It is a familiar time of year for Evertonians. With the weekend's loss to Southampton, the Champions League dream that ornamented the blue side of Merseyside has all but faded into the distance.
Familiar, yes, but certainly more painful this year than most, given how attainable the goal seemed following the Toffees' 3-0 thrashing of the Gunners at the start of the month.
After the disappointing 3-2 loss to Crystal Palace, hopes flickered, but still shone brighter than in years past. With a perfect end to the season, Everton could put all the pressure on Arsenal, who too would have then had to run the table.
But, with Arsenal putting a quickly fading Newcastle to the sword yesterday, combined with Everton's weekend loss, the dream went dark. With Arsenal closing the season against two relegation threatened clubs, the hill has become all but unclimbable.
If you're reading this, no part of the above comes as news to you, and if you've been around the club since the Toffees last made the Champions League in 2005-06, the disappointment is nothing new. Evertonians continue to be forced to watch teams with greater financial means gobble up the Champions League spots, which is particularly frustrating as we enter the age of "Financial Fair Play." (Much is still left to be seen on FFP. If Manchester City and PSG, who are in line to be punished in some way, get off with a slap on the wrists, I think we'll know exactly how effective it will (not) be.)
Still, it is important to remember, now more than ever, all the reasons supporters have to feel good about the club as we come to the end of what, all in all, has been a successful and progressive season. Here, we will take a look at five reasons to feel good about what this season has brought us, and what it means for the future.
Naturally, when considering the positive present and future of Everton Football Club, it has to start with the man in charge. The Spaniard has brought a positive outlook to the club that has been downright contagious. From his first press conference, he had Champions League on his mind, and although the Toffees will fall short of that goal, it will most likely be the closest Everton has come since finishing fourth in the 2004-05 campaign.
His possession style game plan took a few matches to get off the ground, but the club skyrocketed starting in September, only losing two matches in the remainder of the calendar year.
Perhaps even more impressive though, was his ability to adapt as the team hit a wall in February. After harsh losses to Tottenham and Chelsea, Martinez managed to spur his side seven straight victories on the back of tactical changes and a willingness to play whatever style was necessary to win.
The Points Total
For the sake of argument, let's assume that Everton splits their last two matches, and ends the season with 72 points. That total, in five of the last eight seasons, would have been good enough for a Champions League spot. Of course, these are not perfectly comparable seasons and numbers, but it does provide a general outline. If the Toffees could replicate 72 points next season, history tells us they would have an excellent shot at making it to Europe's main event.
The Loan System
Is it ideal? Is it perfect? Is it going to lead to even more whining from others if it continues to help Everton win? No, no and yes. But Martinez and Bill Kenwright have proven that using the loan system as a way to bring in players that the club could not hope to secure on a permanent basis is a realistic way to keep the Toffees near the top of the table.
Experienced, short on playing time players such as Gareth Barry will have been keen to note the revitalization of the English midfielder's career at Goodison Park this year, and be open to such an opportunity in the future. Martinez's work with Gerard Deulofeu and other young players this year, as well as Barcalona's willingness to send Deulofeu back for another season, will signal to big clubs that Merseyside is an excellent place to develop young players.
It means that supporters may live in a state of constant anxiety, wondering where the next year-long savior will come from, but if such a system can push Everton into the Champions League for just one or two seasons, the club may find itself closer to financial stability, and therefore an ability to purchase big players permanently in the future, rather than just find them on loan.
Irish Eyes are Smiling
Two of the most influential players in the side this season were the Irish internationals Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy. They are only 25 and 23 years old respectively, and both under contract long-term with the club.
Coleman was named to the PFA Team of the Season, which was thoroughly deserved. His 6 goals were second most among defenders in the Premier League, and he was a constant threat down the right flank. Perhaps just as importantly though, was the definite improvement in the Irishman's defensive play, formerly an obviously liability. While he still won't be winning any awards for his defensive contributions, his play in his defensive third is more than adequate at this point.
McCarthy's contributions are harder to quantify than Coleman's, with the 23-year-old often doing the dirty work and the little things in the center of midfield. Still, the importance of his partnership with Gareth Barry in the midfield as the linchpin of Martinez's possession style of play is immense. Though who his midfield partner will be next season is unclear, Evertonians should feel good about the continued presence of McCarthy in the center of midfield.
Though it gets frustrating when the media tries sell off our players, the underlying cause for such nonsense is that we have players that are incredibly desirable. So given the way that rumors about Ross Barkley and John Stones have flown in recent months, it is obvious that the Toffees have two young gems.
Barkley exploded onto the scene at the start of the season, with Martinez entrusting him with the crucial number 10 role, playing just behind the striker. The results were immediate and stunning. Barkley's season has since gone through ups and downs, with injuries and dips in form at times slowing his campaign, but such tribulations are common for a young player in his first true senior season.
Stones may end up being the last great contribution David Moyes made to Everton (outside of paying 27.5 million pounds for Marouane Fellaini! ha!). The 19-year-old has filled in remarkably well at center-back when injuries have kept either Sylvain Distin or Phil Jagielka out of the lineup, so well in fact, that the youngster is getting a look from Roy Hodgson to make the England squad for the World Cup in Brazil.
All in all, there's still a lot to feel good about with Everton Football Club. So as disappointing as it is, remember some of these as you watch the Toffees close out the season (have your say on the crucial Manchester City match here, by the way.). The future still looks bright.