The Toffees have finished their pre-season campaign and head back to Merseyside from Germany before a further week of preparation at Finch Farm ahead of next weekend’s opening clash with newly promoted Leicester City. On Saturday we were beaten by SC Paderborn 3-1, which meant we were left without a win during our warm-up schedule and this, along with the fitness (and whereabouts, in Koné’s case) of some of our returning players, has been the subject of discussion (debate in some quarters) on Twitter and the like over the past few days.
Us Evertonians like a moan, but sometimes I am seriously left scratching my head at some of the stuff I hear and read. Although in the main the mood around the Club is currently that of a positive one, there is always that lingering pack of downbeat, negative types who try to pick the bones out of every last Everton-related topic and bring us down a peg or two. Now without sounding overly critical of a particular group of my fellow Evertonians, I just believe that the way we are shaping up going into this season, there is no room for negativity. We must continue the enthusiasm and upbeat attitude we displayed both on the pitch and off it last season, and since Martínez has taken to the helm at Goodison Park. Yes we can question things, and obviously nobody wants to see us lose games and look a bit off the pace, but have a little faith in the Manager and this group of players because looking at the position we are in now compared to years gone by we are on another level, we have nothing to fear and we have all the makings to do something memorable in the imminent future – the signs are good for this Football Club.
Personally I take nothing from pre-season; I’m not the first to say it and I certainly won’t be the last; pre-season is basically a fitness regime for the players, but the matches that they play just so happen to be in front of a watching and expectant crowd. I am not really for the ‘we must try to win every game’ attitude during the summer months because when the players are warming up I’d rather just see them get back to full match fitness and avoid any unwanted injuries. The fact that we haven’t won a single game does not worry me in the slightest, and I am confident that going into a new Premier League season this will not affect us in any negative way. Of course I have my own concerns over the fitness of some of our players, but let’s be honest; this was bound to happen after the torrid time we had with injuries last season and the impact of the World Cup this summer. Some of our players are still overcoming knocks, and many have only just returned to training from their breaks, but we’ve now got a squad that looks stronger in terms of quality, hunger and options than it has done in many a year, and I am confident that even if we do see a bit of a miss-matched line up on Saturday at Leicester, things will still fall into place for Martínez and Everton in the coming weeks and months. Think back to last season, drawing our opening three games, it took time for us to gel and we were a team in transition, but now we are a team and squad familiar with each other, all as enthusiastic as one another, and with additions still being made in the coming weeks we have to look ahead to this season as an exciting campaign full of promise, hope and potential. The players we loaned have come back permanently, they now know the Club and their team mates, only a few wasters (Gueye/Vellios) have left – everyone else has remained. The Martínez project continues to build and I certainly won’t let a subdued pre-season campaign dampen my spirits.
Throughout this summer I’ve remained confident that Roberto would get adequate financial resources to continue his good work and to see Lukaku brought in and Barry signed up were major boosts. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our performance in the market and as previously written, the Lukaku deal is a significant step and bringing Barry back was in my opinion vital to this Football Club. With the news that Martínez is set to snap up Atsu on loan and could well bring in another new face before the end of August, our transfer dealings have to be viewed as impressive again this summer, and this past 12 months has made for a refreshing change. That’s not to mention the younger lads we’ve signed (Galloway, Byrne, possibly Henen) and Mo Bešić too – the latter is one player who has got Evertonians talking already. The Lukaku deal somewhat took the shine off the Bešić unveiling the day earlier but the young Bosnian is already showing glimpses of real promise. Although we have only seen snippets of the 21-year-old, he looks to have a bag full of tricks, an assurance in his play and another attribute that will endear him to our fans – strong in the tackle. He will need to have a bit about him in a Premier League midfield and I know if I was lining up against the likes of him, McCarthy and Barry I’d need to be right on top of my game! His addition is just as exciting as the Lukaku deal in my opinion, and again Roberto has shown his faith in youth as he continues to add real potential to our squad.
Roberto Martínez on the Premier League and hopes for Everton:
“I think the Premier League this season will be quite unique because of the number of teams fighting to get into the top four. Manchester United will be a force, 100 per cent, the top four of last season will be stronger and I think Spurs will benefit from all the investment of a year ago.
