Heart Of Football

Heart of Football: Big movers Everton can shake up top four

The Premier League's summer transfer window officially opens on July 1, but nobody tells that to the clubs, the players, the agents.

Among the early shoppers, Manchester City and Everton are getting their business done early. And while City's Abu Dhabi owner is delivering on a promise to let Pep Guardiola rebuild the side to his own, world-acclaimed design, the Toffees' makeover looks no less decisive.

From the moment Farhad Moshiri sold his stake in Arsenal and recycled the fortune to buy controlling ownership of Everton, a blue revolution on Merseyside was forecast.

Everton have been housed at Goodison Park, across a green field from rival Liverpool's Anfield, since the 1890s. Plans to move have been on and off, and right now there are two sites under exploration.

But Moshiri's priority is clearly to get the team fit for whenever and wherever the future beckons.

On Thursday, he authorised two sizeable cheques.

One bought Jordan Pickford, the rising young keeper from Sunderland, for £30 million (S$53 million). The other cost £24 million for Dutchman Davy Klaassen who, at 24, has grown up through the ranks at Johan Cruyff's club, Ajax.

That's a cool S$95.5 million agreed on a single day.

It is a down payment on what Everton really intend.

The rebuilding rests to some extent on Koeman committing himself to the club ... and Everton committing to getting their deals done early... to move up from seventh to challenge the top four. 

Moshiri is Iranian-born, London-educated, and domiciled in Monaco. His wealth is in steel and energy in, among other places, Russia.

He has the means to put into place the ambitions that Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, dreamed about through a decade of high-wire balancing on precarious finances.

The third and fourth men in this turnover at Goodison are manager Ronald Koeman, and director of football Steve Walsh, effectively the recruitment officer, who was persuaded to do for Everton what he did for Leicester's astonishing rise to the 2015-16 league title.

If Koeman is the master of the way that Everton plays, Walsh is the eyes and ears of the club abroad.

Right now he is in Italy, attempting to buy any of six players in Milan and Naples that Everton apparently have eyes upon.

And there's more. Apart from Pickford (rated one of England's best up-and-coming goalkeepers) and Klaassen (a precocious leader at Ajax), Everton have other targets closer to home.

Their academy is one of England's finest, and has to be, given Everton's struggle for so long to attract the wealth that Roman Abramovich provides at Chelsea, and the Arab sheikhs, Asians, and Americans invest in the top half of the Premiership.

Everton, it's said, are close to signing M'Baye Niang, the wild child from France who last season, played on-loan at Watford from AC Milan, and whose escapades off the field include a driving ban for crashing his car and a ban from the France under-21 squad for breaking curfew and jumping off a roof.

Another target is Gylfi Sigurdsson , the dynamic Icelander who did so much to keep Swansea up last season. And another one is Sandro Ramirez, a Spanish striker from LaLiga's Malaga. Yet another is Burnley's strong young English central defender Michael Keane.

Something has to give, and it is well documented that Romelu Lukaku, Everton's top striker with 25 league goals last season, wants to go back to Chelsea, who sold him when Jose Mourinho was in charge . And Ross Barkley - sometimes brilliant, sometimes slothful, and too often compared to Everton's former wunderkind Wayne Rooney - hopes for a big move away.

Barkley is 23, a similar age to the players Koeman is now recruiting for the Everton faithful. The manager gave Barkley ultimatums last season, first to put in the effort that Koeman demands, and then to take up a new contract or leave.

As of now, the contract is unsigned. Klaassen, and if they get him Sigurdsson, will give Koeman what he wants, which is creativity with consistent vigour.

If Lukaku gets his way, he will replace Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge, and the price will probably cover half the £150 million that Everton are spending even as this article is being written.

The rebuilding rests to some extent on Koeman committing himself to the club. His ultimate ambition, everyone knows, is to go back to Barcelona which defined his time as a mighty defender in the Cruyff "Dream Team" in the 1990s.

Koeman still has a house in Barcelona, and still harbours the dream of returning there, as Barca head coach.

The good news for the blue half of Liverpool is that it will not happen anytime soon. Ernesto Valverde has just accepted the role of guiding Leo Messi and Co as manager.

"Messi? He is the best player I have ever seen on a football pitch," Valverde said. "I hope to enjoy his play and my idea is to help him to get even better, if there is anything to improve on."

It's a big if. Even if Valverde should not, for any reason, see out the two years on his contract, there is another man who might seem the heir apparent to the role ahead of Koeman.

Xavi Hernandez, now 37 and currently playing out his career with Qatari club Al Sadd, is regarded in the Camp Nou as a shoo-in to return eventually to do what Guardiola did there.

In the meantime, Koeman commits to Everton. And Everton commits to getting their deals done early, all the better to move up from seventh to challenge the top four in English football.

The examination of this summer's massive overhaul will also come very soon. The Premier League kicks off on Aug 12, and four of Everton's opening five fixtures are against City, Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United - all bar Tottenham away from home.

The Premier League "royalty" all have exacting pre-season tournaments, while Everton limbers up with a warm-up in Tanzania followed by games against FC Twente and Sevilla.

And by the time they face off against the big four, the opponents will have their minds set on the Champions League group stage.

Although it looks a fearsome start to the 2017-18 season, it might actually favour Everton.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Big movers Everton can shake up top four'. Print Edition | Subscribe