The January transfer window is open and as usual there will be thousands of column inches and podcast minutes devoted to speculation about players arriving or departing Finch Farm.
Twelve months into his tenure as manager at Everton, Ancelotti has become the public face and voice of all matters relating to football. Director of Football, Marcel Brands, publicly at least, is much less visible. With Brands’ three year contract due to expire in June 2021 there is speculation as to his future role in the club. Personally, I believe he is integral to our future. Yes, Ancelotti (and most likely Moshiri) will wish to dominate future player acquisitions which is arguably inconsistent with the strategy and purpose of having a Director of Football. However, player acquisition is only part of Brands’ role . (Indeed transfers generally are only part of the role). In addition to the academy, sports science, sports medicine etc, moving players on either permanently or on loan is equally important, especially given the continued stretching of Everton’s finances. Portfolio management of the squad of players is extremely important.
Marcel Brands joined Everton in June 2018 after the madness and indiscipline of the summer of 2017 and January 2018 recruitment (during which £183 million was spent on player acquisitions). In order to assess the task before him it is worth looking back at the squad he inherited. As at the end of the 2017/18 season, this is the group of players contracted to Everton:
A total of 48 players costing the club £145.5 million in wages and carrying £66.9 million in amortisation costs. Of the 48 players, as at the beginning of January 2021, just 30 months on, only 14 remain contracted to the club. Among the 14 there are Besic, Bolasie and Broadhead, each with contracts expiring in June 2021 and with no prospect of making an appearance in the Everton first XI before their contracts expire. Thus in less than 3 years, less than 25% of the initial squad remain.
Analysing the movements of players year by year, there are several key characteristics – a somewhat eclectic but improving purchasing pattern, a huge number of loan moves (particularly at U-23 and out of favour senior players) and some very astute disposals. There’s also a persistent core of nonperforming player assets.
Key purchases: Richarlison, Mina, Digne, Bernard (free)
Key loans in: Zouma, Gomes
Key sales: Klaassen, Funes-Mori, Browning, Robles (free), Rooney (free)
Key loans out: Mirallas, Besic, Ramirez, Williams, Bolasie, Martina, Niasse, Holgate
As a result of the player movements, Everton spent £89.8 million, received £25.8 million and made a player trading profit of £20.3 million. Wages increased to £160 million and amortisation to £95.1 million – however, with regards to those figures, it should be noted that the financial year was 13 months as the year end moved to end of June.
Manager: Silva, Ancelotti
Key purchases: Iwobi, Kean, Gomes, Gbamin, Delph, Branthwaite
Key loans in: Sidibe
Key sales: Gueye, Lookman, Vlasic, Onyekuru, McCarthy, Mirallas (free), Jagielka (free), Williams (free -end of contract)
Key loans out: Besic, Bolasie
As a result of player movements, Everton spent £108.9 million, received £72.45 million and made a player trading profit of £40.5 million. Wages increased to £164.8 million and amortisation to £99.2 million for the 12 months to June 2020
2020/21 (to date)
Key purchases: Godfrey, Allan, Doucoure, Rodrigues (free), Nkounkou
Key loans in: Olsen
Key sales: Schneiderlin, Dowell, Stekelenburg (free) Garbutt (free), Ramirez (free),
Key loans out: Kean, Walcott, Pennington
End of contract: Niasse, Martina, Tarashaj, Baines (retired)
As a result of player movements in the summer window, Everton spent £67.4 million and received £4.0 million.
The squad now looks as follows (italics U-23s)
Whilst few would argue that the first XI has improved enormously since the summer of 2018, there’s no doubt watching the team play week in week out that the squad remains unbalanced, has significant weaknesses in covering key areas (full backs and central attack) and in need of a player on the right wing. However given the less than ideal circumstances (relating to both Covid and our underlying business model) plus Ancelotti’s & Brands’ reluctance to do business in January, it is difficult to see how that can be achieved in this window. Quizzed regarding transfer activity at the most recent pre-match press conference on December 30th 2020, Ancelotti whilst as ever, masterful at providing non-answers replied ” We are not talking about this. We are focused on recovering the players who have not been with us in this moment.”
With combined losses of greater than £250 million in the last two years, clearly the existing business model is unsustainable (despite a £60 million player trading contribution in that time). For the last 18 months when asked about my view of likely activity in the transfer market, my opinion is that we are not in a position to buy players. However, I have always qualified that with “unless we sell players, take on more debt, or Moshiri funds the transfers through injecting new cash into the club”. The activity noted above demonstrates that under Brands we have managed to move many players on, albeit less quickly in several cases than we would have liked. A core of players with little prospect of playing for the first team remain although this coming summer sees both Besic and Bolasie complete their contracts with no prospect of renewal.
I have argued recently that the two alternative methods of funding transfer activity are extremely unlikely to be available to us in the near future. Given the proposed stadium development, reduced revenues arising from the absence of match-going fans and uncertainty over future broadcasting and commercial revenues, Moshiri’s limit to future funding (as suggested by the proposed share placement) beyond working capital requirements and the fact that we are using the bulk of our credit facilities on normal operating expenditure then the prospect of player acquisitions seems slim.
However the need for player acquisitions and player disposals particularly in the Summer of 2021 is very clear.
A large number of existing players have contracts expiring on or before June 2022. (see below). Of those expiring this summer, Olsen has the prospect of being offered a permanent contract (subject to agreement obviously). Some of the U-23s may be retained but self evidently, Bolasie, Besic and Pennington will leave the club.
The real issue is what to do with the players with contracts expiring in June 2022. Most clubs do not (for obvious reasons) want players they wish to retain entering the final year of their contracts without having or being close to having agreements in place. This summer, that means decisions will have to be made on contract extensions for Sigurdsson, Bernard, Coleman and Delph. Then decisions on younger players such as Kenny, Branthwaite & Baningime. Everton have an 1 year extension option for James Rodrigues.
|*1 yr extension available|
Of the senior players, offering Sigurdsson a two year extension would make financial sense. It would retain a transfer value (should we/he wish to sell/move on) and from an accounting point of view reduce his amortisation costs from £8.9 million a year to £3.8 million (based on a 2 year extension).
Coleman, given his service to the club (and the absence of right full back alternatives) will I imagine, subject to his fitness be offered a 1 year extension. However, what happens to Tosun (assuming no buyers), Bernard, Delph and Kenny?
One of the key tasks of the summer, apart from improving the squad with no doubt, Ancelotti-inspired player acquisitions, is solving the issue of those with 12 months left on their contracts. Not only will we need to have a plan as to who is retained and is useful, who we can sell and who might just see their contracts through to conclusion, we have to have a view on where the replacements are coming from.
Whilst Summer 2021 will no doubt be a buyers market, Everton have significant issues to resolve within their own squad but also face real financial pressures, seemingly have few prospects to be promoted from the academy (Simms, but that’s a different story) and our ability to look overseas for Brands’ inspired bargains potentially curtailed by Brexit.
Against that backdrop, and given the degree of change already made to the squad portfolio, it seems to me that Brands’ job is not even half complete (we haven’t even spoken of the structural and management changes require to the academy). His role as portfolio manager of those contracted to Everton Football Club is not complete. Despite the buffeting winds of managerial changes, Covid and the indiscipline of Everton’s player purchasing in the Moshiri era, Brands has proved (in my opinion) to be adept at his job. We need him to complete the task of removing previous poor acquisitions, retaining upcoming and existing talent and working alongside Ancelotti re player acquisition in difficult times generally but specifically at Everton.