But I would like to believe we will benefit from being together for 12 months and we will be stronger. I will never shy away from trying to get Champions League football because that has to be where we’re trying to get to.
When it’s going to be, I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be down to just money to get into the top four positions.”
Speaking of our squad, we now have a couple of players to each position and although we could still do with a couple more in certain areas, how long is it since we’ve been able to say that? The central midfields of Neville and Heitinga are long gone (makes you shudder, doesn’t it?), so how about the likes of Ross Barkley, Darron Gibson, Leon Osman, James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Mo Bešić all vying for places – sound a bit better? Not to mention young hopefuls Conor Grant and Ryan Ledson who will hope to follow in the footsteps of fellow graduate Ross Barkley who is now at the forefront of this exciting new Everton side. Martínez has got options in the middle and he is certainly going to need them all during a gruelling campaign on four fronts (League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League and Europa League, to remind you all) and he will continue to have the opportunity to experiment in that area. Being in Europe will provide different opposition and different problems, but Martínez now has a wealth of talent in the midfield to deal with what Everton will come up against. Just on the topic of midfield I would like to mention Darron Gibson. His career at Goodison Park has been more stop-start than a bus journey through Kenny to say the least (If you’ve been on the 10a, you’ll know), but hopefully now the Irishman put his injury woes behind him because I think I speak for all Evertonians when I say this, he can be a class act on his day and in the short amount of games he has played for this Club he did have a real impact. Let’s hope Gibbo can get a real run and keep his midfield team mates on their toes this season. The central midfield areas look strong and can interchange, and now finally we have the options that can compete with the very best.
Looking around the rest of the squad, in defence we also look strong. Luke Garbutt has been involved in pre-season and left back is probably our healthiest position with him, Baines and Oviedo all fighting for places. The latter is yet to return from his leg break but don’t forget how good he was before his injury last season, he will provide another welcome boost and will no doubt play his part in the forthcoming campaign. In the centre of defence we have the experienced Jags, Distin and Alcaraz and the brilliant John Stones who is growing all the time. Shane Duffy is also back at Goodison Park after his impressive loan spell at Yeovil and the Irish international will be another name hoping to get a run in the first team this season, as will the aforementioned Brendan Galloway who recently signed in from MK Dons. Again, Martínez might experiment with formation and partnerships; he may go 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 at times this season, it will be interesting to see just who and where he picks players over the course of the next nine months.
At right back Coleman is still struggling with a knock so Hibbert is likely to feature during the opening exchanges of the season but once Everton’s star player of the last campaign returns hopefully he can hit the heights as he did during season 2013-14, whilst Tyias Browning is another youngster who has been involved in recent weeks and he can fill in at right back and centre half and I’d expect to see a bit more of him in the months ahead. Between the sticks we have the returning US hero Tim Howard who will no doubt have a spring in his step after the World Cup – so let’s hope that means he’s better at catching crosses and commanding his area! One worrying thing is Howard’s back-up, Joel Robles, who will no doubt be involved at some point this season for the Blues. Put it this way if the Spaniard is playing in goal you’ll need 12 Chang before kick-off to calm the nerves, he just doesn’t fill you with any confidence at all.
Further forward is where Martínez is still tinkering and the addition of Atsu from Chelsea will provide additional reinforcements in the wider areas. Atsu is young and will be given his chance to shine with Everton (subject to a work permit) and he will hopefully blossom under Martínez, just as other youngsters and loan players have done before. Steven Pienaar is getting on a bit now but is still one of the most skilful and exciting footballers to watch at this Club, there is no denying he will be a key figure again this season but let’s just hope he doesn’t get any more niggling injuries. Aiden McGeady is now fully fit and hopefully raring to go, and he provides a different option in our side being an ‘old-fashioned’ winger as they say. The Scotsman possesses plenty of tricks and flicks and he could well be a dark horse this season, you watch this space. I pretty much don’t need to go into great detail about Mirallas – you all know what is he is capable of. My only criticism of Kevin would be that sometimes he can blow hot and cold, but then again when he is hot he is on fire, and the prospect of him linking up with Barkley and his countryman Lukaku again this term has got me foaming at the mouth, so I’ll just shut up before I’ve even started. (Ironically every time I was critical of Mirallas last season he either went on to score or set up a goal – I shall try it again this season). I think once the Atsu deal is tied up that will be it for the wider areas, but ideally we’d be able to sneak another winger in just to bolster the ranks and make it two for each position, as Pienaar isn’t a winger although he does play out left as we know. Who knows what Roberto might do from now until deadline day, him and Bill could be plotting another five loan deals as we speak!
