Everton enter into another postseason period showing signs of instability. Two years ago there was the abrupt departure of Carlo Ancelotti, to be succeeded as manager by an unpopular - to say the least - appointee in Rafa Benitez and the knowledge shortly thereafter that transfer funds would be limited, or non-existent in actuality.
Last season, at least there was continuity in the manager’s office, but an essentially forced sale of star asset Richarlison on June 30th and sluggish operations in the market set an early mood of despondency around Goodison Park.
This summer, planning is again looking like being disrupted by the ongoing shenanigans at executive level and beyond, with Everton in the midst of an influx of investment from US-based group MSP Sports Capital amid Board resignations and an unpopular Chairman who will not leave. In addition, a civil court case against the club filed by ex-boss Ancelotti is on the horizon, as well as possible legal action stemming from loans taken for the new stadium construction. For the time being, we have to assume that majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri remains the man with the final say on player recruitment.
I’ll be looking at potential departures from the Toffees squad in a subsequent article, but here, I will be operating under the assumption that there will be some initial funding available for acquisitions, with the club expected to be trying to obtain fees for unwanted players.
Everton’s player of the season was Jordan Pickford, without whom relegation would have been almost certain. Thankfully, the England number one signed a new deal in February, which protects him as a club asset should teams come calling this summer, as has been rumoured.
Asmir Begovic’s decision to turn down a contract extension leaves the Blues in the position of needing a backup to Pickford. Should Pickford end up being sold, then the Toffees will be forced to bring in a quality replacement, but for the present there is a need to obtain a veteran player who can provide cover for the incumbent, whilst being strong enough to offer some level of competition.
Role: solid backup goalkeeper
It should be all change at the back for the Blues this summer. The on-loan Conor Coady racked up the second most minutes at centre half last term, behind ever-present James Tarkowski, but neither he nor Yerry Mina will be at the club next season. Michael Keane, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey - all of whom have failed for three years and more - are not the answer.
Jarrad Brathwaite enjoyed a strong loan at PSV Eindhoven last season, but playing for one of the strongest sides in the Eredivisie is not analogous to starting for a team that has just stumbled to a 17th-placed finish in the Premier League. He only turns 21 later this month and few centre backs that age play regularly in England’s top tier. Consequently, Everton must target a centre back this summer who can plug into the first eleven and possibly a second depth option, depending on who the club manage to offload from the current playing squad.
Role: experienced starting calibre centre back, preferably quick on the ground and strong aerially
The Toffees appeared short-handed in these positions on several occasions last term. On the right, 34-year-old Seamus Coleman held up well but finished the season injured, as did Nathan Patterson, who has been dogged with fitness issues since arriving in January 2021. On the left flank, Vitalii Mykolenko underwhelmed, though at least appears durable.
Sean Dyche used centre halves Godfrey and Holgate to fill in when required - inadequately, it must be said; the club cannot be doing this again going forward. Money will be tight, but at the very least competition for the Ukrainian has to be sourced. Ideally, the Blues could look to a versatile player who can play both flanks, though such are uncommon.
Role: left back competition who can preferably play on the right also
Unless Amadou Onana is sold for what would be a substantial fee, the team’s engine room is in reasonable shape, being the focus of last summer’s reinforcement effort. It could be left alone, unless Onana’s departure opens up a need to bring in a replacement.
The right side has been neglected going back several years, necessitating Alex Iwobi to line up there despite being less effective than if used centrally, or on the left. Dyche uses traditional wide midfielders, who can beat a defender and put in a delivery from the byline and the squad is short in this regard, with just Dwight McNeil fitting the bill on the left. The former Burnley man showed much-improved form once his old boss arrived at the club and has an outstanding injury record, so whilst depth would be nice the priority has to be the right flank.
Role: right-footed right winger combining pace and crossing ability
Across two injury-ravaged campaigns, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has managed only 34 league appearances (44.7% of the total) and scored a combined seven goals. Three of those strikes came in consecutive games to commence the 2021-22 season. Neither Neal Maupay, who offered just a solitary goal in more than 1,100 minutes of league action, nor Ellis Simms or promising youngster Tom Cannon are the answer, so it’s obvious that Everton must find a replacement for DCL immediately. Arguably, given the team’s paltry efforts in attack last season (they were the lowest scorers in the entire Premier League) this should be the recruitment team’s top priority for the transfer window.
The Blues have to find someone to lead the line, durable and fitting the criteria for a Dyche-style centre forward: a hard-working, mobile target man capable of holding up the ball and linking play. This won’t be easy and likely will require much of the team’s available budget, but the club cannot repeat the mistake made when bringing Maupay in; the striker signed this summer has to be a first eleven player.
Role: all-around central striker
The specifications outlined above represent the bare minimum reinforcements that should correct what is an unbalanced squad and allow for a measure of competitiveness for the upcoming season. Whether the Toffees will possess the financial heft to make these necessary adjustments is a big question mark, with so much uncertainty surrounding the recruitment procedure at the club and the budget in doubt.
Everton’s position with regard to the league’s Profit and Sustainability regulations should be improved, given that the wage bill will be helped by Mina’s exit and of course the banking of around €46m for Anthony Gordon in January, in addition to the €30m fee received from Juventus for Moises Kean. However, I do believe a major asset will depart in order to give Dyche and Thelwell additional funds to reshape the side.
Of course, should an important player such as Pickford, Onana or Iwobi be sold, then they will need to be replaced as the Toffees cannot allow the squad to be further weakened, as happened with the loss of Richarlison this time last year.
As said, this is the absolute minimal number of signings for the summer, but would leave the team horribly vulnerable to injuries or a sudden dip in form from the likes of McNeil or the ageing Idrissa Gueye. In an ideal world, Everton would add a few more players on top of those mandated, in order to add needed depth options to a bench that was unfit for purpose last season.
The decision-makers must, and surely will utilize all options, including using all the club’s loan options, which bafflingly didn’t happen last term, as well as exploring the free agency pool. Unquestionably, they must score far more hits than misses this summer.