2017-18 club preview: Everton

Football: Transfer spree may not buy success for Everton

Wayne Rooney (far left, with Leighton Baines) during Thursday's return leg of the Europa League third qualifying round in Slovakia. The Toffees beat Ruzomberok 1-0 in both legs.
Wayne Rooney (far left, with Leighton Baines) during Thursday's return leg of the Europa League third qualifying round in Slovakia. The Toffees beat Ruzomberok 1-0 in both legs.PHOTO: REUTERS

The English Premier League will kick off its 25th season this week with competition for the title fiercer than ever. Here are the teams who will define the season, as they seek the elusive edge to land the ultimate prize come May. Toffees show ambition but face the challenge of replacing Lukaku, who scored 25 goals last season

LONDON • Ronald Koeman identified this summer as crucial to his designs for Everton on day one of his reign. He has not been short-changed.

In terms of investment, decisiveness in the transfer market, executing the business plan and generating optimism, this has been an unprecedented window by Premier League standards at Goodison Park.

Positivity abounds but a nagging questions lingers: is £150 million (S$266 million) the price of catching up with the elite of English football or simply keeping up?

With the major shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, having transformed the financial picture at Goodison and the director of football, Steve Walsh, delivering a required overhaul, Koeman has benefited from a recruitment drive like no Everton manager before.

Almost £100 million has been spent on seven additions to the first-team pool.

Koeman also wants a striker, with Arsenal's Olivier Giroud a target, plus a left-sided defender.

His aims for a side that finished seventh in the league last season?

  • TRANSFERS

  • IN

    • Michael Keane (Burnley): £25 million (S$44.35 million), rising to £31m

    • Davy Klaassen (Ajax): £23.6m

    • Cuco Martina (Southampton): Free

    • Henry Onyekuru (Eupen): £7m

    • Jordan Pickford (Sunderland): £25m, rising to £30m

    • Sandro Ramirez (Malaga): £5.2m

    • Wayne Rooney (Man United): Undisclosed

  • OUT

    • Romelu Lukaku (Man United): £75m, rising to £90m

    • Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona): £10.5m

    • Aiden McGeady (Sunderland): £2.5m

    • Tom Cleverley (Watford): £8m

  • KEY FIXTURES

  • Aug 21: Man City (away)

    Aug 26: Chelsea (a)

    Sept 9: Tottenham (home)

    Sept 17: Man United (h)

    Oct 21: Arsenal (h)

    Dec 9: Liverpool (a)

    Dec 23: Chelsea (h)

    Jan 1: Man United (h)

    Jan 13: Tottenham (a)

    Feb 3: Arsenal (a)

    March 31: Man City (h)

    April 7: Liverpool (h)

"It is still too soon to talk about top four," the Everton manager said. "What we'd like to do is continue what we did last season.

"Everyone is trying to get the best players. The big six in the Premier League will spend money as well but it is a good signal to everybody that we are on board and will try to give them that competition that we didn't last season."

The Toffees will have an immediate opportunity to do so with the fixture list presenting Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their first five games.

Koeman has accepted and welcomed the additional pressure that will follow his club's heavy spending although Everton are not the only team investing.

The intent, however, is clear.

The club have broken their transfer record twice to sign Jordan Pickford from Sunderland and Michael Keane from Burnley in deals that could rise to £30 million.

Pickford became the most expensive British goalkeeper in history when he signed on the same day that Ajax captain Davy Klaassen completed a £23.6 million move.

At 23, and with 31 Premier League appearances behind him in a poor Sunderland side, the custodian is young and inexperienced but offers immense potential.

Keane, 24, falls into a similar category, another signing which reflects the long-term planning of the Merseyside club.

The exception in the transfer strategy is the signing who dominates the spotlight and invites a multitude of questions about Koeman's plans for the team this season: Wayne Rooney.

There was a romanticism surrounding Rooney's return to his boyhood club after 13 years at Manchester United, but Everton's manager is no romantic when it comes to selecting a winning team.

The Dutchman believes the 31-year-old was written off prematurely by United and England and will be rejuvenated at Goodison, providing invaluable experience and a winner's mentality to Everton's young talent.

As Rooney's second competitive debut against Ruzomberok in the Europa League last month demonstrated, however, finding the best position for him to exert that influence will be a challenge.

He started at centre-forward before drifting out right, deep and left.

For all the investment in Koeman's team, they do not seem ready to fill the 25-goal hole created by Romelu Lukaku's move to Old Trafford for a fee rising to £90 million.

The balance and potency of Everton's attack, as it stands, presents the greatest obstacle to their aim of competing for the Champions League places.

Koeman requires more presence and pace up front. It would be excessively optimistic to expect Rooney to roll back the years at centre-forward for an entire season.

Beyond Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon, neither of whom are likely to be regular starters, there is little speed or penetration out wide. Yannick Bolasie would be a solution but is unlikely to return until midway through the campaign from a serious knee injury.

What Koeman is blessed with is leadership throughout the squad.

As a former England and Manchester United captain, Rooney is the most obvious example but not the only one.

Klaassen captained Ajax for two seasons before leaving after the Europa League final defeat by United. Keane did not wear the armband but brought authority to Burnley's defence. Morgan Schneiderlin is another dominant voice in the dressing room that has an established pecking order of three captains in Phil Jagielka, Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines.

But the success of Everton's summer will be measured within the tight confines of the Premier League's leading pack.

"Everybody knows that there was one really big reason for me to sign one year ago for Everton," Koeman said. "It was all about this project and I think the club is showing that ambition that everybody likes to have and they are really great, exciting times for Everton Football Club."

THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Transfer spree may not buy success'. Print Edition | Subscribe