What kind of club are Everton? Should they be content with languishing in the middle of the table, alongside the Southampton-s and West Bromwich Albion-s of the world, or should the vision extend further, upwardly mobile and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and Arsenal?
If you pondered this question along with me, I suspect you too answered the latter. As you should.
My colleague Adam made the argument that European competition next season would be detrimental to squad health as a whole. However, with fringe players like Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo having moved on, it’s primetime games in locations like Bilbao, Amsterdam, and Rome that could give youngsters such as Tom Davies, Mason Holgate, and others critical experience for the rest of their careers.
Indeed, it was a 20 year old Romelu Lukaku who, despite his team being bounced in the round of 16, led the entire competition in goals scored with eight.
The youth movement has already proved their worth in the best league in the world. Surrounded by old hands like Ashley Williams and Gareth Barry, who’s to say the bright lights of Europe would intimidate them?
Certainly, the competition would require additional depth, but with the likely departures of Enner Valencia, Arouna Kone, and Phil Jagielka, that’s going to be a transfer window focus to begin with, particularly for a club that will also retain ambitions in the EFL and FA Cups.
If Everton harbour wishes of completing the signings of bigger name players like Kostas Manolas or Gylfi Sigurdsson, the increased finances and exposure from playing in Europe could be a major step forward on that front.
It’s no secret that the top of the Premier League is a congested affair, with six teams having a shot at Champions League qualification, and flukes such as Leicester City’s title campaign happening so rarely.
If Everton have hopes of breaking into Champions League play, it’s very possible that the most expedient way of accomplishing that will be by winning the Europa League.
Of the top six teams in England, only Arsenal could be considered a side that’s regressing, and the resources required for making a Europa League run are less than what’s needed for breaking into the Premier League’s top four.
Of course, work remains to be done before Everton are assured a 7th place finish in the league, and even then their European fate rests in other hands. However, the team are out of both domestic cups, and Europa League qualification would be a very tangible, positive step forward in Ronald Koeman’s first season at the helm.
After slogging through the doldrums of Roberto Martinez’s final year in charge, Europe would represent an opportunity for Everton to show their worth against some of the continent’s best, as well as a welcome reprieve for traveling fans who might fancy a weeknight jaunt at Milan over a weeknight trek to Stoke.
When these factors are considered, along with the increased revenue, an extra opportunity at UCL qualification, and additional playing experience, there’s no question that the Europa League should be Everton’s goal for the rest of the 2016-17 campaign.