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Everton: The Moshiri Years - A Transfer Analysis 2016-18

Farhad Moshiri has splashed the cash on the squad, but to what effect? In the first of a three-part series, we take a look under the hood.

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, 14 turbulent years of Mike Ashley’s reign came to an end with the sale of Newcastle United to a consortium including the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. In one step the club has moved from operating on a shoestring budget to possessing almost unlimited spending power - in theory at least.

Back in February 2016, Farhad Moshiri bought a 49.9% stake in Everton Football Club and the Iranian-born billionaire has been the de facto owner of the Blues since then. Whilst the funds Moshiri has available pale in comparison to that now available to the Magpies, recent reports have highlighted the spending spree that’s gone on at Goodison Park over the past five years and it makes for very uncomfortable reading. Moshiri’s stated aim from the outset was to transform Everton into a team capable of competing at the top end of the table and we are yet to get there.

An estimated £500m has been lavished on the playing staff, but how far along Moshiri’s projected path are the Toffees? Which players have been a success and who has failed? Let’s take a look at each year of Moshiri’s reign and evaluate the merits of each transfer (all figures courtesy of Transfermarkt).

2016/17

The new owner’s first period of big investment, to the tune of more than £77m saw eight new players arrive with one major sale — John Stones to Manchester City for £50m — and a number of veterans and squad players departing.

Yannick Bolasie - £26.1m (Crystal Palace). A fast and tricky winger, Bolasie started his Blues career well before suffering an unfortunate cruciate ligament injury in December, which would keep him out of action for 12 months. He didn’t look the same player upon returning and would leave on loan to then-Championship outfit Aston Villa in August 2018, the first of several temporary moves, eventually leaving Everton for good only this summer. The fee seemed too high at the time, but the serious injury derailed any chance of him proving his worth. Ultimately a poor buy.

Morgan Schneiderlin - £25m (Manchester United). The Frenchman had impressed at Southampton before earning his big move to Old Trafford, but after only one season was deemed surplus to requirements, arriving at Goodison Park in January 2017. Initially, the midfielder showed class and poise but somewhere it all went wrong and he became a polarizing figure with Blues fans before departing for Nice in 2020. A waste of money.

Ashley Williams - £12.6m (Swansea). The centre back had a good reputation but was arguably past his peak at 31 and after a solid inaugural campaign, he fell away badly, symbolizing manager Ronald Koeman’s shambolic second season. A expensive stop-gap.

Everton Training and Press Conference
Ashley Williams with Morgan Schneiderlin at Finch Farm in 2017
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Ademola Lookman - £7.9m (Charlton). A shrewd investment during the winter window on a talented 19-year old. The winger fell victim to Everton’s managerial chaos in the 2017/18 season, heading to Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig, initially on loan and then permanently in 2019. Clearly talented but rarely seemed happy at the club. Sold for a tidy profit.

Idrissa Gueye - £7.6m (Aston Villa). One of the few players to emerge from Villa’s relegation with any credit, the Senegalese was an inspired signing, adding energy and defensive acumen to the Blues midfield. Sold to Paris Saint-Germain for £27m in 2019 and still a key player for the French super club. Great buy.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin - £1.6m (Sheffield United). The 19-year old forward featured heavily by Koeman in his second season, as Romelu Lukaku was sold to Manchester United, finding favour with his attitude and hard work, even if the goals didn’t exactly flow. That all changed with the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as manager in December 2019, with the Yorkshireman hitting 8 goals in 11 matches before the season was halted due to the coronavirus outbreak. DCL cemented his place as Everton’s main man up top last season, firing 16 in the league and 21 in all competitions, earning an England call-up. An unqualified success story.

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League
Ronald Koeman with Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Maarten Stekelenburg - £900k (Fulham). The veteran goalkeeper was drafted in as Everton’s #1 option, but after picking up an injury in December, found himself backing up Joel Robles for the remainder of the season. The big-money arrival of Jordan Pickford the following summer put paid to the big Dutchman’s hopes of regaining the jersey and he was sold to old club Ajax Amsterdam in 2020. Failed to hit previous heights.

Enner Valencia - loan (West Ham United). The Ecuadorian had looked likely in the World Cup in 2014, convincing the Hammers to part with a £9m fee for his services, but across 2 seasons in London, the striker had managed to score only 8 league goals. He looked a cheap option for the Toffees, but despite always giving it his all he failed to turn around his fortunes on Merseyside, failing to net until January and only registering 3 goals all season. In fairness he was mostly deployed as a right winger. Everton declined to meet West Ham’s asking price, so he returned to his parent club. A useful squad member and couldn’t be faulted in terms of attitude.

