Stating the obvious, it’s very difficult to mark Marcel Brands for Everton’s 2021/22 season. He lasted four months of the season before his rapid departure in December 2021 among very strong hints that he, despite being a member of the Board as well as Director of Football, was being undermined elsewhere. Furthermore it was clear that he was no longer in charge of football matters as he should have been. Thinly veiled suggestions of interference from an unspecified direction(s) only hurried along his exit.
With the severe restrictions of Profit & Sustainability looming large in the summer of 2021 he was effectively hamstrung regardless of any outside interference. With the controversial and unpopular appointment of Rafa Benitez who, as with every club he had been at, wanted a disproportionate say in transfer proceedings, it was always going to be a hugely uncomfortable ride for Brands. So it turned out!
Looking at what he did oversee in player recruitment and clearly shopping in the bargain basement, he did strike a remarkable deal for Demarai Gray for a reported fee of £1.7 million for a gifted if somewhat inconsistent winger. He was also responsible for the clever recruitment of the experienced goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on a free transfer and 16 year old forward Francis Okoronkwo, who many, me included, tip for great things in the future.
The signings of Andros Townsend and Salomon Rondon were 100% Benitez choices, so even though Townsend, especially, did well until his injury I would not attribute either signing to Brands.
Brands and his scouting staff are also due credit for both January fullback signings, with Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson identified as Everton targets during the Dutchman’s time with the club. While Mykolenko has become the de facto starter at left back, Patterson has yet to see enough game time for a decision to be made whether he is ready for the Premier League or not.
Looking at players leaving the club, Brands did more than redeem himself over Moise Kean who, sadly, had proven to be an abject failure at Goodison Park. The deal to send Kean back to Juventus after his stellar loan spell at Paris St Germain was pure genius. The reported figures showed an overall value of up to £32.6 million if bonuses were achieved (we bought him for a reported £24.7 million). This figure included an annual loan fee for two seasons’ worth of loans plus an obligation to buy. For that alone, no matter what you thought of his past dealings (success or failure) you would have to say he’d negotiated this one extremely well.
In other successful dealings, he arranged the sales of James Rodriguez and Bernard, getting fees in the region of £8 million for the pair who had allegedly arrived on “free transfers”. More importantly, Brands freed over £300,000 per week off a bloated wage bill. Some may say for those three players (Kean, James and Bernard) he had been responsible for the massive outlay in the first place but at least he compensated partly for those earlier decisions.
He also ensured there were no contract renewals for several past ineffective signings (only one was “his” in the shape of Josh King and perhaps he was not to blame for that either?). These players included Theo Walcott, Mo Besic, Yannick Bolasie all signed in times before Brands’ arrival. He also had a clear out at Under 23 level where, for the sake of creating opportunities for younger players to come through and indeed for their own careers, the likes of Callum Connolly, Matthew Pennington and Beni Baningime left the club.
So if you were to judge Marcel Brands on the last season in isolation, you would have to say, bizarrely, that it was quite a good season for him. Many won’t agree but I’d mark him as B, some great deals for the club in his last months in very trying and fractious circumstances. The club’s dire performances on the field at the time of his departure were clearly down to one man and it wasn’t the Dutchman!
Off the main stage he hadn’t acted quickly enough to improve the Under 23 and Academy leadership set up, something that he had sanctioned two years earlier and that is already being address swiftly by his successor Kevin Thelwell.