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Liverpool Echo – view from the Gwladys Street

December 29, 2016

the esk

This article first appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 28th December 2016.

1 – How do you judge our season so far?

It’s been a difficult season to date, and despite the hopes of the January transfer window (see below) I think it will continue to be difficult for the following reasons.

We had an appalling summer, and it’s my opinion that this is the primary reason for the levels of performance seen in the first half of the season. The summer, despite the early hopes and ambitions, seemed to be highly disruptive in terms of preparation for the season ahead.

We had a series of unsuccessful attempts (some which got extremely close to closing) with big name players, Moshiri in the early days of the summer was keen on at least one “trophy” player acquisition, sadly however that failed to materialise. Although Koeman was his no.1 choice as manager, it seemed to take an age to complete and for him to arrive at Finch Farm, similarly the recruitment of a director of football seemed less than smooth, although the final signing of Walsh must be viewed as a huge strategic and long term benefit to the club.

As reported the players themselves were less than optimally fit, at least by Koeman’s exacting standards and whilst in recent weeks we’ve seen the team looking much sharper and fitter that was certainly not the case in the early season.

On the pitch there’s been a puzzling lack of drive and ambition in the main. Puzzling because it must be clear that many of the squad are playing for their Everton futures, yet in the main that’s not been apparent much to the dismay of the ever loyal Blue hoards, especially the away support.

There’s evidence in recent weeks of a pick up in form and confidence – an excellent fighting display versus Arsenal followed by a more workman-like performance versus Leicester indicate better times, but from my perspective we won’t see huge progress until we have major personnel changes in the squad and also in the leadership on the pitch.

Jagielka has been a fine player for Everton since his arrival in 2007, but respectfully I believe he has limitations as a Captain on the pitch and whatsmore now appears to be struggling physically with the demands of the ever quickening pace of the Premier League. It might just be that a change of scene for his final years in the Premier League will serve him well and allow us to move on also.If so I’d have no hesitation in appointing Coleman  – a real leader on the pitch and I’m sure he’d be an equally fine club captain, something which Jagielka has excelled at to be fair.

Despite whatever signings we achieve in the January window, I don’t believe we’ll break into the top 6 this season (unless there’s a spectacular loss of form from those above) – best of the rest, the famed 7th place trophy is our realistic target, and hope for Europa League qualification through a FA Cup win.

2 – Lukaku – lazy and not worth £100k a week or a goal machine we should savour?

 

If Martinez did nothing else whilst at Everton he should be remembered as the man who convinced Lukaku to firstly sign on loan and subsequently on a permanent basis. I’ve watched Everton since the early 70’s and with the exception of Lineker’s one season with us, he’s the most efficient, ruthless finisher I’ve seen in a blue shirt.

That’s not to say he’s perfect, he’s not of course, but for the life of me I cannot understand those that wish to see Lukaku moved on in the summer transfer window. Every part of the club should be doing everything it can to retain him,and what’s more use him as a focal point to recruit other highly talented players. He is the only player in the current squad that you can see a Champions League level team being built around in the next two or three years.

His scoring record is exceptional particularly given his age, the relatively struggling team he’s had to play alongside for the last 30 months or so, and largely the absence of tactics suited to his game. If we can fix the issues of a struggling team and play more to a style which suits him – running at goal, partnered by a decent (at least) no.10 then not only will he score at the rate of one goal every other game, he’ll make us a more effective team and reduce the pressure on the defence and the requirement to play two defensive midfielders. Koeman has said we should press from higher up the pitch – yes we can do that, but not when Lukaku is isolated often 20 or 30 yards from the nearest blue shirt.

Just consider his current scoring rate for Everton at the age of 23 – 0.49 goals per game, that compares with some of our recent greats, Latchford (0.47), Royle (0.43), Cottee (0.41) and Sharp (0.36).

In my view it’s essential he signs a new contract, we keep him and build a team around him.

3 – What’s your take on the January transfer window and is it when Steve Walsh really starts earning his corn?

Traditionally a difficult window, but there has to be two major objectives this window. Reduce the number of players currently contracted to the club but not contributing, or likely to the first team or on loan. We have a large number of fringe players who frankly should be playing elsewhere permanently given their limited prospects at Everton – Niasse, Gibson, McGeady, younger players like McAleny, Garbutt and Galloway.

Then we have current squad members who have had game time but without being too harsh probably don’t fit the criteria moving forwards, Oviedo, Cleverly, McCarthy (despite recent upturn), Lennon and even Deulofeu.

Remove the above and we look desperately short on numbers, so yes this is when Walsh has to show he’s putting things in place not only for the short term but for longer term too. The second objective must be to start the recruitment process in January, continuing into the summer of 2017.