Season Verdict:

Calvert-Lewin and Gueye were highly successful low-fee acquisitions, adding value financially and class on the field. Most of the rest did okay initially, though all would subsequently fall off a cliff. Over £63m was invested in Bolasie, Schneiderlin and Williams, with very little recouped. It was apparent within two seasons that all would have to be replaced, illustrating that a lot of money was wasted on short-term fixes.

Everton v Leicester City - Premier League
Idrissa Gueye tackling Leicester City’s Demarai Gray
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

2017/18

This season saw a massive splurge from Moshiri, an unprecedented £142m being pumped into the playing staff in the summer in support of Koeman. With the Dutchman gone, another £40m was flung at assisting his replacement in the winter window, serial firefighter Sam Allardyce. Happily (?) £113m was brought back in, mostly thanks to the sale of primary striker Lukaku.

Gylfi Sigurdsson - £44.5m (Swansea). A protracted pursuit of the Icelandic attacking midfielder saw Everton somehow pay over the odds for a player no other club was apparently after - and from a relegated team. The player arrived having had no preseason and with Koeman worryingly declaring he could play all along the front line, which seemed a questionable opinion at best. With the Blues failing badly to cope with the loss of Lukaku, he often found himself stuck out on the left - presumably due his work-rate, but this underlined the shambles that was unfolding on the pitch.
Sigurdsson would rebound to score 13 goals under new manager Marco Silva in 2018/19, playing in his favoured central attacking position, but fell away again the following term as Silva’s tenure disintegrated, eventually being utilized as a central midfielder under successor, Ancelotti. His contract is up in 8 month’s time and he has to be considered a flawed acquisition, a prime example of the chaos afoot under Koeman and Director of Football Steve Walsh. A system player at his best, he was never a £45m signing and was marooned amidst a sea of #10s.

Jordan Pickford - £25.7m (Sunderland). A superb shot-stopper in a doomed Sunderland team, the 23-year old goalkeeper was sourced as Everton’s #1 for the present and future. Quickly earning a call-up for England, he enjoyed a fine debut season and though he has endured patches of inconsistency and been guilty of some erratic decision-making since, he is currently enjoying a strong run of form. Worth the investment.

Michael Keane - £25.7m (Burnley). The centre half was coming off an impressive campaign but struggled during his first season with the Toffees, hampered by playing with a serious foot injury. Things have gotten better since, but the defender struggles with confidence and a lack of agility makes him vulnerable when playing a high line. Has generally been decent but probably has not justified the high transfer fee.

Davy Klaassen - £24.3m (Ajax). Who signed the Ajax captain? Probably Koeman, but where the attacking midfielder was intended to play is anyone’s guess, as a mass of “#10s” arrived all at once. Struggled to acclimatize to the tempo of the premier league, making only three ineffectual starts before being sold for a knockdown £12m the following summer. An efficient way to blow a quick £12m.

Everton Training Session
Cenk Tosun and Davy Klaassen in training
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Cenk Tosun - £20.3m (Besiktas). Everton have a long history of failing to get Turkish teams to buy any of their players, but this was no impediment to the club pitching a big bunch of cash at the Super Lig outfit for the services of their in-form striker. It’s thought that Moshiri liked the German-born forward and Allardyce wanted reinforcements in the January window. Tosun tried hard and did score four goals in a run of three matches, but under new manager Marco Silva, he quickly fell out of favour. Two subsequent loan deals ended in serious knee injuries, scuppering any chance of recouping some funds for him. His deal ends in June and the signing has been pretty disastrous in terms of value for money, with the player well short of Premier League calibre.

Theo Walcott - £20.3m (Arsenal). Another winter transfer window signing by Allardyce, this time the former Gunners wunderkind who had fallen out of favour at the London club. Big Sam had given Walcott one of his last England caps in what would prove his only match as manager of the national team, so this signing appeared one that he wanted. Initially the winger proved a modest hit, scoring thrice and registering three assists in 17 league matches and started well under new boss Silva in 2018/19, but his form quickly declined. He gradually lost his starting berth and was unable to regain it under Ancelotti. The next season he would leave on a loan deal to his first club, Southampton at the end of which he would sign on permanently as a free agent. A lot of money for a 28-year old who had never really fulfilled his potential.

Nikola Vlasic - £9.7m (Hajduk Split). Another central attacking midfielder signed amidst a slew of similar players, the teenager played sporadically on the right wing under Koeman, where he seemed to lack the pace to be truly effective. Upon Allardyce’s arrival the Croat found himself a peripheral member of the squad and relations between the player’s family and the club deteriorated accordingly. He was loaned and then sold for £20.7m to Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, where he rebuilt after the Everton false-start and developed into a full Croatia international, returning to England to join West Ham United this summer. A promising player caught up in the disfunction that afflicted the Blues throughout 2017/18, but at least the club made a profit on his sale, which is something.

