The Premier League is evolving before our eyes. With easy access to games all around the world, fans are no longer happy to accept that winning ugly is all that matters.
Young whipper-snappers like Eddie Howe, Alex Neil and Everton’s Roberto Martinez all pride themselves on playing attractive, attacking football and that’s led to some of the best times their clubs have had in recent years.
It’s a testament to the ambition and belief that surrounds Goodison Park currently, that when John Stones had the, ahem, stones to ask for a transfer, the club responded with a firm ‘no’.
With Chelsea reportedly ready to hand over £30million for the young defender, you can be sure there were a few members of the Everton board itching to accept.
Blues boss Martinez has designs on Champions League football and he wasn’t about to let the pivotal piece of the puzzle fall behind the couch. It marks a shift in the Merseyside club’s ideals – and one that fans should be very excited about.
Everton fans can be forgiven for feeling frustrated by their performances last season. Expectations were high after a stunning fifth place in 2013-14 primarily thanks to the manager’s ambitious nature. In the cut-throat world of football management, it was a welcome relief that his position was never in doubt during the summer.
It was generally accepted that, yes, sometimes things don’t fall into place and results simply just go against you. Second season syndrome, maybe?
It meant however, that Martinez needed to show his versatility. Coming into this campaign, expectation was again high. The Spanish boss had his blip and couldn’t afford a repeat.
On the surface it’s easy to think that, halfway into the campaign and with the team sitting in 11th place, there hasn’t been much of an improvement at all, but the side have been the creators of their own destruction more often than not.
The leaky defence has lapsed too often, and too needlessly, in the final minutes. The 3-3 draw against Bournemouth and a festive 4-3 defeat to Stoke are the most vivid examples.
Stalwarts like Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman have lacked consistency this campaign, and the problems in goal have been apparent since Tim Howard’s return from Brazil 2014.
Goodison Park may be a minute-by-minuter’s wet dream but it’s in danger of looking a lot like Martinez’s old adventures at the DW Stadium. Perhaps this could be forgiven in the opening ten games when Everton were without Coleman and Leighton Baines, but now there can be no excuses.
We were treated to two of Everton Academy’s finest graduates in Tytas Browning and Brendan Galloway during that time, both players showing a maturity beyond their years tender years.
The duo add to Everton’s already youthful side and if Martinez can keep the star players happy, it’s a side that should unleash their potential sooner rather than later.
At the opposite end of the field, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu are forging a strong affinity with the improving Ross Barkley.
There’s a renewed fight and vigour in the side too, characterised by their superb fightback against West Brom in September. The first time the Blues have won a Premier League game after being two goals down is not a fact to be sniffed at.
It all adds to a growing sense that things are about to change down Gladys Street.
And, for the first time in the Premier League era, there is genuine depth to the squad. Martinez is overflowing with attacking flair – so much so that last season’s talisman Kevin Mirallas finds himself on the fringes, struggling for playing time.
Muhamed Besic too, despite injuries, has become a fan-favourite for his all-action style. The perfect understudy for Gareth Barry, the Bosnian must bide his time to form a solid partnership with James McCarthy.
The modern zeitgeist of the Premier League is that fluid, attacking football is more important than ever. In recent years both Stoke City and West Ham were so persuaded by this thought, they decided to rejuvenate and install new managers – ones that choose attack over defence. Ones that would ‘get bums on seats’.
Everton have an advantage over their comrades in this respect by already having a strong base to build upon. Browning, Galloway, Stones and Barkley are part of a new generation of English footballer, combining skill with courage, making beautiful architecture out of silk and steel.
Mix that with youngsters like Lukaku and Deulofeu and the future looks bright for a club who haven’t won a piece of silverware in over two decades.
There may be kinks in the defensive armour to sort out, but they’re on the right path.