We continue our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. Next up: the Director of Football, Marcel Brands
Ridding the bloated Everton squad of some of it’s highest-earning, lowest-contributing names was always going to be a Sisyphean and thankless task. Evidently Marcel Brands decided he didn’t mind the challenge because not only did he last three years with the Toffees, he signed a new contract to stay with the Blues for another three years.
Carlo Ancelotti’s first summer at Everton saw a shift in Brands’ usually transfer policy that involved bringing in players 25 and under as the Italian veteran leaned on his contacts at his previous clubs.
As far as his key remit of getting rid of deadweight, Brands was only partly successful as (no surprises here), no one wanted to shell out the big bucks for Everton’s garbage either. Still, the Blues managed to loan out a number of first team players with no futures at the club as well as youngsters who got some much-needed competitive playing time.
Before his surprise departure, Ancelotti had indicated that Farhad Moshiri would be willing to back him in the transfer market this summer after yet another disappointing season that saw the Blues slip from fourth all the way down to tenth in just a matter of months as the side simply ran out of gas to end the campaign.
Everton’s current managerless state does add some complications to Brands’ job of strengthening the side this summer, but this is also a good opportunity to continue to restock the club with younger talent and reducing the average age of the squad.
Two players were sold for basically peanuts, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Kieran Dowell leaving the Blues. Four others saw out the remainder of their Everton contracts out on loan - Theo Walcott, Yannick Bolasie and Matthew Pennington, with Muhamed Besic in limbo. Maarten Stekelenburg, Jonas Lossl, Sandro Ramirez and Luke Garbutt departed at the beginning of last summer on free transfers, and so did Oumar Niasse, Cuco Martina and Shani Tarashaj.
Among the first-teamers, Cenk Tosun and Moise Kean went out on loan leaving the Toffees perilously thin at striker depth (more on that later). The Turkish forward saw his season ended prematurely with a knee injury, while the young Italian proved to be a runaway hit at Paris St Germain, and the French side likely to come back for him again this summer.
Youngsters Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite also went out on loan, but were mostly uninspiring, and the same goes for Jonjoe Kenny and Beni Baningime. Pretty much the only Academy product who made waves out on loan was Ellis Simms, who helped fire Blackpool into the Championship.
The incoming players certainly promised a lot, and though the squad was much improved, the Blues position in the season-ending table will not give you the impression that things got better.
Four players were signed who became immediate fixtures in the starting XI - Ben Godfrey, Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez. All four were unmitigated successes and whether it was Ancelotti or Brands responsible for bringing them in, they all go in the positives column.
Youngster Niels Nkounkou came into the side and made an immediate impact early in the season, but then barely got any playing time after that, but looks like a real player so far.
The Blues added Swedish veteran Robin Olsen to the squad to provide the embattled Jordan Pickford some stability and mentoring, and it worked very well. Olsen was very good when he played, and pretty much a second half of the season resurgence in Pickford’s form including some of his best performances since joining Everton.
Josh King was brought in during the winter transfer window to provide attacking depth, but puzzlingly was barely given any time to play even as the Blues struggled to make an attacking impact more often than not in the spring. In hindsight, letting Kean go out on loan seems a bad idea and he’s likely not coming back to the Blues either.
While we are all curious if Brands was aware that Ancelotti could possibly be gone before he signed his new three-year contract, the reality is that the Dutchman is still here and remains the man with his hand on the tiller as far as this side’s future is concerned.
Brands has indicated in the past that he is not a fan of signing players who shine at the tournament level, primarily because of the inflated prices and short term nature of the competitions as opposed to having a strong body of work to back up that form.
That said, the Blues have been chasing Denzel Dumfries of Brands’ former club PSV Eindhoven from before the Euros, and will be regretting not having that deal inked with the right back bagging a couple of goals and continuing to shine.
Internet rumour has it that Everton are waiting to sell first before they can buy, which goes against what Ancelotti had indicated before the season ended, so let’s see how that turns out. Meanwhile, the Blues will certainly be looking to get rid of some deadweight this summer to make more room on the wage bill.
No matter who the manager is, Everton’s needs are pretty clear - a medium-to-long term solution at right back, another quality midfielder who can drive attacking play, and a versatile forward that can play both out wide and provide additional support in front of goal as well.
The only blot on Brands’ copybook from last year on the incoming side could be attributed to Ancelotti choosing to not play King (who the Italian indicated he wanted at Everton) and instead driving Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin into the ground.
For those wanting to criticize Brands for not selling more/enough players, you do have to remember that the adage “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” doesn’t quite apply to the highest levels of football any more.