Ambition is our guide, not a distraction.
With everything that has gone at Everton in recent years, you could be forgiven in thinking that what goes on on the pitch is not necessarily many people’s or indeed the organisation’s utmost priority.
At the cusp of change, and despite a few wobbles along the way, we are at that point, there’s no doubt in my mind, we have to leave the current Everton, the old Everton behind.
There is a huge need for reform and transformation on a scale that’s never been seen at Everton and I suspect few other clubs. Football clubs, despite representing the pinnacle of their professional sport, tend to be deeply conservative organisations with small “c” conservative fanbases, and with only a few exceptions highly resistant to change.
Change is going to define us. The scope, scale and speed of change is what will move us from a barely functioning organisation struggling to survive to a modern, self-assured, assertive and competitive football club. A club that knows itself, knows where it is heading competitively and is confident in engaging with all stakeholders, specifically and with priority, including fans, not from a sense of duty, but with purpose and ambition.
Rightly, heritage, culture and the identity of a football club and its fans, particularly one with a history so rich and a connection to its city, with its contribution to the development of the game nationally and globally, is important and carries great value. It creates a unique identity and an invaluable IP all of its own. Something in the hands of skilled commercial operators to be exploited appropriately, thoughtfully but productively. A new Everton should embrace all of this and implement its values and principles effectively and meaningfully to the benefit of the club, city and all stakeholders.
Let’s be clear, leaving the old Everton behind is not a betrayal of its principles. The betrayal of its principles is leaving a system of failure in place.
The system of failure is something that has been allowed to evolve over time. Like a poorly maintained car, or a building left to rack and ruin, Everton’s ability to compete, our ability to make the correct decisions and then execute them well has deteriorated. Unfortunately in the last few years this deterioration has accelerated at a time when greater competition (the emergence of state funding in football) and macro conditions (Covid and specifically for Everton, the illegal invasion of Ukraine) have created strong head winds blowing against an increasingly weakening (in absolute and relative terms) entity.
So what do we want from a new Everton?
In simple language, we require an organisation that maximises the amount of resources available to create a successful football team, whilst simultaneously building infrastructure, systems and people that use those resources as efficiently as possible and with greater intellect and purpose than our competitors.
When evaluating the potential for any company to compete in any market place we have to look at the existing resources and product on offer, we have to look at the amount of new resources which can be made available to improve and develop, and look at the quality of the people who are going to plan and execute the strategies which make us competitive and perform in line with our ambitions and beyond in the future.
Clearly when we look at the existing resources and footballing product available, the cupboard is exceedingly bare. Years of poor performance, lack of leadership, bad decision making, appalling recruitment, and an overly expensive capital project have taken their toll both financially but also in respect of the personnel. On a relative basis it is difficult for a poorly performing company with no obvious answer to its problems to recruit and retain the best people in the sector.
In Sean Dyche we have a manager who in the short term at least, will maximise the output of the people, players and resources available to him. This coming season will yet again be defined by our ability to remain in the Premier League. Alongside him Kevin Thelwell must be given the opportunity to demonstrate his skills in organising the football infrastructure but also recruitment. Clearly, despite all the resource issues the club has, new recruitment, strengthening the squad is essential in the short term. Longer term a very different, more modern, data driven, possibly even AI driven approach is needed.
Given the background of the MSP people, a portfolio management approach to squad composition has to be the long term objective. A club that has a pathway through the academy that may produce players for ourselves, and if not for us, valuable assets to be sold to other clubs. A trading policy that annually refreshes the squad with ins and outs, hopefully generating player trading profits to reinvest and strengthen. An age, skill and experience profile that makes us competitive on the pitch and in line with our ambitions. A wage and transfer fee structure that not only offers good and fair value but sits comfortably within the resource framework available. Having said that, we have to be practical about what can be done between now and August 12th, the start of the season, these are all longer term objectives.
I talked about the scope, scale and speed of change. In recruitment plus in football management and administration this is critical. The old practices of the past, the owner’s involvement, the chairman, the decision making processes, the crazy contract agreements we have entered into, the reliance on agents and advisors has to be swept aside. Even though there are obviously long term strategic plans and decisions to be made, a more practical, immediate tactical decision has to be made in entrusting recruitment, the squad and preparation for the new season to our existing footballing professionals.
Resource is a huge issue, both in terms of finance but also personnel (more later). Financially the club was on the edge of the precipice. The combination of maxing out on credit lines, a significant increase in interest costs, Moshiri’s inability/unwillingness (despite the assurances to the auditors) to go beyond the £70 million he injected earlier in the financial year, the operational performance of the business and the incessant capital demands of Bramley-Moore was pushing us to the limit. The emergency (I don’t use that word lightly) funding from Andy Bell and also a smaller contribution from MSP has reduced the immediate pressure. Stadium payments are in line with agreements and the work continues.
However, the short term funding solution doesn’t meet the future needs of the business. Classically, a clear sign of a business in trouble is when it relies upon short term funding for long term capital projects. Referring to the expression used before, scope, scale and speed of change – nowhere is this more vital than in restructuring Everton’s balance sheet through the provision of long term capital, reasonably priced at the expense of existing shareholders not the profit and loss account and from investors with the appetite to provide what is likely to be several further tranches of funds in the next few years. A move away from a heavy reliance on debt to equity investment is required. Not only does it reduce interest costs, in my opinion it keeps investors keen, invested and engaged. All things being equal their investment return is linked to performance.
If MSP is to be that organisation, then a schedule of future investment (plotted against the future needs and expectations of the business) has to be published. Alongside details of future funding, how is it going to be spent? And by whom? Who are going to be the custodians of the new Everton? What is their vision for a new Everton?
People and systems
As has been proven throughout the Moshiri years, money alone is not the solution to the problem – it has to be invested into an organisation with the right people, the right strategy, the right systems and above all else the right leadership. A leadership that can make the correct decisions but then implement them in a timely and productive manner.
In politics, Governments are said to get tired after a long spell in power, well this is a tired organisation, full of tired practices and most importantly people. Incoming investors, executives and board members must recognise this and be prepared to act very quickly to change the people at the top of the organisation and to change the culture. Strong assertive leadership is necessary from day one. This is not a situation whereby a gradual transfer of power and influence can be implemented over time. It requires the removal of the existing Chair, and a very clear understanding of the future role that Moshiri plays in the business. Clearly a man who has invested £750 million and for now at least maintains a majority stake will have influence, but he represents the old Everton and we need a new Everton.
We need the incoming investors to recognise the scope, scale and speed of change that is necessary. Not just change for change’s sake, replacing tired directors and executives with slightly up-graded versions of what has gone before. We need reformers, we need visionaries, we need credible, experienced, worldly business people who not only can recover this business but set it on a new path, a path to success, a path consistent with the true principles of a successful football club, a path we have not trodden (being blunt) since the days of John Moores.
The key to a new Everton, an Everton that meets the expectations of generations of supporters, and who will thrill and delight future Evertonians, is change. Change in every respect. It is change that will define our future. Change that is not a betrayal of our past principles, but the implementation of everything that we know is good about, and expected from Everton football club, its legal owners and those charged with delivering an Everton fit for its status in the game and its legions of supporters locally, nationally and around the globe.
We have perhaps one last chance to deliver. New investors, new board members, new executives, existing players and coaches, the responsibility to change is yours. Remove the systems of failure, reinvigorate this global bastion of club football and build a New Everton.