In terms of incoming players it is well documented that Schneiderlin and Depay are likely movers from Manchester United to ourselves. Schneiderlin has a good relationship with Koeman and would certainly solve several of our midfield problems. Depay is a highly talented individual who has lost his way somewhat – a Dutch friend is highly excited by the prospect of him regaining his form in a blue shirt.

Elsewhere a central defender (particularly if Jagielka was to leave) is essential. I’ve heard the Van Dijke has a great relationship not only with Koeman but his family – he’d be a tremendous acquisition both as a player but also as a statement if we could beat off the inevitable interest from Champions League level clubs.

I’m sure Wash has a couple of players not currently in the spotlight (as with Gueye) and I’d like to think he’s looking at a playmaker in midfield and someone to play alongside Lukaku.

If we could do early business on Lookman (from Charlton), Schneiderlin and Depay and then bring in Van Dijke plus a couple of Steve Walsh “finds” it would be a hugely successful window.

4 – What are your hopes ahead of the club’s General Meeting on January 4?

I’ll try and be brief. Above all else shareholders and fans need information. For all the wonderful work the club does on so many fronts providing information on the business of the club is not one of them. Now I understand that Everton are a private company and obviously there has to be commercial confidentiality,but we are due a lot if information on many important aspects of the club and our future.

Clearly the biggest issue and the one where information is so keenly sought after is the future ground move. I can’t think of a better statement in terms of the direction of the club that for the board to announce the agreement in principle (subject to planning permission) of the acquisition of the Bramley Moore dock site.

As the senior club in the City of Liverpool there would be nothing more fitting than the toes of our new stadium dipping into the waters of the Mersey.

Additionally I’d be keen to hear about the future financing of the stadium, the future ownership structure of the club – will Moshiri become outright owner or be happy to own a significant majority?

Clearly to compete against much more heavily resourced clubs in the Premier League we need to address our commercial performance. In recent years it has been constrained by a lack of capital, and dare I say it a lack of ambition from the board – those issues under Moshiri should no longer apply. It is time to hear of new plans for transforming our commercial performance so we can compete once more at the top of the Premier League.

I’ll touch on a couple of other items further down

5 – Will Ross Barkley ever be the player we hoped?

I guess the first question is whether or not our hopes were realistic? He’s a highly talented individual who has shown glimpses of being able to compete with the finest midfielders in the game, but, and it’s a big but, the hopes we placed on him have to date far exceeded his contribution regardless of his abilities.

For Koeman I believe the Barkley issue is the single largest issue of his management of Everton. Can Koeman provide whatever it is that’s required to see the fulfilment of his talents and our dreams? Perhaps it’s too early in Koeman’s reign but I don’t see any evidence to date that he’s worked out how best to play Barkley – advanced position or concentrate on a deeper more defensive role?

Perhaps Barkley himself doesn’t know the answer to his best position? For all his talent he doesn’t seem to have a firm idea of how he himself should play. Maybe that’s what makes him a difficult player to manage?Perhaps that is what is required – Ross himself to say, “OK this is my position, I’m going to make it my own and you (Koeman) can build a midfield around me”

The fear is that unless Ross imposes himself or Koeman imposes a workable solution on Ross we will never see the best of him, and either Ross or Koeman will lose patience and he’ll move to another club. It would be soul destroying to see another great young homemade talent have to move elsewhere to fulfil ambitions, albeit for very different reasons.

In the meantime every Blue should be fully behind Ross and make his job of finding himself in a Koeman team as easy as possible – Ross must know that every Blue wants him to succeed – at Everton.

6 – Any other business?

I’m from a family of Blues that stretches back in one form or another to our first game at Goodison. Throughout we’ve seen good times, great times and some pretty awful times also. However we’ve always believed not only are we the senior club in the city we are one of the greatest club teams in the history of the game.

The difficulty in recent years is seeing us not able to compete on the pitch because of the lack of resources and ambition off it. I believe that’s changing now, and I’m genuinely hopeful of our gradual rise back to the top of the game on the back of a well resourced owner, ambition on and off the pitch, a great manager and a highly competitive squad.

To achieve that the Moshiri influence has to increase and accelerate – the longer our transformation takes to come about the greater the gap between ourselves and the 6 clubs above us.

If the ambitions of the fans are to be met we have no time to waste. We must see huge improvements on the pitch and also off it. We need to invest in a new stadium asap, we need to bring new talent into the top of the club to drive us forward in the way our competitors have done in recent years. Accept with one difference, I want it done the Everton way, with a certain class and dignity, a recognition of our past, and most importantly retaining our roots in and our support of our community.

It’s a huge amount to ask for, but then if we are going to be true to our club motto we have a huge amount to do.

Nil satis nisi optimum is not just a motto, it should be the manner in which everything that has the Everton name attached to it should be done.

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