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Guest article: The failure of the transfer window

Life long blue and still regular match-goer despite the distances he has to travel, ToffeeDoug pens a guest article on his thoughts on the state of Everton

As Sean Dyche understands more about the grim reality of our playing situation and is trying to best organise the playing resources available to him, a month has passed since the close of the January transfer window. A window entered into with the general fan consensus that the club required two forwards, and with the sale of Anthony Gordon, the two then became three. So why was no one recruited, whether purchased or loaned in, despite the overarching need to do so? Why even sell Gordon when the same accounting profit of £45m could still have been achieved by keeping him for the remainder of the season and selling before 30th June 2023 (to keep that profit in the current financial year)?

Even judged by the rapidly diminishing standards of Moshiri’s seven-year hitch at the club the failure to sign even one player, never mind three, seems scarcely believable. The backdrop of uncertainty against which the club is operating is painfully apparent to all fans. It was essential that the transfer window was a successful one to give the club the very best chance of avoiding relegation from the top flight for the first time since 1951.  Everton were the lowest scorers in the Premier League and the improving form of Leicester, Wolves and West Ham was already beginning to reduce the pool of clubs that could realistically be relegated. And we had the near-absurdity of appointing a new manager who was then not able to bring in any new players to arrest the decline! 

So, what can we understand about the circumstances driving these outcomes and the ensuing failure? Was it a deliberately chosen gamble on the part of the club or a combination of other factors both within and outside their control? If the club did choose to be inactive, then they were signing off a risky approach so huge it could conceivably put in danger the very future of the club itself. Was it an act of deliberate negligence rarely, if ever, seen before in modern football? 

2nd successive relegation fight

Facing a second successive season in a relegation fight the club simply couldn’t be sure what division the team would be playing in next season. A new stadium, due to ready for competitive games in August 2024, for which the club does not currently possess the funding to complete. Would relegation deter investors in the club, either for a partial or full sale? Would relegation necessitate a fire sale of players as the club sought to drastically reduce the wage bill in response to decreased broadcasting revenues? And all conducted against the pressure of striving to achieve an immediate return to the top-flight, both to maximise the opportunities offered by the new stadium and to avoid the impact of parachute payments becoming slashed in the second season of Championship football.

It is abundantly clear that those potential perilous outcomes should weigh heavily in any contemplation by the club (the owner, the Board, the Director of Football) as to the desired level of transfer activity to undertake in January. Although there are umpteen instances of terrible financial and recruitment decisions stemming from the club since 2017, I’m prepared to accept in this instance that the club were not delusional or ignorant about the consequences of inactivity. Quite simply, even the most incompetent business leaders and managers could surely grasp those realities and not just choose to cover their eyes and hope for the best! (I know, I know…)

So, if we grudgingly give the club the benefit of the doubt that they did want to engage in some degree of transfer window activity, then what went so badly wrong? There was certainly no lack of preparation time available, four months since the close of the summer transfer window then topped up by the month of January as well. Against a backdrop of our playing form declining rapidly once football resumed after the World Cup. We also had a relatively new Director of Football, no doubt eager to impress and prove his worth with the research done into available talent at the right price to us. 

Last minute dot com fiasco

And yet once again, as fans, we had to endure the usual spectacle of a ‘last-minute dot com’ fiasco unfolding on transfer deadline day. The lights on at Finch Farm but “no business expected to be completed” using the accepted parlance. And then the club spin doctors got to work with their client media by insulting the intelligence of already exasperated fans with reports of the Chairman ’working the phones’. We then learned later that the Chairman personally decided against pursuing the transfer of Marko Arnautovic because of his wage and length of contract demands. Therefore, a decision was purposefully made by a Board member to leave the club with what it had as a squad, no matter how meagre, financial reasons precluding the recruitment of an ageing, expensive player, albeit one with valuable Premier League experience. 

Was the paucity of our transfer window activity once again dictated by the years of chronic financial mismanagement since 2017 that has left the club in ‘financial special measures’ with the Premier League (with recovery plan actions on reduced transfer spending, a lower wage bill and maintaining a minimum cash balance in the bank). However, we could surely have expected some limited part at least of the funds received from the Anthony Gordon sale to have been invested in new players. Although the 2021-22 financial accounts have yet to be published (the statutory deadline of 31st March 2023 is beginning to loom large here) and yet another loss-making year is widely forecast, I’m not convinced that our parlous financial situation alone was responsible the transfer window inactivity.

I think we have to consider whether the now infamous dysfunctional decision-making systems at the club prevented our ability to close out a deal. A Director of Football, maybe still embracing the full enormity of the tasks in hand in the ambit of his role and with little prior experience in the nitty gritty of closing deals, passing his thoughts upwards to the Chairman and upwards again the owner. A model not exactly built for speed of action or possessing the necessary flexibility to respond to changing situations. But a model nonetheless, with proper leadership shown, that should still have prepared a fully costed recruitment plan ready for the opening of the transfer window on 1st January. 

Leadership and establishing priorities

And as for leadership and establishing priorities? Our owner who in mid-January glibly promised to get us a forward if we needed a forward. An owner not seen at a home game for 16 months. An owner maybe distracted by the chance to sell at least a 25% stake in the club if not more.  An owner maybe aware of the attractiveness to new investors of keeping unspent cash in the bank. An owner who told us he is happy to defer player recruitment responsibility to his Chairman, a person who has overseen the long-term decline of the club and who will always devote the last few hours of every transfer deadline day to ‘working the phones’.

We also know from anecdotal evidence provided by the media that some potential signings did not view joining Everton as being a viable proposition for their career. Additionally, some clubs were allegedly concerned about loaning a player to Everton (the player mooted here was Anthony Elanga coming from Man Utd) as the current environment of fan dissent towards the Board could be damaging to their developmental prospects. In this respect the failure to do any incoming business in the transfer window can be firmly placed on the Board and owner for turning the club into a toxic brand.

There is no clear single reason for the failure to sign any player in January but a massive failure it remains. In my mind, it is less to do with a deliberate wilful negligence to ignore the enormous risk of the situation and probably more to do with the usual failings at the club – impact, financial mismanagement, poor leadership, dysfunctional systems and the declining attractiveness of the club to new players. As with so much at Everton, it’s undoubtedly a mishmash of this, that and the other, a complex jigsaw of many pieces, some missing, and we have long since lost the picture on the box to guide us. The truth is that we will probably never know the exact reasons for the inactivity shown in the January 2023 transfer window but we might soon be having to learn to deal with the very real consequences of that failure.

Toffee Doug

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