It says much of Everton’s decline that any predictions regarding top-six places in the upcoming Premier League season revolve around the order of the teams and not their composition. Arsenal and Chelsea are all changed and go into the season harbouring hopes of retaining a top-four place. Liverpool are fine-tuning a well-oiled machine, Manchester United can’t be as hopeless as their manager’s mood and Spurs will continue being Spurs - which after three consecutive top-three finishes is not the insult it once was. Manchester City...well. If not set in stone, surely scrawled in permanent marker.
Resistance is futile, as Everton found to their cost last year. Success is even worse - just ask the decimated Leicester squad - if it cannot be sustained. Admirably, the club that has won the seventh-most major honours in English football (where else did you expect them?), are doubling down on their efforts to break the hegemony following last year’s failed raid.
With a new stadium and therefore increased revenues down the line, majority owner Farhad Moshiri sees closing the gap on the established top-six teams as a key part of the puzzle. A businessman successful enough to buy a Premier League club, but evidently one who has never heard the phrase “once bitten, twice shy”.
The groundwork has been laid, if not with summer arrivals (Richarlison and Lucas Digne are their only major signings so far) then certainly with departures. The bloated squad has been trimmed by the inglorious exits of both Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney among others.
A top-class manager seems central to the club’s success, or at the very least a clear priority for Moshiri. In that sense Everton were unlucky to have started their “project” later than Tottenham, who were blessed with the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino to English shores. Thanks again Southampton. Everton also felt grateful when Ronald Koeman led the club to a 7th place finish in his first season, finishing only eight points behind a Van Gaal-led United. Having finished 11th in Roberto Martinez’s last season at the helm, the team were once again progressing.
The progress was led as much by Romelu Lukaku’s frankly astounding statistics as Koeman’s star quality, and when Lukaku left for greener pastures Koeman struggled. Poor signings marred last year’s campaign, and after the failed pursuit of Marco Silva Everton’s season was effectively over, having never seriously threatened the relegation places.
Now that they have their man, what can the Goodison faithful expect? Silva has already proven his tactical acumen in the Premier League, having pulled off big results in previous spells at Hull and Watford. His departure from the latter is cause for concern for Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright though - having courted a bigger club, Silva and Watford only managed five points from 30 before he was relieved of his duties.
Therein lies the crux for Everton. A successful year, which surely means more of a top-six challenge than a top-six place, will leave the club in danger of losing key assets once more. Their 41 year old manager will surely be among them if this is the case, and Silva has done nothing to suggest he will want to stick around should better opportunities emerge.
This is part of the hidden challenge for the teams outside the elite. Consolidation can lead to stagnation (see, Southampton), whereas determination requires innovation. Two years ago Everton thought they had cracked it, with Koeman being joined by Steve Walsh as director of football, widely credit with the acquisitions of N’Goló Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Earlier this summer Walsh was replaced by Marcel Brands, who fans must hope does not have the same no. 10 predilections as his predecessor.
Which of Silva or Brands takes credit for new signings may depend on their impact, but one thing is for sure. A good season for Everton will mean start again at square one.