Maybe – just maybe – those who claimed Everton’s chances of making Europe were between slim and none – this writer included – will be proved wrong come May. The Toffees’ second convincing 2-0 win over Manchester City this season has well and truly catapulted David Moyes’ side into the European reckoning.
Now just three points off both Aston Villa and Liverpool, with the European places likely to stretch to seventh by virtue of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup semi-final presence, another European tour is not out of the question. Everton were just about deserving winners on Wednesday night – they had their backs to the wall for large portions of the game but some resolute defending and intelligent counter-attacking pushed the sky blue tide away from Tim Howard’s goal. The three points were not just claimed by the performance at Eastlands, but rather were the result of nearly a decade of hard work from Moyes and his backroom staff. The Scot walked into Goodison eight years ago and found a club on its knees, staring relegation in the face under the guidance, for want of a better term, of Walter Smith. The transformation, then, masterminded by the fiery 46-year-old has been total – Everton, if not quite an ugly duckling Moyes turned into a beautiful swan – are without question the blueprint of how to take a team from the gutter to the stars.
For all the plaudits currently being thrown at Moyes and his Everton players, it is important to remember it has not been all plain sailing at Goodison Park. There have definitely been more highs than lows but the nadir has been approached on occasion – amassing just 39 points in 2003/04, the lowest tally in Everton’s long history, and a final placing of 17th was a particularly worrying time. A year later, however, Everton were in the Champions League, the very place City are struggling to reach, and the Blues of Merseyside did it with a fraction of the budget available to Roberto Mancini. If anything, Everton reached Europe’s top competition too soon, as the squad that clinched fourth place greatly overachieved and was in vast need of an overhaul to not only approach the same level in the league, but also put in a good showing on the continent.
New signings duly arrived – Simon Davies, Nuno Valente, Andy van der Meyde, Matteo Ferrari and the infamous Per Kroldrup – but Everton were swiftly eliminated from Europe and by October were bottom of the league. The only bright spots from that time period are the capture of both Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta, two players who remain instrumental today. That a pair of players signed half a decade ago – and more, in the cases of Joseph Yobo and Tim Cahill – can be integral parts of Moyes’ plans for so long highlights an area Everton have the edge over not just City, but also arguably Spurs, Villa and Liverpool – fidelity of selection. The four aforementioned clubs will each dip heavily into the transfer market this summer – as they seem to every year – but how many of their signings will still be present come 2015? The Champions League-chasing pack have such a rapid turnover of players and managers the kind of stability Everton are benefiting from will forever elude them.
Credit for the constancy at the heart of Everton’s recent revival should not just go to Moyes but also to the man who plucked him from Preston North End, supported him during the dark days and enjoys the successes as much as any Evertonian – chairman Bill Kenwright. The theatre impresario is a divisive figure to some on Merseyside, with a perceived lack of investment – despite Everton regularly smashing their transfer record under Kenwright’s stewardship – and the Destination Kirby stadium move debacle creating unrest. The financial meltdown at Portsmouth has quietened the previously deafening questions as to where Everton’s billionaire investor is, as has the ill-fated Notts County buyout – Peter Trembling, at the forefront of that particular farce, was formerly Everton’s commercial director, and last summer Merseyside was rife with speculation as to why Trembling had not brought similar wealthy businessmen to Everton – a bullet dodged if ever there was one.
Before they became the richest club in the world, there were countless similarities between Everton and Manchester City – both from working class, northern cities they have to share with more glamorous rivals – but since the epic investment lavished on Eastlands, the two clubs have drifted apart. City are chasing immediate, short-term success while Everton continue to trek the long, dirty road to what will ultimately be a more gratifying triumph.
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