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On Everton and expectations

Is it fair to ask more of the Toffees than we’ve seen this season?

Watford FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

I like to think my father was a wise man.

Or at the very least, he had one or two things figured out. One of his favorite refrains was a simple one, pulled from Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy.

“...and if you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”

Dad was a strong believer in the idea that a lot of life’s disappointment and sadness came from unrealistic expectations — and that if you could manage those, you’d ultimately be a much happier person.

Happy people have been hard to find in this space in recent weeks, what with Everton earning just six points in its last eight league matches, to go along with an early FA Cup exit at the hands of second-tier Millwall. That run of form isn’t acceptable for any Premier League team, much less one with upward aspirations.

It’s clear that we ought to at least expect better of Everton than what we’ve seen over the past two months. But how much more is reasonable to expect from this club?

I find that one of the most common indicators of perceived expectations is the amount of money a club spent — and I think in Everton’s case, that’s a misleading refrain. Yes, the Toffees have spent a lot of money over the last two years, but there are a few good reasons that just looking at the transfer money spent by the club is at least misleading, if not downright fallacious.

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

First, pundits seem to weirdly forget that the first major move of the summer of 2017 was the sale of Romelu Lukaku. Out went a player with 87 goals and 29 assists in 166 appearances with the club in all competitions, bringing in £75,000,000 to the club.

In essence, Everton became a substantially less capable club the moment that transfer went through, with money in the bank to recoup that loss and then build on the team from there. Now, that was a difficult, but feasible ask, until you remember that personnel decisions were being made by the uneasy partnership of Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh.

The short story there is that they largely squandered that money in the summer of 2017 and January 2018. Koeman spent around £35 million on Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez, and Henry Onyekuru — none of whom have made any real contributions to the club (fingers crossed on Onyekuru going forward, of course).

Add in the nearly £50 million spent on Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott in January last year, and you’ve used up all the Lukaku money on players whose contributions this season have been relatively small.

Of course, that’s saying nothing about Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, all of whom were also added in the summer of 2017 and have made positive contributions this season. All three are quite useful players, and I by no means want to minimize their impact, but the balance between good signings and bad ones under the previous regime isn’t exactly split in the positive direction.

My point ultimately, is this — the roster that Marco Silva and Marcel Brands inherited at the start of the 2018-19 season was probably no better than the one Ronald Koeman had that finished 7th in 2016-17. Lukaku’s impact was that pronounced, not to mention that team had a still mobile Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams, and Leighton Baines.

So, any level of expectation that we set for Everton this season needs to be managed with that in mind. It is not simply the case that the Toffees spent a ton of money two summers ago, and then a ton of money this summer, and should now simply be good as a result. It’s more complex than that.

Now, with that said, there are still a ton of questions to be asked regarding the current Everton situation. You have to say that the majority of the transfer dealings made by Silva and Brands over the summer were positive — Richarlison and Lucas Digne have been unqualified successes. Andre Gomes and Kurt Zouma have both been useful additions on loan. Yerry Mina’s form and injury troubles have made this something of a lost season for him, but four hits out of five on the transfer market is exceptionally good business in all.

So, let’s recap. Silva and Brands inherited a team that was probably slightly less talented than the one that finished seventh in 2016-17, and added four pretty clear first-team players to it. You would suspect, given the overall improvement of quality in the Premier League over that period, that this formula would probably put Everton back in seventh, returned to its best-of-the-rest status.

And for awhile, it seemed like that was more or less where they were headed. But since the start of December, the club has seen its fortunes rapidly decline — both in terms of its position in the table and the overall feel of the situation at Goodison Park.

The Toffees currently sit in 9th place — though by the time the club next plays, it could feasibly sit as low as 12th.

I think, given the amount of turnover and upheaval at the club over the last 18 months, even an 8th-12th place finish would fall within a reasonable level of expectation, if there was a sense that the club was moving in the right direction.

Watford FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

I’m not unsympathetic toward the mission of Marco Silva — having to force together players from three different managers into one quasi-cohesive unit, as Zach pointed out recently. It’s a difficult job, and one that you’d expect to take some time to sort out.

But with the season now more than two-thirds complete, you’d surely expect there to be some sort of movement in a positive direction. Instead though, each week it seems the club and its players sink deeper and deeper into an unsalvageable mire — and ultimately, that’s where Silva and co. fall short of the most reasonable and basic of expectations.

Was it right to expect Everton to march to 7th place this season, with the best-of-the-rest title unchallenged? Probably not — and I’ll admit openly that I felt this might be the case early in the season.

But is it reasonable to expect that, along with a comfortable mid-table finish, that Marco Silva have his team moving in the right direction, as players adjust to his style and his selected transfer targets get more and more comfortable at Everton? Without a doubt, yes.

So yes Dad, we maybe did set our expectations a little too high, and we got burned, just like you always said we would.

But surely basic competency and growth isn’t another expectation that we’ve set up to let us down, right?