It’s the 15th July, the World Cup Final has just finished, and undoubtedly for many Evertonians attention will return to the fact we’ve not signed anyone to date, in this window.
Frustration, disbelief, anger, and fear are just some of the emotions expressed on social media, no doubt accelerated by the changes to the English transfer window. This year’s window for purchases, at least, closes on Thursday 9th August, 2 days before the opening fixture of the 2018/19 season.
I’d like to examine the logical reasons for not having done business so far.
Let’s start with what we know.
We have a new manager, and most importantly a new Director of Football. Both have been tasked with two priorities. Repairing the footballing, economic and I’d say cultural damage ravaged upon the club during the Koeman/Walsh and Allardyce/Walsh reigns, and secondly build a sustainable footballing platform from which we can develop an Everton specific footballing ethos throughout the club.
The ills of the club are not going to be fixed by a few quick player acquisitions this window. The solutions are much more complex, and to be sustainable will take some time.
So deep and significant is the damage caused by the last two years of mismanagement that this is a task of almost Herculean proportions. It cannot be, and will not be solved in one window, especially a World Cup window. The repair and restructuring must be viewed over a period of time, certainly three windows, two seasons, at least.
It’s also set against a decidedly poorer economic situation and outlook for the club than that of two years ago – more on that later.
Let’s start with the footballing damage. We have a decidedly weaker, poorer and less balanced squad of players than the squad inherited by Koeman. We have sold our best players (Stones, Lukaku, Barkley, Deulofeu) and recruited, in the main, poorer, more expensive replacements. Players such as Williams, Bolasie (possibly due to injury), Schneiderlin, Klaassen, and Ramirez have been poor and expensive replacements. Tellingly we have been unable to move on the “deadwood”, those contracted by Everton but unlikely to feature or contribute much to the first team. As a result, the squad size has ballooned, and we have a large number of players with no realistic chance of first team football, picking up wages and reducing the cohesion of the club.
Leadership is another critical aspect for this season. We have lacked leadership over the pitch for many years in my opinion, not only from a playing captain but also from the manager/coach. We’ve lacked a clear identity. A mark of our determination to change the ethos of the club should be made apparent in the recognition of a new Captain. In his tenth year at the club, there is no stronger candidate than Seamus Coleman. Not only does he represent the finest of the Everton spirit, he has the strength of character to inspire others to work harder, and give more than their talent suggests.
We do have a great deal of young talent, developed at Finch Farm, or acquired early in their careers. It’s probably true to say in the last 12 months the progress of pretty much all of that talent base has stalled. I can only assume that’s a combination of poor management, training and the general atmosphere within the football club. The development of this talent will be critical for both footballing but also economic reasons. It will be one of the primary objectives for both Silva and Brands.
There have been many reasons put forward as to why we haven’t signed anyone yet. Let’s be clear, the squad size, the amount spent in the last two years (£259 million out-goings, and £167 million in receipts) and particularly the increase in wages (2015/16 £94 million, 2016/17 £106 million, and 2017/18 est £139.5 million) are not sustainable, particularly the wage spend.
We cannot only generate £175-£185 million per annum in revenues and spend £140 million of that on wages. Champions League participation supports that (and higher) wage spend. However, we currently remain a club that qualifies irregularly for the Europa League. Therefore, the wage bill has to be reduced.
It is clear from the comments by Moshiri at the AGM in January and subsequent comments by Silva and Brands that the squad size must be reduced along with the total wage bill before significant player incomings will be considered. This is based on the not unreasonable assumption that Moshiri is keeping his resources for the stadium rather than ploughing even more capital into the playing squad. Equally, lenders will need to see a cost base in line with current income, particularly in the period between borrowing funds and the new stadium opening.
The build cost of the stadium has increased significantly in the last two years (which begs the question about the delays in the last 12 months…) rising from an estimated £300-350 million to a figure likely to be in excess of £500 million. This change, without a significant capital injection by Moshiri and/or other investors will impact our ability to spend on transfers and on wages.
Assuming we can borrow 75% of the cost of the stadium (either from the Council plus a lender, or from a number of private sector financial institutions), the club is still at least £125 million short of the total cost. This will have to be met by shareholders, most likely in its entirety by Moshiri himself.
This is set against a potentially difficult time for Moshiri’s main business interests, his operating environment has changed significantly since February 2016. This does not mean as some have suggested he’s run out of cash or has no wealth, however this clearly impacts our ability to spend expansively, especially whilst the wage bill runs amock.
Therefore this window will not be like last year’s signing fest which ultimately has proved to be disastrously expensive in so many ways. I’d argue even if it was, that it would not solve the ills of the club.
Off the pitch
Whilst on the pitch requires, by necessity, patience, off the pitch the club can make decisive moves which should produce quicker returns on investment than the playing side. If we as fans want to demonstrate impatience, then it is to be directed at the board. Decisiveness and speed must be the only way forward. Ensuring Bramley-Moore is funded, approved and built on time and in budget. Ensuring that the commercial performance of the club, it’s expectations and global growth plans are agreed and executed by experienced commercial professionals with a career record of operating in fast growing companies. Success in this area makes the roles of Brands and Silva so much easier, allowing for higher ambitions and targets to be set. The reverse though is also true, which is why the board should have no greater priority than ensuring (as with the footballing side) removal of the deadwood and the introduction of proven, fresh, hungry talent in the boardroom.
Brands and Silva have to restructure the footballing side of the organisation. Given that primarily involves (other than building an organisational structure throughout the club) moving those not wanted out, reducing costs, and replacing with younger, less expensive but higher potential players, it requires patience. That cannot be done in one window, it might be done in three or four. In that time we can hope for an improvement on the pitch, a better style of football, a return to the “Everton way”, a recognisable improvement path and perhaps a realistic go at the Cup competitions.
It will require a huge amount of patience from fans. To be fair to fans, it also urgently requires an explanation from those in charge, particularly at Board level.