While we all hoped the January transfer window would bring a rush of new signings, the month was instead dominated by outgoings as Ronald Koeman shed his squad of further remnants of the Roberto Martinez era. Some have questioned whether that has left the squad looking short on numbers heading into the second half of the season. But despite the lack of big-money signings Koeman has done exactly what he said he would do when he joined from Southampton in the summer.
Despite all the hype and bluster transfer deadline day turned out to be a largely tedious affair, dominated by cast-offs and mercenaries signed by panicking managers of clubs at the bottom of the table.
As a general rule if you’re left scrabbling around on deadline day your transfer policy has already failed. We should be encouraged by the fact Everton got their business done early.
Everton still had plenty of cast-offs of their own mind, with five squad players sold or loaned out during the month. That figure would have been six had Arouna Kone’s move to Crystal Palace not collapsed at the last minute.
After two successive 11th place finishes it was clear the side was nowhere near as good as Roberto Martinez thought it was.
It had become clogged with squad players either limited in ability or too injury prone to be relied upon. It isn’t easy to move those players on, particularly with the generous wages they were awarded by the previous regime.
So when they eventually do leave it makes no sense to simply replace them with a similar standard of player.
It was significant that none of the top six completed any major deals on deadline day or during the whole window. Targets that are talented enough to play for the elite clubs are rarely available in January and if they are it will be at exorbitant prices.
Everton are seeking to break into that top six and so are shopping for players of that calibre. If those players aren’t available then Koeman is right to keep his powder dry.
Speaking at the start of the month Koeman stressed he wouldn’t just sign someone to make up the numbers:
“We know what we want, we know the players that we want and it is up to the board to make the deal and then, ok, if we don’t get that positive goal from the board then we are focused on what my job is which is to prepare the team for the next game.
“We will see if finally we get the players in because that is really important for the team. If not then we don’t sign other players because that is not what I want.”
The deals he did complete – Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman – are quality signings that undoubtedly strengthen the squad.
Koeman was keen on striking support for Romelu Lukaku but after initially targeting Ishak Belfodil changed his mind. The Dutchman was also keen on defensive reinforcements but with Virgil van Dijk and Michael Keane unavailable chose instead to keep Phil Jagielka until the end of the season.
And despite only signing two first-team players Everton still spent more than any other Premier League side, further emphasising Koeman’s pursuit of quality over quantity.
The main concern of the supporters is that the squad looks a little light on numbers, particularly in forward areas. If Romelu Lukaku picks up an injury we will be in trouble.
But with just 16 games left between now and May the squad is more than capable of taking the strain without picking up knocks and niggles.
Yes serious injuries can occur but they can strike at anytime, regardless of how many players you have in your squad.
With Everton safely tucked away in seventh place (with ambitions to go higher of course) there is relatively little riding on the next six months. Compare that with the risk of signing a player on big wages who will be difficult to sell on and it is obvious why Koeman has taken the route he has.
There is also another key reason behind Koeman’s caution in the transfer market – David Unsworth’s high-flying U23s.
Everton can be rightly proud of their academy and the opportunities they give players in the first-team.
The emergence of Tom Davies is a real bonus for Koeman and given the performances of the young Toffees this season there may well be more to follow.
Speaking only last month Koeman stressed his desire to develop young players and reluctance to sign anyone who may stunt their development.
“As a coach, I see if a new signing can hinder the development of a new talent. We can go and sign again, but in six months a talent might just be ready.
“Then you want to give him perspective. I think it’s nice to see the young players from their own training centres in England knock on the door.
“I want to give them confidence. In England, they generally hesitate, and don’t play young players too early. But as a Dutchman, I just don’t hesitate to give them a chance.”
And if you need even more convincing that Everton is on the right track just look at what Koeman has done to Roberto Martinez’s smouldering hulk of a squad in just two transfer windows:
Maarten Stekelenburg – Tim Howard
Yannick Bolasie – Aiden McGeady
Ashley Williams – John Stones
Enner Valencia – Oumar Niasse
Idrissa Gueye – Darron Gibson
Morgan Schneiderlin – Tom Cleverley
Ademola Lookman - Gerard Deulofeu
Throw in the emergence of Davies, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and there is no question Koeman’s squad has been vastly upgraded over the past nine months.
A net spend of just around £25m also means significant transfer funds can be spent in the summer without contravening Financial Fair Play regulations, further boosted by the likes of Gibson, Niasse, Bryan Oviedo and Leandro Rodriguez being removed from the wage bill.
It may not always feel like it but a quiet revolution is taking place at Goodison Park. The team is clearly in transition and patience is definitely needed, but solid foundations are now in place and the future looks very bright indeed.