When a side has a squad as small as Everton’s, the squad players can have almost as an important role as first eleven.
First comes the living embodiment of the phrase ‘fans’ favourite’, Tony Hibbert recently signed a new two-year contract with the view of having more involvement in the first team. It’s not a surprise that was a wish from the right-back after last season. The first half was blighted by injury and the second half of the season found him stuck behind the Everton Player and Players’ Player of the season. It was an impossible task for Hibbert to dislodge Seamus Coleman from the right-back place. Both of the veteran’s starts came against Stevenage; one in the Capital One Cup 2nd round, which he only played 66 minutes before being replaced by Coleman and the other being the FA Cup 4th round tie at The Lamex Stadium. Substitute appearances against QPR in the round before in the FA Cup and Aston Villa at home in the Premier League concluded Hibbert’s 2013/14 season. With the extra games from the Europa League next season, the 33-year-old should find himself more involved – provided he stays free from injury.
Darron Gibson isn’t a player I would ever regard as a ‘squad player’ but after the injury hit 2013/14 season the Irishman has had he is included in this review. One substitute appearance away at Manchester City in the league and one start away at Fulham in the Capital One Cup equated to around 100 minutes of football in a blue shirt last season. Gibson suffered cruciate knee ligament damage in Ireland’s win over Kazakhstan in October. The former Manchester United man was ready to make a return in the final few games of the season but it was felt that leaving him to fully recover in time for the start of pre-season was the priority. A fully fit Darron Gibson for the 2014/15 season will be like a new signing and rotating the 26-year-old with Gareth Barry, provided that signing is completed, with the added Europa League fixtures should give the Toffees fresh legs in midfield throughout the season.
Before leaving for Fulham in January, John Heitinga made five appearances for the Blues this season. The Dutchman’s only starts came in the Capital One Cup; the first as part of a back five against Stevenage and the second coming at Fulham where he came off after 68 minutes. Heitinga also made three sub appearances in January with each time being a ‘farewell outing’. Against QPR in the FA Cup 3rd round, Norwich at home in the Premier League and finally Stevenage away in the 4th round of the cup in which he scored in his final Everton appearance. The World Cup runner-up failed to help keep Fulham in the Premier League but recently the 30-year-old signed for Hertha Berlin on a two-year deal.
With four goals in pre-season, one of which against Real Madrid, it looked like Nikica Jelavic might have continued the form he started with when he first joined Everton. However, three goalless games at the beginning of the season for the Croatian signalled that his form was the same as the season before; non-existent. Roberto Martinez reacted and brought in Romelu Lukaku on-loan and after two more goalless league games for Jelavic, Lukaku came on to replace the former Rangers striker in the latter; away to West Ham and the Belgian never looked back, nor gave Jelavic another look in. Before his transfer to Hull City in January, Jelavic only made another four substitute appearances in the league and the final game before his move against QPR in the FA Cup, the 28-year-old scored twice – possibly the reason for securing the £6.5million price-tag. Four goals from Jelavic and his new strike partner Shane Long ensured a comfortable end of the season for the Tigers after securing the Premier League status early.
Before an unfortunate knee injury ruining the latter three quarters of Arouna Kone’s first season as a Toffee, the Ivorian only made five Premier League substitute appearances and his only start came in the 2nd round of the Capital One Cup extra-time win against Stevenage. Kone didn’t manage a goal in the three hours plus in an Everton shirt but like Darron Gibson should be fully fit for the start of pre-season. At the age of 30 though, Kone still has to prove to be worth the £6m that Everton paid for him. At the moment Kone is the only out-and-out striker at the club and even when the Blues start making signings, with the added competition of the Europa League, the former Wigan man could find himself playing a much more important role in the 2014/15 campaign.
It wasn’t a final season to remember for Magaye Gueye, who left the club by mutual consent last month. Most of the Frenchman’s football for last season was with the U-21s however in his only appearance of the season; coming on as a substitute away to Stevenage in the FA Cup, he scored. That FA Cup 4th round tie was Gueye’s last appearance for the club and now a player who represented Senegal at the London Olympics in 2012, is a free agent and looking for a new club.
After an entire summer of intense speculation, Marouane Fellaini finally got his move to Man. United on transfer deadline day. Before that though, the Belgian featured in all of the first four games of the season. However the move from playing behind the striker to in his preferred deeper role made him go from Everton’s top goal-scorer in the 2012/13 season to possibly the most ineffectual player the following season; something he took into his first season at United. His only goal of the season came for Everton, 25 minutes into extra-time in that Capital One Cup tie against Stevenage. The problem seems obvious for Fellaini and it has been proven in the World Cup – the one time he has been played behind the striker, he has scored, the other games he has operated in a deeper role and contributed as much as you or me.
Another who left the club on deadline day in August was Victor Anichebe who came on for the final minute of the first game and that was that, an end to his 10-year relationship with the club having joined aged 15. ‘Slic Vic’ seemed to want to have a say in the title race because the three goals he scored in his 24 appearances for the Baggies was against Man. City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Another Ivorian striker who hasn’t had a productive 2014 thus far is Lacina Traore. The on-loan Monaco forward finally made his Premier League debut in the final minute of the final game of the season away to Hull. His Everton debut at home to Swansea was his first game since October, four months earlier for Anzhi Makhachkala. In that FA Cup tie it took Traore only four minutes to grab a debut goal with a cheeky flick past Gerhard Tremmel, the Swansea stopper. Although there is nothing official, it seems as though Everton are looking to sign Traore again on-loan for the upcoming season and hopefully if the 23-year-old stays fit, we finally get to see Traore for a lot more than the just over an hour that we saw of him in a blue shirt.
When Luke Garbutt was sent out on-loan to Colchester United, he was probably expecting a season full of experience and that was certainly what he got. The former Leeds’ youth started all 35 of his Colchester appearances beforea tragic injury to Bryan Oviedo meant he was recalled. Although some may see it as a second half of the season wasted on the bench, the experience the youngster gained, training and travelling with the first team squad could prove invaluable. He made his Premier League debut in the final minute away at Southampton coming on for an injured Leighton Baines. Over the summer the 21-year-old earned his first five England U-21 caps as well as representing England U-20s at the Toulon Tournament. Both he and Oviedo will look to push Baines for the left-back position in the next couple of seasons and the competition will only raise the games of three. In the more near future I imagine that the youngster will go out on-loan for next season unless Martinez feels he could use him in the first team with the additional fixtures of the Europa League.
With the added competition of the Europa League for the Toffees for the 2014/15 season, squad players will become even more important next year. It could be the case that there are no squad players and no definitive first eleven players just a squad that is equally used through the four competitions. Martinez may even plan to use one group of players for the cup competitions and another group as his Premier League squad. Alternatively the Spaniard could solely use youth players for the Europa League or domestic cup competitions. The plan for the 2014/15 season is not yet clear but what is clear is that Everton must invest in the depth of the squad and start bringing in players.