Premier League preview - Everton
After a storming end to the season Everton can prepare for the new Premier League campaign in good spirits, buoyed by the signing of Steven Naismith and the permanent return of Steven Pienaar. Even the sale of Jack Rodwell has not truly dampened the mood around Goodison Park.
On Sunday Everton announced a fee had been agreed for Rodwell with champions Manchester City and the 21-year-old completed the move later on in the evening. Officially for an undisclosed sum, sources in the Press put the amount at £12m, with a possible further £5m in appearance-related add-ons. While there is a feeling of regret that another talented young player will not fulfil his potential at the club that taught him his trade, it is largely overpowered by a grudging acceptance mixed with stark realism.
In Everton’s current financial situation they are vulnerable to this sort of transfer. Yet Rodwell, though undoubtedly promising, is not integral to David Moyes’ cause in way of a Leighton Baines or Marouane Fellaini. That pair have both been linked with an exit recently and the general feeling among Evertonians is the Rodwell sale is a small pain worth enduring if it means keeping Baines and Fellaini. But if one of the duo was to follow Rodwell, the scenes of last summer - when a group of fans staged protests against the board - would be eclipsed in record time.
That was the backdrop against which Everton began last season. It was not a state of affairs conducive to a strong start but, then again, Everton never start the season well anyway, so it could be argued little difference was made. This year fans have been satisfied by the summer transfer activity and all is altogether quiet on the protest front. How long that will remain the case if Everton endure another mediocre opening is anyone’s guess.
Like every year, that is where Everton must improve. If the season was half as long, running only from January to May, Moyes’ team would be title contenders. But if the campaign stretched only from August to December, Everton would have dropped out the top flight long ago.
Righting that perennial wrong is the object every summer and Moyes has tried all manner of preparations to do so. Will he get it right this year? Time will tell. The pieces are certainly in place, especially compared to this time 12 months ago. A full season of Nikica Jelavic linking up with Fellaini, Pienaar, Baines and Naismith is a tantalising prospect for Evertonians, and the dread that heralded the start of last season has been replaced with optimism.
If - and admittedly it may be a big if - Everton start the new season anything like they ended the last one then a real tilt at Europe is not out of the question. Moyes has what he lacked last August - a potent striker in Jelavic, creativity in midfielder from Pienaar, and a harmonious atmosphere around the club. What could possibly go wrong?
Manager- David Moyes: At one point last season Moyes looked withdrawn as his 10th anniversary as Everton manager approached. The January window revitalised the boss and his squad, and the summer has gone well too. The only players to leave have been those no longer of use or for whom a too-good-to-refuse offer was received. Moyes has even been able to make some signings, too.
Key signing - Steven Pienaar: The full-time return of Pienaar was what Moyes and Evertonians alike desired most of all from the summer. There is a special bond between the player and the club and it was well worth the £4.5m to see it re-established once more.
Key sale - Tim Cahill: For the first time in eight years Everton begin a season without the Australian midfielder. In truth, Cahill’s powers were waning for a while and the £1m received from New York Red Bulls and the removal of Cahill’s wages was too good to pass up. The transfer also confirms there is no room for sentiment at Goodison.
Keep an eye out for…Ross Barkley. The teenage midfielder was involved in the first team early last season but was soon removed as Moyes tried to protect the youngster from the weight of expectation. But there was enough on show to suggest the hype is well justified and may be realised this campaign, especially with Rodwell allowed to leave.