How do you solve a problem like Everton?

by Mark Godfrey

David MoyesThe recent comprehensive and humiliating FA Cup 6th round defeat suffered by Everton at the hands of Wigan Athletic was greeted by a massive outpouring of vitriol and dissatisfaction by large numbers of supporters both during and after events at Goodison Park.

The very apparent toxic atmosphere was broadcast live to the nation and many neutrals would have been sat in front of their television sets wondering where such an unhappy reaction came from given the widely accepted and portrayed vision of Everton as a stable club.

Stable is possibly an accurate description when considering that the manager and chairman have been in-situ for 11 and 14 years respectively, but when this so-called stability is built on foundations of uncertainty, suspicion and downright animosity, the true picture is quite different to that you see peddled in the media.

The sudden explosion of fan anger seen at Goodison during the Wigan game was not simply attributable to the poor display by the 11 men in the famous Royal Blue shirts that day, although the Toffees’ totally inept performance as Wembley beckoned can certainly be described as the spark that lit the fuse to the fall-out that has rumbled on since.

It was evident on the pitch that, despite the quality of Wigan’s play and the tactical superiority of Roberto Martinez, all is not well between the players and David Moyes presently.  It does not take a great leap of faith to believe this is in no small part down to the uncertainty surrounding Moyes’ future. The man who has gained high praise for his steering of the team for just over a decade, and who has often stated his loyalty to club and chairman, Bill Kenwright, is stalling on a decision about a new contract as his current deal expires this summer.

And it is in the direction of Kenwright where the ire of supporters is being aimed in the aftermath of the Cup disappointment. The Evertonians relationship with the man at the helm of the club has been strained to say the least for many years, from the failed new stadium ventures at Kings Dock and Kirkby to the inability to attract investment to move the club into a trophy-challenging position on the field. Finally, as a parting of the ways becomes an increasing possibility, it seems the manager could also running out of patience with his boss.

Everton and Moyes are constantly tagged with the ‘punching above their weight’ line and in the context of their obscenely wealthy opponents from Manchester, London and even across Stanley Park, this observation is fair. The monopoly held by the Premier League’s mega brands provide an almost impregnable barrier to the likes of Everton from ever challenging for the title again (remembering Everton are the fourth most successful club in England with nine championship victories) without the access to the profits of a desert or tundra full of oil and gas supplies.

But the Everton faithful have had enough of accepting their lot and being seen as plucky underdogs, with different generations having been brought up with the successful eras of the 1930’s, 1960’s and 1980’s. The club have only once experienced a longer spell without silverware than the current 18 years since their formation in 1878.

For a number of years, fans have been organising themselves into protest groups to force the chairman and the board of directors to declare their real intentions for the club. Theatre impresario Kenwright, who owns 23% of the club’s shares, and his cohorts in the boardroom bought the club in 1999 for a figure of around £20 million and have stated that since day one, they have had the club for sale. Yet in the intervening 14 years, no real buyer has come forward to declare anything more than a fleeting interest in one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. Kenwright’s assertion that ‘no one’s buying football clubs’ is laughable when you consider the amount of clubs to have been purchased in the same time Everton have been saddled with its current owners.

What is more likely than Mr.Kenwright’s verdict is that any potential suitors have been put off by an unrealistic asking price based on the financial knots Everton’s money-men have tied themselves up in. The figures are mind-boggling and are better placed on the FT website rather than on a football based arena, but the essential truth is the club has been asset stripped and has seen an entity that was bought with no debts turned into something with around £50million of debt and mortgaged to the hilt at the mercy of ruinous interest rates.

On a recent Talksport radio show hosted by former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore, a source from Everton claimed the asking price for the club was in the region of £125 million, a figure surely only dreamt up by the chairman and his cronies based on the potential future earnings from the incredible TV deal with BSkyB. Any investor wishing to elevate the Blues to one of the continents leading lights would have to stump up the money to buy the club, eliminate the debt and build a state-of-the-art new home which at a conservative estimate would be £400 million and that’s before a single penny is laid out on the playing staff.

Without a huge injection of capital and a brand new stadium to boot, Moyes and his ambitions to break through the glass ceiling into the top four and Champions League football will never be realised and after season upon season of dealing with these constraints, the 49-year-old Scot couldn’t be blamed for looking elsewhere to satisfy his own desire to compete at the very highest level in the game.

The supporters are split about whether the manager stays or goes. They have seen his side continually flatter to deceive in recent years and another season of opportunities seems to have slipped by unfulfilled. Yet if he were to leave, there are no guarantees of anything better to come with whoever succeeds Moyes in the hotseat, particularly with the constant limitations placed on funding and ambition by the incumbent board.

For the long frustrated followers of the Merseyside giants, the forthcoming summer could be one of massive upheaval without any resolution to the root of the club’s stagnation, and unless another sheikh or oligarch emerges from the shadows soon, the situation will turn evermore sour.

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