In recent days Everton have welcomed two new faces to Finch Farm. The double signing of Sunderlands Jordan Pickford and Ajax captain Davy Klaassen signalled what looks to be just the beginning of a busy summer for the Toffees.
New owner Farhad Moshiri has parted with £30 million and £23.6 million respectively for the duo with a £16 million deal for AC Milan striker M’Baye Niang rumoured to be close.
Reports have suggested around £150 million could be spent on incomings by the time the deafening chimes of Big Ben signal the close of the transfer window. It seems the ‘Arteta money’ has been found and some at Goodison.
Obviously with this increased spending will come increased expectations for Ronald Koeman and his new look Everton side, the main aim being that sought after spot in the Champions League.
It has been as much elusive as desired for Everton, with the club failing to ever qualify for the competition in its current format and last featuring in the European Cup during the 1970-1971 season.
Even David Moyes’ successful ten year Everton reign saw only one finish in the top four which culminated in a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Villarreal in the play-off qualifying round.
When Moyes was replaced by Roberto Martinez in the summer of 2013 Bill Kenwright stated in his unveiling to the press that Martinez had told him “I’ll get you in the Champions League”.
The nervous look on Martinez’s face as Kenwright spoke became even more ominous when he was sacked three years later having delivered more bottom half finishes than Champions League appearances.
However, this is a new regime, one more quietly ambitious but also one with greater financial power. While it always seemed that spending had to be limited under Kenwright’s stewardship this does not seem to be the case with Moshiri. The £120 million spent on incomings since his arrival early last year confirms this.
The £48 million purchase of the Royal Liver building in April of this year for development purposes – and also to annoy Liverpool fans) – seems to confirm he’s in it for the long term. There is no doubt therefore that the money is there, but will it be enough?
The signing of now the most expensive British keeper ever in Jordan Pickford will no doubt improve the team.
The arrival Maarten Stekelenburg last season looked initially promising after a number of impressive displays early on in the season, however injuries meant Joel Robles ended up featuring in more games.
If Pickford can continue his stunning form he showed last season – and he had plenty of chances to show it behind Sunderlands leaky defence – he’ll prove to be an invaluable signing for years to come.
Davy Klaassen also looks to be another stellar signing. The midfielder has had a number of good goal scoring seasons in Holland as well as leading his former club to their first cup final in European competition for 21 years last season.
While impressive signings in their own right Everton didn’t exactly beat off competition from Europe’s elite to sign them. Can Everton compete with Barca, Real and Bayern for signings? Of course not.
Can they compete with domestic giants Chelsea or City? No – rumoured interest for Virgil Van Dijk was quickly silenced when Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool joined the race and the transfer fee was doubled.
Can they even compete with Europe’s second tier clubs; Dortmund and Atletico Madrid? Probably not. Moshiri’s cash injection gives them more money but it doesn’t make the task easy.
They’re shopping in a different market than Kenwright’s finances allowed but it’s more like a move from Aldi to Sainsburys, rather than to Harrods.
Everton need to be smart with their transfers, they can spend but they aren’t going to throw money around akin to Manchester City in the early stages of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership.
This is signified by their appointment of Steve Walsh from Leicester, a man who proved he could find value around Europe in the form of gems such as Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante.
With an approach like this comes an inherent amount of risk. The imminent arrival of M’Baye Niang, a player who has shown flashes but struggled at both Milan and on loan at Watford last season, signifies this perfectly.
Juventus’ Gabonese midfielder Mario Lemina who has also been heavily linked is another good example – talented but ultimately unproven.
A harsher critic may even sight Pickford as a one season wonder and Klaassen as a great player in an average league. After all, if they are so good why weren’t Paris Saint-Germain or Arsenal courting them?
This is the market Everton are shopping in; players of great potential but not 100% proven quality. If it all comes off then they might have a chance to sneak into a top four spot next season, otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to overcome that 15 point gap.
It’s clear though that Everton can’t rely on bringing in players from abroad and lower down in the domestic ladder to force themselves into the Champions League.
They have to make use of every recruitment avenue they can – that means giving youth a chance.
Everton had more players than any other club in England’s World Cup winning under-20 side with no less than five featuring for the young Three Lions in South Korea.
This includes the man who scored the World Cup winning goal, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Jordan Pickford and Mason Holgate will also hope to help to their side to a similar triumph at the under-21 European Championships in June.
This is all without mentioning Everton’s breakthrough star last season, Tom Davies, who opted to take some time out to rest over summer after a fantastic first season.
The future should be bright for Everton with the amount of young talent at their disposal, it’s planning like this that will help Everton get the edge over their richer top four rivals.
They can take inspiration from Tottenham, the most recent team to break into the top four stronghold, who used this to their advantage themselves with the likes of Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane guiding them to title challenges in the last two seasons with a relatively modest net spend and sensible wage structure.
Despite the potential for progression, the task will become no easier with the departure of Romelu Lukaku. His future, as he unabashedly likes to keep reminding anyone who will listen, is elsewhere.
Everton will no doubt demand a large fee but with his likely destination being Chelsea this will only strengthen a fellow top four rival.
Finding a replacement for the Belgian who’s scored 68 goals in his past four seasons at Merseyside will not be easy. However losing a key player is not new to Everton, they lost John Stones to Manchester City last season.
It’s not new to Ronald Koeman either who repeatedly saw stars leave him at St. Mary’s. Everton can recover from his loss but they will, again, need to spend and they will, again, need to do so smartly.
While being interview by BBC early on in the 2016/2017 season Koeman stated:
This season Everton will fight for European football. For next season we will, get new signings in which will make the team stronger. The third year, we need to be close to playing in the Champions League.
The first season went to plan, and it looks as though now those second season signings are happening. It’s not quite as exciting as Kenwrights’ Champions League promise, but a more measured approach with realistic expectations, an emphasis on youth and a well thought out and financially backed plan may just prove to work in the long-term.
Will Everton bridge the gap to the top four next season? Probably not. Will they close the gap? Almost certainly, and who knows where that could take the in the future.