Up front we could still do with another body in my opinion, even though we now have Rom, Naismith and Koné (if he ever decides to make an appearance) all vying for places. Koné’s career at Everton hasn’t got off the ground as yet and with Lukaku now at the Club he might struggle for game time, especially if Naismith shows the form he did at times last season. Koné can obviously score goals but he just needs to get fit and get a pan of Scouse down him and hopefully he can then play his part. Naismith has a new lease of life under Martínez and you don’t need me to tell you how impressive his attitude has been this past year. The Scot can finish and with Lukaku and Koné unlikely to feature at Leicester, he will be looking to take his chance in the Blues attack and stake a claim for a place ahead of the aforementioned duo. Young forward Conor McAleny recently signed a new deal with the Club and he, along with fellow attackers Hallam Hope and Chris Long will be hoping to see some senior game time this season. Another youngster who could be on his way to Everton is highly rated Belgian forward David Henen who will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his countryman and former Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku and make it big in the English game. However as I write this there is reports the Henen deal could be off if Everton don’t quicken things up so hopefully the Club can pull their finger out and tie him down to a deal and get another young talent on their books.
Roberto Martínez on player acquisitions:
“When I went to the World Cup, I sat down watching games and thought … who here is better than what we have at our club? And it was difficult.
The real strength of this squad has been the continuity with signing Gareth Barry and new contracts for Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman. And if I had millions and millions, I would have spent it on signing players such as John Stones and Ross. I’m in a very fortunate position. I would have spent millions on Gareth. I’m delighted with the players we have kept.
Seeing Ross committing to a new contract shows how the chairman and the football club are working hard to give us a footballing future with financial solutions.”
Overall we look in good shape and although the Leicester game might come too early for the likes of Lukaku, Mirallas and Coleman, as detailed above we now have sufficient quality and personnel to deal with the rigours of the forthcoming campaign. Although in terms of numbers we might only be plus one on last season, it is the players we now have permanently at the Club and those returning from injury that stand us in good stead for the next chapter of the Martínez era. Last season we had a good squad but suffered badly with injuries, and although we performed admirably at times those injuries did take their toll, but now with some better luck on the injury front and a settled squad of players I am excited about our prospects this season. The word confidence has just increased and increased since Roberto took charge, I have faith in his decisions and since May I have felt quite relaxed about our transfer dealings, and with over two weeks to go until the window shuts I can only see there being more good news coming from the Club. This summer there hasn’t been any bad news, which makes a nice change for us Evertonians, and this was all started by Martínez signing his new five-year deal.
It feels like ages ago that the news broke about our Spanish gaffer putting pen to paper on a new deal and since then a lot has fallen into place; Martínez committed himself, Tony Hibbert, Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and John Stones have all followed suit (McCarthy next), Bešić arrives with the World at his feet and big Rom and Gareth Barry have returned to the promised land. The Everton Board have surprised many and matched our manager’s ambition and for the moment they deserve praise, we’ve also now got a badge that we don’t detest and a kit that is quite decent too. Everyone wants to be a part of what we are trying to achieve at this Football Club and last season the spirit amongst our support and everyone associated was incredible. Although the League’s big spenders have lived up to their names again and strengthened heavily and each season gets even tougher for Club’s like us with limited spending (in comparison) to compete, with one or two more faces through the door, the grit, determination, desire and belief that we showed last season and a bit of luck along the way, who knows what we can achieve.
Everton FC are about to take another step into the Martínez footprint and I simply cannot wait to see us get going again. With this manager and this current crop of players we have at Goodison Park, the possibilities are endless.
See you at Goodison,
Up the Toffees.