Pienaar at Goodison Park for the new season is Steven Naismith, who invoked the spirit of Bosman in joining the club from Rangers and is highly-rated but injury prone – a risk, but on a free transfer one probably worth taking.
It’s not all such positive news for the club, though, of course. Evertons most prized asset at the moment seems to be Leighton Baines, a full back of reasonable accomplishment who is now a relatively permanent fixture in the England squad. With such success, however, comes rumours of departure and those linking Baines with a move to Old Trafford have been naggingly persistent. With what has frequently come to be the most frantic period of the transfer window yet to come, it is impossible to say with certainty whether Baines will start the season at Goodison Park or not. Perhaps the most important area of David Moyes job as the clubs manager over the coming weeks will be to ensure that no matter what the ultimate outcome of this particular sub-story is, the impact upon the rest of the squad is kept to a minimum. Meanwhile, Tim Cahill ended eight years with the club for a move to Red Bull New York which raised some eyebrows with a relatively modest transfer fee, though it’s a fee that may be explained by off-loading of a hefty wage bill from the clubs accounts.
Moyes will be used to such considerations by now, of course, and it will, as ever, be upon his shoulders that the often thin margins between success and failure at the club come to rest this season. That he remains at Goodison Park in the first place has at times been a touch and go affair, with the last set of rumours concerning him appearing certain that he would be replacing Harry Redknapp at Spurs at the end of last season. This, of course, proved to be hot air, but the small matter of how much longer Moyes will stay at the club while its financial position remains as uninspiring as it has done in recent years is very much open to question. Moyes has continued to bring the qualities of an alchemist to the managerial position at the club in recent years, but, as with all managers in a similar position, this could hardly be described as a state of affairs of his choosing. A chronic lack of investment in the playing side of the clubs back means that he continues to operate in the transfer market with one hand tied firmly behind his back, and it is in this that we continue to see the potential for storm clouds to descend on Goodison Park this season.
Of course, the line between astute financial management and under-investment can be a very thin one, and Bill Kenwright would be doing few Everton supporters any favours if he splashed an overdraft that the club couldn’t afford to maintain on players. However, there has been little over the last few months to suggest that the club has significantly improved its commercial performance over the last year or so and investment from outside seems to have remained out of reach, in spite of repeated – in some cases more or less literally repeated – media reports that the club has been in negotiations. Everton is a name which should be able to bring in the sort of investment money (and we’re not necessarily talking about the sort of involuntary bead of drool appearing at the corner of the mouth amounts associated with Manchester City or Paris St Germain, either) that would put David Moyes on a level playing field with the clubs that Everton should perhaps be competing directly with. Ultimately, the question that remains just out of reach for the supporters of the club is that of how far this manager can take them. While Everton remain in third financial gear, perhaps the full story on David Moyes as a manager will remain just out of reach.
Perhaps, though, any gloom is a little on the unnecessary side. After all, Everton finished above Liverpool last season and one of the clubs that finished above them in last seasons final Premier League table, Newcastle United, may find it difficult to repeat their achievements from the last time around. With Moyes in charge, the club had nothing like the traumatic season that Aston Villa had and they do have several good young players as well as, in Jelavic, a forward who has already demonstrated that he is plenty capable of troubling any defence in the Premier League. A top half finish in the table will likely be Evertons minimum requirement for the coming months, with the hope of a top six finish or a decent run in one of the domestic cups being more than realistic targets for the coming months. There are ifs and buts, but Everton are certainly capable of improving upon their performance last season.
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