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Everton Ladies: A story of potential stymied by management’s neglect

Willie Kirk and the Toffees are capable of so much — if the club decides to acknowledge they need to increase investment

Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Rachel, who covers the Everton Ladies for RBM, and Adam, who helps to edit our EFC Ladies content. None of the below should be interpreted as criticism of the Everton Ladies’ players or staff, for whom we have a great deal of respect.

Based on the results of the last two weeks, this should be a time to feel more positive than ever about Everton Ladies.

Willie Kirk’s team put out a valiant performance against Arsenal two weeks ago, losing 2-1 — a vast improvement upon their 4-0 defeat to the first-place Gunners earlier in the season. Last weekend, the Toffees defeated mid-table Reading 3-2 — just their third victory of the season.

So even though Everton sit 10th out of 11 teams in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL), there are reasons to be optimistic about next season.

And yet, it’s impossible to feel legitimately good about the future fortunes of the Everton Ladies, based on the comments made by manager Willie Kirk after their 3-1 loss to Birmingham City — which featured a brace from Birmingham striker Ellen White — on April 17.

If you go to the three-minute mark of that video, you’ll hear the following comment from the manager (emphasis mine):

“People like [Birmingham striker] Ellen White cost a lot of money. And we have not got a lot of money. So, if we want a goalscorer who is going to guarantee 15-20 goals a season, they cost a lot of money. And Ellen [White] proves that year after year. I think that’s a big difference. We have not scored enough goals.”

Let’s parse that out for a moment. The manager of Everton Ladies F.C. — the sister club to a mid-table Premier League team — is out-and-out admitting that he and his team don’t have the resources to be legitimately competitive against a club whose men’s team is in the English second division.

How? How in the world can that be possible? And how can club management be so negligent as to not only let it happen, but to allow manager Willie Kirk to openly admit it in an interview on the team’s own Twitter page?

It hasn’t always been this way — and it doesn’t have to be this way going forward. Kirk and the players have done a valiant job in recent weeks, and shown the value of investing in women’s football — but Everton as a whole has not done enough to support its women’s team, and there is real danger in continuing to fail to do so.

Let’s take a look at how one of the biggest clubs in England has so fundamentally failed its women’s team, where things might be headed, and how utterly frustrating and preventable the current situation is.

Everton Ladies: A history of success

To understand the current state of the Everton Ladies, it’s important to understand the context from which the club developed.

Historically, Everton were top-of-the-table in the WSL’s precursor, the FA Women’s Premier League. They won the FA Women’s Cup twice, finished in first place in the league in 1998, and made it to the quarter–finals of the Champions League in 2011.

Former Everton player and current England U-21s manager, Mo Marley, helmed a team that once employed current England stars such as Toni Duggan, Jill Scott, and Lucy Bronze. Bronze recently spoke to The Gentlewoman about her time playing at Everton from 2010-2012 — during which she worked at Domino’s Pizza to support herself because the league was pay-to-play.

Everton was one of the eight original teams when the FA Women’s Super League started in March 2011.

After Mo Marley left to coach the FA England youth teams, their form began to slip, moving down the table as other teams like Chelsea and Arsenal rose up. In 2014, Manchester City’s newly formed women’s side joined the WSL and signed Everton’s top three players — Duggan, Scott, and Bronze — which led to a last-place finish for the Toffees and relegation to the second tier.

After two years in the WSL2, Everton was awarded an invitation back into the top flight for the 2017-18 season, but has failed to finish higher than next-to-last since. With the WSL turning fully professional in 2018, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have invested the most in their women’s teams, attracting top players while Everton has remained stagnant at best.

During the off-season before the 2018/2019 season, Everton lost its starting goalkeeper to Chelsea (where she’s now third-string) and its star striker to Liverpool, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, who somehow managed to get out of her two-year contract a year early, going on to become a top goalscorer for the Reds. Everton Ladies have only scored 14 league goals all season — Sweetman-Kirk has scored 9 goals for Liverpool.

As Kirk said, strikers cost money. And if things don’t change, the Blues are in danger of losing star defender Gabby George to recently promoted Manchester United. George’s cousin Jesse Lingard plays for the Red Devils, and George herself played youth football in the United setup.

