This is the summer that Everton supporters have been living in fear of for years. David Moyes, who has done an exceptional job of keeping Everton in the top half and even got them to a top four finish once, has departed Goodison Park for Old Trafford. With modest resources available, supporters must now hope that Roberto Martinez – who has faced even more limited resources for years at Wigan – can fill Moyes’ massive spot on the sidelines.
Martinez is a tough one to figure. On one hand, he was constantly battling at the bottom of the table and his teams neither thrived nor played particularly attractive football. If you wanted to be pessimistic about his prospects and thus those of Everton, it wouldn’t be unreasonable. On the other hand, if you view his results in keeping Wigan – a club with precious few resources – up in the Premier League for as long as he did as something of a miracle then you would be right in thinking he’s the perfect man to take over for Moyes. Only time will tell which view of Martinez’s time at Wigan is the right one.
This past season was about as much as Everton supporters have a right to expect given the resources available to Liverpool’s second club. The team finished in 6th place, earned a Europa Cup spot, and – probably more important than any other realistic goal – finished two points above local rivals Liverpool in the final standings. The signing of Kevin Mirallas worked out extremely well when he was healthy. The only real disappointment was the inability of Nikica Jelavic to follow up his spectacular first (half) season at Everton with anything even approaching his effectiveness over the second half of the 2011-12 season.
The concern for Everton is that there aren’t many players who seem to be on an upward trajectory at this point in their careers. With Marouane Fellaini having made a huge leap forward last season and other former “up-and-comers” like Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Tim Howard and Leon Osman having hit their respective primes the question is where will any improvement come from? There are a couple of young players like Ross Barkley and Apostolos Vellios who have shown promise in limited action but there isn’t nearly enough up and coming cover to ensure that the club maintains “best of the rest” status as the current headliners fade.
Adding even more concern to the high percentage of players who have hit their likely peak is the number of players – especially at the back – who are well into the decline phases of their careers. Phil Neville has finally retired creating one area of concern for the Toffees as he continued to be an invaluable player despite his advanced age. With Sylvain Distin and Tony Hibbert also getting long in the tooth Everton could be looking at acquiring at least two new front line players for the back as well as some solid squad depth to supplement any new starters.
The biggest question under the category of “declining” players is what happens next with Jelavic. If he can even approach his form from his first 4 months at Everton then things will be a lot easier for Roberto Martinez on Merseyside. If Jelavic continues his Torres-at-Chelsea-like fade then Everton will be forced to find yet another exceptional talent on the bargain rack.
Everton’s summer priorities depend heavily on who stays and who goes from the current squad. With Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines among the most popular names in the transfer rumors every morning keeping the current squad together is likely first choice. Second choice is being ready to quickly and efficiently remake the squad should one or both star men choose to leave. Here are Everton’s priorities with the first three assuming Fellaini and Baines stay and the next three assuming that they both leave:
Central Defender/Holding Midfielder – With Distin aging, Neville retired and Johnny Heitinga telling anyone who asks that he wants out there is a need for a player in the Phil Jones mold who can play both center back or move up to a holding midfield role. If there were more money in the coffers, buying one of each would be a priority.
Forward – Kevin Mirallas was great when he was healthy but he was injured fairly frequently and he’s more of a wing player than someone to lead the line. There is no telling what Everton can expect from Nikica Jelavic. Victor Anichebe had some nice moments but I wouldn’t feel good about him leading the line for a club with top half aspirations. Either reviving Jelavic or buying a new goal scorer is a major priority for Martinez this summer.
Right Wing/Midfielder – Seamus Coleman has spent a lot of time going back and forth between playing on the right side of the defense and the right side of midfield. He is solid but not spectacular at both jobs but if Everton want to take a step forward then they are probably best served by making him a fulltime defender and finding a right midfielder who can provide more going forward.
Box-to-box Midfielder – Marouane Fellaini’s game – like almost everything else about him – is unique. He started out playing more of a holding role at Everton but after Tim Cahill’s exit he successfully transitioned into an attacking midfielder. Should Fellaini leave, Everton would be well served by buying a replacement that is similarly able to contribute in multiple roles.
Left Back – Leighton Baines is Everton’s best player but with the team in need of money the question is whether they can afford the luxury of an exceptional left back while center back and forward lag. If Baines goes then an affordable left back should be purchased with the rest of the money being used to fund other positions and youth.
With Roberto Martinez’s arrival, the names of Wigan players are prominent in the transfer rumors associated with the Toffees. While there are solid options there, supporters will have to hope that Martinez’s vision extends beyond his former charges:
Aroune Kone – Kone had a strong season at Wigan and might be capable of even more with more talent around him so as far as former Wigan men go, this would be a solid choice if he could be had for a reasonable price.
Callum McManaman – Macca 2.0 had a nice last two months of the season and is tipped for a move somewhere in the Premier League this summer. The question is whether he has proven enough that Everton would risk a decent chunk of their modest transfer on a player with so little experience.
Etienne Capoue – The France international is the perfect fit for Everton as he can play both in central defense and as a holding midfielder. The question is whether the can beat other larger and more affluent clubs – Arsenal and Spurs have both been mentioned – to the signature of the Toulouse man.
Leroy Fer - The Dutch midfielder has been compared favorably to Patrick Vieira and would be a great fit should Arsenal or Manchester United sign Fellaini away from the Toffees this summer.