This column will be a slight departure from the usual fare (hurray! I hear you shout), in that I’ll be primarily dealing with the announcement leaked shortly after Sunday’s game against Aston Villa and made official the following day that Everton have again allegedly fallen foul of the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability (P&S) regulations.
What Is the League Trying To Accomplish?
I’d been sceptical of breaking reports emerging on Sunday surrounding Everton’s anticipated failure to again comply with the league’s financial rules, following the club being hit with a ten-point deduction as recently as last November. However, I’d failed to take into account that the people running the top flight of English football reside in the Land of High Farce, so I guess that’s on me.
As Everton have stated in response, they’ve already been penalised (excessively) for a breach of P&S - which examines accounts over a four-year period (lengthened due to losses as a result of the Covid pandemic) and three of those seasons are now being considered again for these new charges. This is paying a penalty twice for the same “offence”. Note that “offence” is in parentheses, as the club has fallen foul of the league’s poorly defined and regulated self-imposed financial restrictions only; it’s not like they’ve bribed referees, or opponents, or cheated on transfers - you know, important stuff.
These same rules - arbitrarily expedited to require the current accounting period (up to 2023) to be submitted by the end of December, yet comically late enough to cause the current campaign to be completed before any final points deductions to be applied, pending inevitable appeal - will be scrapped for next season anyway, to be replaced with a no doubt similarly well thought out system. If the EPL’s intention was to show the British government that, as a body it’s unfit for purpose in regulating the game, then I doubt they could have done a better job.
Some will shrug and say that Everton and Nottingham Forest (also in breach) “knew the rules”, but what is their stated purpose? It’s not to prevent clubs investing in their squads, with the intent to make themselves more competitive on the pitch - hence why the regulations aren’t called “Financial Fair Play”. No, it’s to stop clubs being loaded with debt and run into the ground by irresponsible owners. Yet, P&S is really stopping teams like EFC or Forest becoming competitive, the same as any other club which doesn’t enjoy huge commercial advantages, or perennial Champions League revenue streams.
If Villa or Newcastle United fail to make it into the Champions League this season then they’ll almost certainly have to sell off assets (i.e. valuable players) to make up for the shortfall in revenue. People (rightly) laud the way Brighton & Hove Albion operate, yet the club routinely sells off major players each season in order to maintain the model. This puts a ceiling on how good they can be, how high a place in the table is sustainable. Southampton (under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman) built a decent team, yet were raided by the elite clubs until they eventually floundered and were relegated. The same happened with Leicester City. Is this competitive sport? Well, the EPL seems to be happy with it.
Should another point deduction be applied to Everton, then likely the club will be be relegated. Farhad Moshiri gave non-binding guarantees to auditors last year that should EFC go down he’d foot the bill for 12 months; however, this would be entirely voluntary on his part. Should he elect not to do so, the club would be forced into administration. Yes, players and managers will move on and continue their highly-paid careers elsewhere. Moshiri will still be a very rich man sitting on his yacht in Monaco. Who gets hurt? The fans, businesses who rely on the club, plus teams owed outstanding transfer fees; Everton, as an institution.
So, the league’s profitability and sustainability regulations, intended (apparently) to forestall such a fate, will actually force it. Since the stated aim of P&S is palpably false, what is it’s purpose?
Let’s examine Forest. What’s a newly promoted club to do? The qualitative gap between the EPL and the Championship increases every year. You can either spend in an attempt to stay up, as Forest have or instead go the route of Sheffield United and pretty much guarantee that you go down, the “plan” being to yo-yo back and forth between the divisions. Not something to get excited about.
In the case of Everton, we tried to bridge the yawning gap between elite and the rest by investing in the squad and building a new, competitive stadium. The buying of players was poorly executed, admittedly. But if you don’t get recruitment right over a two-three year splurge then the league starts getting ready to slap you down for daring to spend.
The real aim of P&S is to pull up the drawbridge and to remove the only hope clubs like Everton - who messed up during first decade of the Premier League’s existence and fell behind accordingly - have. We failed, so the club faces a future of never challenging the elite as far into the future as you want to look - or worse, get absolutely smashed by the league authorities for not being commercial giants, and/or being on the Champions League gravy train. There’s no excitement in supporting a club like that; only blind loyalty will draw you in. Fans of Aston Villa and Newcastle, don’t for a second think they aren’t coming for you next.
Everyone else gets crushed by the elite clubs. The media is full of what a disaster Manchester United have been this season, currently sitting in seventh spot in the table. Relatively speaking, their underperformance has been massive, but that’d be a brilliant season for Everton and not something I can see happening anytime soon, which is a sobering admission. Meanwhile, we are constantly told how we all (not the elite) should be looking to Brighton as a model - a side that sells key players every season to elite clubs and plans its rebuild in accordingly. Southampton did that, as did did Leicester (who of course won the league more recently than Arsenal). Where did that get them in the long run?