Investment...at least for some

During the 2016 WSL 2 season — Everton Ladies’ final full season before moving to England’s top division — a major event in the overall history of Everton Football Club occurred. Farhad Moshiri — the Iranian businessman, and more importantly his $2.3 billion net worth, heralded as the savior of Everton football club — became Everton owner in February 2016.

“This is our moment,” Everton supporters across the globe assured themselves. “This is the time Everton can finally spend big and become a real threat in the top division.”

During Moshiri’s first season at the helm though, questions about his willingness to spend immediately came front and center. Everton sold John Stones to Manchester City ahead of the 2016/17 season, adding only a handful of cheaper players — guys like Yannick Bolasie, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Ashley Williams — to bolster the ranks of the men’s team.

The two most impactful players added in his first season — Idrissa Gueye and Dominic Calvert-Lewin — cost the club less than £10 million. On the whole, Everton had a net spend of just £23 million on men’s transfers before and during the 16/17 season.

Even with that limited input, the Toffees finished seventh, firmly defining themselves as the best of the rest in the Premier League. Ronald Koeman’s men qualified for the Europa League, and looked poised to become a serious threat to the traditional top six.

Then things got weird.

The Toffees sold Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, but still spent a net £70 million in the off-season — paying big money for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford, and Davy Klaassen, with Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun coming in for relatively big money in the January window.

Moshiri also sanctioned deals for Nikola Vlasic (currently in Russia shit-talking the club), Henry Onyekuru (yet to play a game for Everton, with it unclear if he’ll even be able to secure a work permit to play in England), Sandro Ramirez (who somehow has zero goals and zero assists in 1,131 minutes on loan at Real Sociedad), and Wayne Rooney (now of DC United in MLS).

Despite all the money spent, the project imploded spectacularly. Koeman got the sack just nine Premier League matches into the season and was eventually replaced by Sam Allardyce, who was summarily sacked after the season ended.

After a £70 million net transfer spend, two big-money manager payoffs, and 10 new first-team players added, Everton finished the 2017/18 season in eighth place — one place lower than 2016/17.

£70 million to get worse.

Undeterred, Moshiri broke out the checkbook once more ahead of the 2018/19 season. Out went Davy Klaassen after just one season, bringing back a transfer fee only half of what Everton paid for him a year prior.

In came Richarlison, Yerry Mina, and Lucas Digne on permanent deals. Kurt Zouma and Andre Gomes arrived on loan, with loan fees attached to each. When all was said and done, Moshiri spent a net £64 million in transfer fees for the 2018-19 season.

A new manager, Marco Silva, was also brought in, with his contract believed to be in the range of £3 million per season.

And if you’ve been paying any attention this season, you know how this story ends. Marco Silva’s maiden voyage looked to be something akin to the story of the Titanic for much of the season — starting with significant fanfare and then sinking like a brick in a lake.

In fairness to Silva and company, recent weeks have seen an improvement in form and the Toffees could feasibly find themselves finishing in seventh place, with European competition back on the menu in the form of the Europa League.

Seventh place and a Europa League berth...sound strangely familiar? It should — it’s where Everton finished in 2016/17, before Moshiri’s first big spending spree.

In all, Farhad Moshiri has spent north of £130 million on the men’s squad (not including payments made to three different managers) to in a best case scenario find his club exactly the same place it was before he first dipped heavily into the transfer market.

Liverpool FC Women v Everton Ladies FC - FA Continental Tyres Cup Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Underfunded and underdeveloped

According to club financial reports, Everton is one of the only top tier WSL teams to make a small profit for the past five years in a row.

How exactly they manage to do this, no one seems to know for sure — but one guess is that they are good at keeping their expenses low compared to what other top teams are paying.

While Everton reported a profit of £1,039 in 2018 and £2,478 in 2017, Arsenal reported a loss of £219,000 in 2018 £264,000 in 2017. Manchester City reported a loss of £1 million in 2018 and £749,000 in 2017 — because the club is steadfastly committed to growing the women’s game.

According to financial reports for the 2017/2018 season, wages and salaries for Everton Ladies were £450,236 for 38 employees, including directors. That’s an average of £11,848 a person.