Everton FC v Apollon Limassol - UEFA Europa League
Nikola Vlasic celebrates a Europa League goal

Sandro Ramirez - £5.4m (Malaga). A former graduate of La Masia, the youngster had failed to make the grade at Barcelona, but caught the eye at Malaga, hitting 14 LaLiga goals and starting for Spain in the European Under-21 Championships in the summer. Everton took advantage of a low release clause in his contract and looked to have snapped up a real bargain. If only. Ramirez was unable to make any impact in England, scoring only one goal as a Blue, in a 5-1 thrashing against Atalanta in the Europa League. Missing the physical tools to cope with life in the Premier League, he lacked the technical qualities to compensate. He was back on loan in Spain, at Sevilla by February, where he failed to regain any form. The big contract awarded to Ramirez proved prohibitive in moving him on permanently until 2020, when he left on a free after a series of loeans out. Proof that a low fee does not equal a shrewd signing, if also accompanied by inflated wages.

Cuco Martina - free (Southampton). Looked an average player on the south coast, but Koeman knew him so he was drafted in as inexpensive cover for injured right back Seamus Coleman. On the face of it, he looked a reasonable squad player and in a stronger and more stable team than Everton were in 2017, he may have done an okay job. He looked a little shaky at right back, then was shifted to the left side when Leighton Baines succumbed to injury. There he played 16 consecutive matches, giving it his best but he offered zero threat and looked suspect defensively. He left on loan spells and finally exited the club in 2020. He remains without a club at the time of writing. Willing but out of his depth, at least he cost little money, a rarity for a failed signing under Moshiri.

Wayne Rooney - free (Manchester United). The Prodigal Son returned! The former academy star had departed as one of the most touted teenagers in world football and re-joined his boyhood club as a United legend, albeit one now 31 years old and coming off the worst season of his stellar career. Presumably, the intent was to play Rooney as a striker, as several #10s had already been acquired; however, he ended up playing all over the front line as Koeman’s reign fell to pieces.
Under Allardyce the Liverpool native did well initially, scoring and assisting several times. As Everton’s form slipped Rooney found himself dropping back into central midfield, where he acted as a deep-lying playmaker and the goals dried up. Clearly, the forward was a fading force and his second stint at the Blues was over almost before it began, with him heading to the MLS on a free transfer in 2018. Rooney ended the season as the Toffees leading scorer and showed glimpses of his class, but it looked like his legs were going and if he was intended to replace Lukaku as a focal point, then in this he was not successful.

Everton v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Eliaquim Mangala - loan (Manchester City). Signed by Allardyce in January to bolster his centre back options, the big Frenchman looked gaff-prone in his debut, a 5-1 thrashing by Arsenal, before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury in the following match. Has barely played since and is currently out of contract. Unlucky, but probably not good enough.

Henry Onyekuru - £7.2m (KAS Eupen). One of the club’s oddest episodes. The then 20-year old had shown some promise playing in the Belgian top flight and was signed in the anticipation that a UK work permit would be obtainable. This never was achieved and after two years of loans the Nigerian winger was sold on to Monaco for a profit. He has been unable to establish himself in France either, and is currently on loan at Olympiacos. A bizarre gamble that never paid off.

Season Verdict:

What a mess this season was, both on the pitch and in terms of recruitment. The Blues would blow through two permanent managers and be onto a third by the following summer; hapless Director of Football Steve Walsh would also be dispensed with. The construction of the squad was haphazard, with several players arriving to fill one spot and other positions either neglected entirely, or covered with inadequate additions. For an extended period after Baines’ injury Everton had no left-footed players in the entire first team. Close to £200m had been squandered and somehow the Blues had ended up with a worse team than before. Of the new recruits, only Pickford, Keane and Sigurdsson would play a major part beyond this season.

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Peter Byrne - Pool/Getty Images

2016-18 Summary:

Two years into Moshiri’s rebuild and around £240m had been invested into the playing staff, which still looked nowhere near attaining the owner’s lofty ambitions of a European challenge. Of the 19 players signed (not including Onyekuru) only five could be classed as first team regulars. Major areas of the team had not been strengthened, quality depth was non-existent and the loss of Lukaku had not been addressed. Four of that number are still in the Everton squad, with Tosun remaining a peripheral figure likely to leave while Pickford, Keane and Calvert-Lewin the regular starters.