As Chris pointed out on Saturday, Everton can still make the Europa League if a top-six team wins the FA Cup (and Manchester United wins the EFL Cup next weekend). This gives Everton supporters a rooting interest in domestic cup matches for the rest of the season — but should we want the Toffees to make next season’s Europa League at all?
Right now, Everton doesn’t have the depth to handle multiple competitions, and depth shouldn’t be the team’s major focus in the summer transfer window — so the Toffees are better off failing to qualify for the 2017-18 Europa League.
Let me preface this whole conversation with an important point: I am not one of those people who thinks that the Europa League, on the whole, is a waste of a competition. I know that opinion exists in certain corners of the world, but I think it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Europa League gives teams and players outside the very top leagues and places in the world a chance to ply their trade on a massive stage that otherwise might not be available. Everton’s European adventure under Roberto Martinez was a definite positive — one that gave supporters a long-forgotten experience and players a chance for success on a new level.
So — what’s the difference this time around then? There’s two major, related issues that make participation in the Europa League not worth it.
First, the Toffees don’t have the necessary depth to handle an additional, draining competition. The primary mission in the January transfer window was to rid the club of its unused fringe players; this was a worthwhile endeavor that makes financial and logistical sense, but it has left the club without the needed squad players to handle a taxing European competition.
Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson were both allowed to leave for Sunderland, while Tom Cleverley, Oumar Niasse, and Gerard Deulofeu are out on loan with no apparent plans to bring them back into the fold next season. Other likely departures over the off-season will include Enner Valencia (end of loan), Phil Jagielka (looking for regular playing time), and Arouna Kone (lol).
That doesn’t leave a ton of cover at several positions, in particular striker, winger, and center-back. Ronald Koeman at that point would have two options — either play the first XI frequently in both Europa League and Premier League competition (which really hurt Everton under Martinez), or rely largely on youth players in Europa League group stage matches.
Allowing young players to get minutes via the Europa League may seem a net positive, but I have concerns about throwing young players into hostile environments with few leaders surrounding them. Those kind of scenarios have the potential to lead to blow-outs that can wreck a young player’s confidence.
The second potential problem is closely related to the first. The Toffees could decide that — if they want to avoid problem #1 in the case that they make the Europa League — to change the club’s off-season focus from key first team upgrades at a few targeted positions (center-back and wing, primarily) to depth signings across the team.
Depth is all well and good, and would help to improve the club’s standing in both the Europa League and Premier League, but it wouldn’t be enough to meet the team’s true goals. Ideally, Farhad Moshiri surely wants to see his club qualify for the Champions League and win silverware of some sort — neither of those are going to happen unless there is improvement in the team’s first XI.
Qualifying for the Europa League would force a change in his transfer strategy — one that would provide the club and its supporters a short-term diversion, but would impede reaching its long-term goals.
I won’t deny that there are some definite positives to Europa League qualification. The competition would lead to increased revenue for the club and signal a substantial step forward from the failures of the past two seasons.
But, once Europa League matches began, the benefits would pale in comparison to the drawbacks. Ronald Koeman would be forced to either run his starters into the ground or field a wildly unprepared youth side in his group stage matches, neither of which are ideal situations.
The only other solution would be to bring in a host of squad players to assist in squad rotation, but this would reduce the club’s ability to bring in the top players it needs to make the next big step in league performances.
As things stand right now, there’s no way for the Toffees to balance the additional competition without taking a substantial step back in another important way — so they’re better off not making the Europa League next season.