Everton are something of an anomaly. Whilst many of the other traditionally big English clubs have been bought by new investors over the last decade, they remain unsold. Although Bill Kenwright has publicly stated several times he is looking for a buyer, there is an element of uncertainty over how determined he actually is to let the club go. Indeed, Everton supporters’ group The Blue Union have staged peaceful protests to voice their concerns. There have been interested parties, yet no significant bids have materialised, which is surprising even if Kenwright is proving problematic. Historically, they are one of the biggest clubs in England with nine top flight titles and five FA Cup victories. They have a large and loyal fan base and although they will need a new stadium in time, Goodison Park generates a great atmosphere and is one of my favourite old school English grounds.
The failure to secure new ownership leaves David Moyes caught somewhere between the proverbial rock and hard place. You can simultaneously feel his ambition and sense his frustration at the inability to compete financially with those around him, yet he has undoubtedly grown attached to the club. And whereas some would consider only the short term, he has proven capable of managing a long term project, taking into consideration the future stability of the football club. His achievements as the Toffees’ boss have been remarkable with the budget available, and can be regarded as one of the best domestic managerial performances of recent times. The concerning element for the fans is that you suspect his patience will eventually wear out and he will move on to pastures new. I would imagine that he would have been interested in the Spurs job (he was a realistic candidate) if offered and, had they not been such inevitable, bitter rivals, the Liverpool job would also have suited him.
Fortunately for Evertonians, Moyes remains in charge at Goodison and will continue in his attempts to make progress. However, as each year goes by the difficulty of moving forwards increases. The effect of investment in rival clubs is two-fold for Everton; not only do his rivals have greater spending power to improve their squads, but the extra finance in circulation has the effect of artificially inflating market values. As an example look across Stanley Park at the pursuit of Joe Allen – a decent player but nothing more, yet one who is being touted at a staggering £15m fee. If players such as Allen are commanding such valuations then Moyes has to look even harder to find the bargains which have proven so necessary.
Additionally there is very little fat to trim within Moyes’ squad as it is already one of the smallest in the top flight, so raising funds via that method is only a limited option. Joseph Yobo has been sold to Fenerbahçe, whilst one of his most influential signings, Tim Cahill, has departed for the New York Red Bulls. Cahill’s departure highlights the problem that Moyes has in building and managing his squad to an extent. Although no longer the player he was, you suspect Moyes would prefer to retain his experience and he still could have played an important role next season. Yet the club cannot afford to allow a player earning his salary to only be a bit-part player, and so he was allowed to leave. His and Yobo’s departure has at least allowed for the return of Steven Pienaar, a fine footballer who shone as Everton’s best player during his loan spell last season.
Frustrating as it may seem for the fans, the best option may be to allow another of their prized assets to go. Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott and Mikel Arteta have all been sold in recent years and the funds used to further improve the squad, with Moyes proving very capable at using his limited resources wisely. There have been errors; Diniyar Bilyaletdinov being one, but all managers make mistakes and he has certainly accumulated sufficient goodwill to allow him to retain full trust, despite the odd misjudgement.
Leighton Baines has been subject of rumoured interest from Manchester United, amongst others. Although no formal bids have been confirmed, there seems to be some weight behind the story as United look to provide competition or find a replacement for Patrice Evra (depending on your viewpoint), who has been on a downward slide. Baines is a very good player, but any bids in the region of £12-15m should be seriously considered. Everton have a very good core to the team, however that level of funding could allow Moyes to bring in three or four reinforcements who would be collectively worth more to the squad together than the left-back currently is. He seems like one of the genuine nice guys in football and is highly unlikely to force a move against the club’s wishes, however this may be one situation where a transfer would be mutually beneficial to club and player.
Standing still should be seen as moving forwards for Everton – at least until they can secure new investment. It may speak volumes for the real competitiveness of the Premier League but that is the situation they are currently in. Another top eight finish and a decent cup run should be regarded as another success for Moyes and, as perverse as it may seem, losing their prized asset may be the best strategy for achieving this.