As a governing body, the league is not corrupt, but it serves the clubs who bring in huge commercial revenue and regular Champions League money. The rest of us are just there to exist, to make up the numbers.
The Side Event
Namely, the game played out at Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon between Everton and Villa. A draw for the home team, following a run of three league defeats and five without a win in all competitions, was an acceptable result beforehand and I felt likewise after the 105-minute unspectacular spectacle had unfolded. It wasn’t a bad game per se, at least by the standards of the 0-0 scoreline, but quality was in short supply, as was exciting goalmouth action. Still, Unai Emery’s improbable run of 96 Premier League matches without a goalless draw had to go eventually, so why not here?
The Blues has shipped eight goals across their last three league fixtures, so a clean sheet was another important plus point. Everton actually started the match in strong fashion, using a high line which enable the team to press Villa in their attempts to play out from the back. The visitors appeared a little jittery under pressure - perhaps partly due to the absence of the composed Pau Torres from their backline. The hosts didn’t really generate any clear chances, but for the first 15 minutes they were in the ascendance, which was encouraging given Everton’s poor run of recent results.
Alas, no early breakthrough was attained and the Toffees started sitting back, inviting the Midlanders onto them. Now able to carry the ball out into midfield, Villa bossed possession for the next twenty minutes without overly threatening. Sean Dyche’s Blues finished the half in strong style, again pressuring the Birmingham side effectively and were probably unfortunate not to go in at the interval with a lead, following Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s failure to beat Emi Martinez when put through one-on-one in the 45th minute.
As with so many performances under Dyche, the team came out for the second half in more passive fashion, almost as if a decision had been made to employ extra caution, having failed to score during the opening period. They sat deep in a low-block, allowing Villa to dictate. The Merseysiders had outshot the visitors by seven to six during the first 45; in xG (Expected Goals) terms by 1.08 to 0.40, but offered little after the restart. Villa racked up ten efforts to Everton’s three and won the xG battle by 0.86 to 0.13. The number of clearances by the Blues rose from seven in the first, to 19 in the second period. The team had to rely on a couple of big blocks by Vitalii Mykolenko and Seamus Coleman late on to get over the line with a point.
The Danjuma Debate
As expected, Arnaut Danjuma came in on the left wing for the injured Dwight McNeil, who surprisingly was able to make the bench. The Dutchman divides opinion. I’ve heard many opine that he offers no end product and has not taken his chances when given them; this is certainly a valid point of view.
My personal take is that he’s been offered relatively few opportunities to establish himself since arriving. He was given four starts in a row (three in the league, one in the Carabao Cup) from late August to mid September, during which he scored twice. Since, he’s been in and out of the side - prior to starting the last two matches - so you could argue that it’s been difficult for him to develop any kind of form.
Even so, when given reasonable minutes recently, you could argue he’s shown something, being impactful from the bench against Tottenham Hotspur, with one of his efforts on goal coming within an inch or so of earning a point for the Toffees. In the FA Cup, versus Crystal Palace he used his pace, direct running and desire to get himself into scoring positions and was definitely Everton’s best attacking player until switched over to the right flank early in the second half.
On Sunday, he saw little of the ball (15 touches in 62 minutes), but this was primarily due to the way the Blues focused all their play down the right (53%, compared to 21% on the left). Still, countering the impression that he doesn’t impact the game, his excellent through ball to Calvert-Lewin late in the opening period should have put the hosts ahead: the xG on DCL’s shot was 0.67 - not far off the amount generated by a penalty and certainly the biggest scoring opportunity for either side. Other than finishing his own chance off, I’m not sure what else Danjuma could be expected to do?
As soon as it was announced that McNeil had made the bench I figured Danjuma would be lucky to see more than an hour of game time and so it proved. He’d fired just wide of Martinez’s far post in the 61st, but was withdrawn just a minute later. McNeil didn’t look his usual self, being anonymous until added time. On the other flank, Jack Harrison offered little, yet played the full match. Harrison has two league goals this season to Danjuma’s lone strike, but has played 1206 minutes to the Dutchman's 506. The former has an xG per 90 of 0.15, compared to the latter’s 0.44 (ranking second at the club, alongside Beto and behind the misfiring Calvert-Lewin).
Harrison has proven to be a solid squad player, hard-working and demonstrating the odd moment of flair. Should he be a fixture in the starting team, though? Hasn’t Danjuma shown that he offers something a little different: genuine pace, a willingness to score and an ability to beat his man on the dribble that the on-loan Leeds winger hasn’t? I think - despite his tendency to go for goal when maybe a pass is on - that Danjuma actually causes concern for defenders and I’m not sure Harrison does.