To compare, Brighton, who during that year was in the second tier of women’s football at the semi-professional level, came in at about £500,000. Birmingham, a club with their men’s team in the Championship, spent about £523,000. Everton’s Merseyside rivals, Liverpool, spent £676,228.

Transfer fees and player salaries are not made public in the WSL, but Arsenal reported that they spent £45,000 in transfer fees in 2017/2018, which was a huge increase from the year before, possibly to pay for Vivianne Miedema’s fee from Bayern. If so, the investment surely paid off because she holds the WSL record for most goals scored in a season (currently at 22 and counting).

The 2017 Fifpro survey found that 88 percent of players in the WSL earn less than £18,000 a year ($23,978.52). One anonymous player was quoted as saying, “Only in the top three teams in the league [Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea] are players truly cared for.”

Everton is not attracting top players, and manager Willie Kirk has every right to advocate for more money. Before becoming Everton’s manager, he was assistant manager for Manchester United Women, a newly formed team that has committed an initial £5m investment from its club. Kirk told The Guardian of his time at Manchester United, “Everything you wanted, you got.” The Red Devils decisively beat the Blues 3-0 in a cup game in December.

Former Everton player Lucy Bronze now plays for Olympique Lyonnais, where female players are paid an average of £144,000 per year and receive the same chef-prepared meals and private planes that the men’s team gets.

As women’s football expands, Everton not only has to compete with top WSL teams but also with OL, Barcelona, and other clubs all over the world.

Now that the WSL is full-time, Bronze has argued for more support staff for women’s teams. She told The Gentlewoman, “If you want people to train every day, you’re putting their bodies under more and more stress. If you’ve only got one physio to look after 20 players – and sometimes not even one who’s full time — well that’s something you don’t hear about, but it’s really important.”

Everton provides their Finch Farm training grounds for the women’s team, but the stadium situation is still far from ideal. Another example of Everton not keeping up with the times is that they are the only team in next season’s first tier of the WSL who haven’t changed their name to Women instead of Ladies. More money, more staff, and more resources are needed in order to attract the top players necessary in order to stay in the first tier of women’s English football.

Is this really how it ends?

Everton Ladies, even after their recent victory over Reading, are close to the relegation place for the second straight season. Last season, no clubs were relegated from the WSL due to its restructuring, and this season, only Yeovil Town — a club in the top tier more on the basis of fluke timing than any inherent quality — is likely to finish worse than the Toffees.

And yet, due to that fortunate combination of events, the club will have another chance to get things right next season, despite once again having gotten them so wrong this season. But, that chance will surely be the last with the WSL expanding to 12 teams, relegating two teams after next season, and traditional punching bag Yeovil out of the top division.

At the end of the day, it will be up to Everton’s ownership and management to decide what’s important. If Farhad Moshiri is content to spend so much of his money to keep the Everton men’s team stagnant as ever, surely there are funds available for the women’s team as well.

The idea that a club that has spent £130 million on transfer dealings for its men’s team cannot find a way to spend another £800,000 — 0.6% of its net transfer loss over the last two seasons — is utterly asinine.

And yet, that’s literally all it must do to to provide its women’s team with a legitimate chance at relevance at a time when women’s football is growing exponentially. Just £800,000 — basically a rounding error on the men’s side — of extra investment would make Everton Ladies F.C. among the best-funded women’s teams in the WSL.

Just one off-season of investment in the team — in new players, an expanded coaching staff, and improved facilities — could almost guarantee enough improvement to keep the Toffees safe from relegation in the 2019/20 season. This has become clearer than ever after a few positive results emphasized the amount of good work done by Willie Kirk and co. with essentially no resources.

So can a club with a rich history on both the men’s and women’s side — a club that swears to the goddamn hills that it’s about things like community, about being more than just a football club, about being a grand old team to play for — actually show any interest in a group of professional athletes giving everything they have to the club? Can Farhad Moshiri and his band of to-this-stage sleepwalking leaders recognize the quality they’re already in possession of?

Or will Everton Ladies Football Club once again find itself relegated to the second division purely on the basis of inaction on the part of those tasked with overseeing its success?

At the end of the day, Everton deserves better than that.

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