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Everton, the project to return amongst the big boys

Modern football functions like the Italian school system. Those who are suspended in May need to already start working hard in summer.

Everton had to start their season very early, even for British standards. In fact, last season the team qualified for the Europa League only thanks to the last available spot. “Goodison Park” was already at full capacity in mid-July, although only 35,000 spectators were present due to one of the stands being under renovation. A Leighton Baines‘ shot, deflected into the Ružomberok net, gave Everton a scrawny 1-0 victory. The same result was achieved during the second leg in Slovakia. Everton did their duty and now await more probing tests.

The 26th edition of the Premier League has started on Friday with the opening game between Arsenal and Leicester and that is a watershed moment for the Toffees, a club that has not won a trophy for many years. They won the FA Cup back in 1995 while the last success in the league goes back to 1987. The arrival of foreign investment into the Premier League gradually forced the Merseyside club outside the top positions in the league. Everton have been financially outplayed by the likes of the “new rich” Chelsea and Manchester and have found it hard to match local rivals Liverpool too. To win a derby, every now and then, is a scarce consultation these days. The club, previously managed by David Moyes and the current Belgian national team manager, Roberto Martínez, often bullied weaker teams but lacked the quality to compete against the “big boys”. As a result, they regularly ended recent seasons in a sort of ‘no man’s land’, playing, from March onwards, more to entertain than to achieve a concrete objective.

Bringing back home Rooney this summer showed the club wants to finally come out of mediocrity and raise its ambitions.

After all, sentimental reasons aside, Wazza chose Everton over half a dozen clubs in Asia because he believes in the project.

I could have gone anywhere, but as soon as I understood Ronald Koeman wanted me I did not think twice about it

said Rooney after signing his new contract. The all-time England international goal scorer will of course wear the number 10 shirt left by Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian, who found favor with José Mourinho again this summer, was brutally kicked out of Chelsea by the Portuguese coach during his first season back in charge of the Blues. He takes with him more than the 87 goals (26 only during the last season) he scored in four years. Selling Lukaku means that Everton’s Dutch manager wants to radically transform his team’s style of play. Signings such as Klaassen from Ajax and Ramírez, a former canterano from Barcelona and Malaga player, will help Everton playing a neat passing game with quick counterattacks: a 3-5-2 formation missing a strong man up front, which was the role where Lukaku excelled.

Rooney will be charged with providing assists. Whether he’ll find the net is a plus.

The timeless Gareth Barry, second in the Premier League’s all-time appearances list behind Ryan Giggs with 628 games played, will probably retire at the end of the season. Hence Everton will also have a few new faces in midfield. Senegal international Idrissa Gueye, the former Southampton promise, Morgan Schneiderlin (another player rejected by Mourinho) and Tom Davies will support the striker trio. Davies made his debut under Martínez when he was just 17 and regularly played last season (25 appearances, 2 goals). So much so as to deserve a rest from the youth teams’ international tournaments this summer.

Last season one of Koeman’s merits was indeed to launch many young talents.

Rambo provided opportunities to the centre-back Holgate (18 appearances), Ademola Lookman (8 appearances, 2 goals) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (11 games, one goal). All of them, alongside teammate Kenny, were amongst the best players in the Under 20 World Cup which England won thanks to a goal by Calvert-Lewin. This year the former Southampton manager won’t be short of talented players, from those with an international pedigree such as Ashley Williams, Baines and Phil Jagielka to winger Mirallas, the ideal super substitute, and the currently injured Yannick Bolasie. Plus, another two youngsters who already accumulated great experience: Jordan Pickford, whose numerous saves could not spare Sunderland from relegation last year, and Michael Keane, a central defender from the Manchester United academy, who already debuted with the national team.

Eleven signings between May and June: Everton’s transfer market was ambitious but not reckless.

Indeed, the balance will still be positive, considering that Ross Barkley is likely to be sold. After five seasons at “Goodison Park” the player decided it is now time for him to move on. The sacrifice of his talent will help the club in funding the £300 million project to build a new stadium on the Mersey river docks that should be ready to host the next Commonwealth Games in 2022. The remaining money will necessarily need to be generated by results on the pitch.

Starting with qualification for the next Champions League, a difficult, but not impossible goal, even for the team that started getting serious before the rest.

Cover and article photos ©LaPresse