Everton are in the midst of a crisis. An identity crisis of sorts; a crisis of perception from their peers.
Farhad Moshiri’s millions have caused tremors on Merseyside, yet the Iranian’s takeover has barely managed as much as a ripple on the rest of the country. While aftershocks have been reported in areas of the East Midlands and the south coast, the UK and Europe have quietly gone about their business, unaware of the recent stirrings felt around L4.
All regimes in the infancy of their being are quick to hail change. Roberto Martinez boasted of Champions League qualification under his tenure and got fans on side with talk of going “toe-to-toe” with big clubs; an indirect reference to and improvement on David Moyes’ “knife to a gunfight” remark.
Everton’s time in the Premier League era has been turbulent. They’ve been bracketed for the most part as also-rans. Relegation candidates in more seasons than fans will care to remember in the 90s. A “mid-table” team, a “small” club and under Moyes’ reign “perennial over-achievers” following the Scot’s notable ability to finish (with mixed consistency) in the top half of the table with a shoe-string budget. Occasionally engaging with European football and famously gate-crashing the top 4 with a team led by Marcus Bent.
And to make things even more confusing, those born after 1987 have been forced to listen to their mums and dads, and older brothers and sisters tell them that their rightful place in English football was actually at the top of the tree fighting for honours. It went against what they saw before their very eyes: wretchedness, thrift and disappointment. And Walter Smith.
Of course, as football fans we like to simplify club status with two convenient terms: “Big Clubs” and “Small Clubs” (the latter sometimes euphamised to “lesser” or “not-so-big” clubs). I shouldn’t need to point out the obvious problems with this level of classification, in an ever-changing landscape of relegation and promotion, administation and billionaire takeovers, tribalistic fan-bases and the English Premier League as global entertainment product. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what God you pray to, everyone understands the David vs Goliath narrative that broadcasters love to peddle. You either side with the favourite, or root for the underdog.
And no two sets of supporters will see a club in the same way. Or at least, for example, the Everton that Evertonians see will always be different to the Everton of a Manchester United fan. Of course these notions of “Big” and “Small”, whether they could possibly be said to be true or false, influence all football fans. And players. And managers and Directors of Football too.
Evertonians are still coming to terms with the notion of money. Generations of Blues have been raised watching Everton shop in Kwik-Save for the likes of Carl Tiler and Brett Angel; browsing the bargain bins of Netto and pulling out Niclas Alexandersson and Bjani Vidarsson, and more recently scouring the back shelves of Aldi and Lidl for Stefan Wessels and Shkodran Mustafi (yes, the analogy still works, there are some obscure hopped gems to be found in the beer aisles of Aldi and Lidl).
So, upon hearing the reported £100m transfer kitty available to Everton’s next manager, it was no surprise to see the press replace Tottenham/Liverpool/Arsenal/etc with Everton when beginning a transfer rumour story for Juan Mata, Alex Witsel and Wesley Sjneider.
It took Moshiri time to convince Koeman that Everton was the right place to advance his career. It then took Moshiri time again to find a suitable candidate to fulfil the role of Director of Football, before carefully coaxing Steve Walsh to Goodison Park (although unlike Koeman, it is reported that the former Leicester man was not first on the Iranian’s list). This quiet, patient and calculated approach to restructuring and employing the best available for the job has convinced most Evertonians that Moshiri is on the verge of steering the club into a bold, exciting and successful future.
But Everton’s standing among English and European football’s elite has been diminished, and not just in the previous two years under Martinez. It’s understandable why some Evertonians are furious with Martinez, but to lay the blame solely at his door would be shortsighted. The only barometer of success for a “Big” club is winning. Winning more games than your opponents, and winning trophies. And that’s something Everton haven’t been able to do since Margaret Thatcher ruled.
Since then, we’ve lost our way and haven’t quite been able to pin down who we are, or where we’re going. Footballers chase money, but they also chase status, honours, Champions League football, glory and for their name to be remembered long after they’ve hung up their boots. Even with Moshiri’s financial backing and the promise of a new stadium, top players are looking to win things now, not in a couple of years.
We shouldn’t get upset when the Witsels and Matas of this world are over-looking Everton. Moshiri and Evertonians’ vision of what they want Everton to be is clear, but it’s not a reality the best players can get on board with. So when names like Ashley Williams, Idrisa Gueye and Wilfried Bony are mooted instead, fans can’t afford to scoff. Such names are good players who can no doubt improve the side. They might not cause the kind of tremors that make people in far-flung parts of the world stand up and take notice, but these low-end Richter scale signings will be necessary, and will help the club on the road to once more becoming a major player in English football.