We’re not scaremongering. This is really happening. Just when a season littered with nadirs seemed to finally be on an upward trajectory, just when Duncan Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti seemed to have restored a long-overdue sense of pride in Everton, they have dove back into the mire, plumbing new depths once again.
Even as imperious as Liverpool currently are, even as daunting an arena as Anfield has long been for Everton, this FA Cup third round Merseyside Derby should have been a mismatch. Ancelotti’s starting XI was full to the brim with first-choice players and seasoned professionals, nine of whom have represented their country. It cost £221.06 million. Jürgen Klopp, by contrast, picked a side, with the possible exception of Joe Gomez, of reserves and teeth-cutting teenagers. His cost £43.95 million. Inevitably, Liverpool deservedly won 1-0, thanks to a stunner from 18-year-old Curtis Jones.
“Beaten by an infant. What could be more humiliating?” As apt then, when Maggie Simpson wrestled Mr. Burns’ teddy bear from him, as it is now, particularly for any of the short-changed 8,000 Evertonians at Anfield on Sunday. It’s not just this galling defeat in isolation that exasperates, though. It’s as much the fact that Jones’ goal effectively ends Everton’s chances of tangible success this campaign less than a month into the new year. Just as Murray Wallace managed the previous January. And Virgil van Dijk the January before. And Ahmed Musa the January before that.
After a watershed moment like this, where shots were leathered and scissor-kicked into orbit, goal kicks hit spectators and marooned midfielders were simply overran and outfought by Klopp’s hungrier young upstarts, it is easy to be in a reactionary mood. The transfer window has re-opened, after all, and nobody does knee-jerk quite like Everton. Cries for Farhad Moshiri, ever the spendthrift, to get his chequebook back out and add to the £450 million already roughly spent on the squad in the last four years will now amplify. And with good reason, right?
Well, not really, to be honest. Make no mistake, Ancelotti will surely demand the funds to fuel yet another overhaul at Goodison Park, but such is the dearth of value in this market that it is tailor-made only for short-term solutions; sticking plasters that help will see a club over the line in May, be that survival, promotion, European qualification or becoming champions. Everton are an altogether disparate proposition; one that will require due diligence and, above all else, time. Nothing that signing of a player either unwanted by his former employers or untested in this domain for an eight-figure fee is likely to solve longer-term, anyway.
And while players like Aymeric Laporte and Luis Suárez provide counter-arguments to the notion that all January signings are doomed to bust rather than boom, Everton’s own recent record in this market hardly inspires confidence. £13.5 million man Oumar Niasse is still somehow on the club’s books, despite just 39 appearances and two loan spells in his four years at the club. Fellow striker Cenk Tosun cost double that two years later but has netted a paltry 11 goals in 52 outings. Morgan Schneiderlin and Theo Walcott both started well, but have stooped to such a level that they have almost become pariahs among Evertonians, with few incurring their wrath more than them for their pitiful displays on Sunday. Ademola Lookman couldn’t wait to get away from Goodison eventually. Then there’s Aiden McGeady, Philippe Senderos and Eliaquim Mangala, to name a few more.
Had Everton beaten Liverpool C on Sunday, perhaps there would have been greater justification for splashing the cash. There would at least then have been a cause to get behind, a dream to harness, a reason to exist, ultimately. As it is, with only the echo chamber of mid-table Premier League football to look forward to until August now, Ancelotti would be better-served properly assessing the rubble he has inherited rather than risking pouring petrol on an already searing-hot fire.
Indeed, if we were to really scrape the barrel for positives for Sunday’s calamity, it is that now, at only his fourth viewing, the Italian will have finally fastened on to how this brittle mishmash of a side will only ever continue to let you down. With Gylfi Sigurðsson, a repeat offender this term, already reported since the derby as not being part of Ancelotti’s plans, you wonder whether this latest humiliation will only accelerate the departures of a number of Everton players for whom it has long been time to be shown the door.
Instead, Ancelotti must use these final 17 games of 2019-20 to both make the best of another botched season and to lay his own foundations at Everton, moulded around a side of players who could yet still have a future at Goodison. That should mean, at the absolute minimum, no more Sigurðsson, no more Schneiderlin and no more Walcott. Tom Davies and Mason Holgate may have their own detractors, but the manager could do far worse than watch them die trying. Anthony Gordon and Lewis Gibson are two of the most prized assets in the club’s much-heralded under-23s, yet both appear to be getting cold feet due to a lack of first team opportunities. Again, if ever there was a right time to blood them, it is surely now.
After personally sounding Marco Silva out as Everton manager not once, but twice, Moshiri’s personal pride will no doubt have taken a hit from just how misconceived that move proved to be. This appointment, his fourth in as many years at the club, is the one he can most truly ill-afford to fail.
Yet with the January car boot sale rolling back into town, you suspect that, on this occasion, he would be wise to hold his nerve, and indeed his money, until another sorry season finally reaches its conclusion and more bloated wages are offloaded first.