The Changing of the Guard

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Seamus Coleman of Everton celebrates his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Everton at Loftus Road on March 22, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Here we are just over a week on after the Newcastle game. It’s been a positive week in regards to picking up two wins in the league, and now seem to be pulling away from the dreaded relegation zone. Last week everyone was so encouraged by the display against the Geordies. It had everything we, the supporters had been asking for. Two upfront, pace, power, directness and going into the trip to Kiev everyone was so upbeat. Unfortunately Martinez and the players took every ounce of that positivity and turned it into the worst performance of the season. I don’t need to elaborate about what we should or shouldn’t have done. Unfortunately the people involved in that harrowing defeat didn’t do their jobs properly, the rest they say is consigned to the history books.

From the catastrophe in Kiev we moved onto a massive six pointer against QPR. I thought the days of six pointers had long gone, but due to our huge fall from grace this year they have returned. We returned to the same personnel, shape and formation that fared so well against Newcastle. Unfortunately we played like a team that hadn’t played together before. Granted that may have something to do with the arduous trip to Kiev and back. There was no getting away from how poor we looked and how good we made QPR look. QPR fought like their lives depended on it and to say they gave us real scare is an understatement. They seemed to want the game so much more than we did, played to their strengths and put us under a lot of pressure. Lucky for us they were unable to take any of their chances and only managed one shot on target (typically their goal). Barring the two goals we scored (which were two very good team goals) we were distinctly average. The highlights being Lennon’s goal, work ethic and the return to the back four of John Stones. As we’ve been saying for weeks all that really matters in the last 10 games is we win games. If someone had said before the Newcastle game that we would’ve two league wins in succession we would’ve snapped their hands off. But Sunday for me highlighted the real issues running through the squad.

 The wins against Newcastle and QPR have taken the immediate pressure off us in regards to relegation. I hope now we can start to look up the league instead of down and concentrate on winning as many games between now and the end of the season. Come the end of the season and barring a huge collapse we will be in the Premier League again for another year. For me and I’m sure for others the end of the season can’t come soon enough. A season that had promised so much has been one full of disappointment. We have certainly been left with more questions than answers to our beloved club. What has gone wrong? Why have we been found out so badly? Why have the players under performed so poorly? It’s hard to pin-point directly what the issues are, it has been a collective effort. From the board, management and players we have been massively let down.

 Kenwright has to hold some responsibility of this season. The lack of ambition this guy holds for the club is frightening. In his 24/7 search for investment he has returned absolutely nothing. How long will fans sit down and just accept this this mediocrity we’ve had to put up with since we lifted the FA Cup in 1995?! If it wasn’t for the huge television deals we’d be near enough bankrupt. While they continue he can hide behind the TV deals and not invest a penny himself. Until fans start voting with their feet he will continue to hide in shadows. As a theatre impresario he loves the limelight. It’s no coincidence that when we are winning and doing well you can’t shut the guy up. However this year when we’ve been atrocious he’s been nowhere to been seen. I’ve been really surprised he’s not come out and backed Martinez publically during the season. For years we have required investment in the playing squad that hasn’t been forth coming. Unfortunately now most of the Moyesites need replacing. For me he has a huge summer. If there is a lack of investment then I will be at my final straw with him, either put up or shut up Bill. We want our Everton back!

 Personally I’m at my last tether with Roberto too and for me this season he has shown his true colours. We’ve gone from one extreme to another with him. Last season he walked into the club like a breath of fresh air but this year it’s like he’s forgot to switch the glade plug in on! From playing players out of position to playing players in the wrong formation to his bizarre and frustrating substitutions. He was ‘Mr positive’ in everything he did last year. However you’d struggle to take any positives from this season. I use to enjoy watching us play under Roberto and I use to get excited at the prospect of watching us when he first arrived, but not anymore. When he arrived Dave Whelan said ‘Roberto will take you places you can only dream about’. I’m not sure on the brink of relegation was quite what most of us had in mind. My biggest pet hate towards Roberto is his nauseating post match interviews. His positivity is to be admired sometimes but I think he forgets that we have to sit through the same ninety five minutes of tripe he does. As fans we know we don’t always play well but to be told we were fantastic, showing phenomenal character when we’ve been truly woeful at Hull, Stoke et al is exasperating. As a fan I’d respect him a whole lot more if he was just more honest. Some will say let’s give him until Christmas, Moyes finished 17th in his second season…. That’s true, but Moyes had spent less money and had a squad severely lacking anywhere near as much quality as the one Martinez currently has at his disposal. Sadly for us Kenwright isn’t brave enough or ambitious enough to make a change. Consequently for the foreseeable future we are just going to accept El Bob.

It’s not only the management team who are to blame for this abysmal season but the current squad have to equally bare some of the responsibility. Too many players have underperformed this season. Apart from Stones, McCarthy and Lukaku not many others can say they put in performances worthy of an Everton player. Yes we have been incredibly unlucky with injuries to key players throughout the course of the season but some of the so called ‘top players’ need to be held accountable. I don’t for any reason believe the players have played poorly on purpose but I do believe a large number of the ever dependable ‘Moyes era’ players have ‘run their course’ and the squad is in dire need of a massive overhaul. The lack of investment and commitment from the board has led to a dependence on the core ‘Moyes players’ which are now coming towards the end of their Everton careers.

 For me the following players need replacing this summer:

Howard – 36, has been a good servant for the club but this year he has been found out. Making so many high profile mistakes. His save percentage is a shocking 55.6%. The need for a new keeper is priority.

Distin – 37, an excellent servant also but has endured a difficult season and rightly lost his place to John Stones. His contract expires in the summer and fully expect him to leave.

Alcaraz – 32, a better player in his and Martinez’s head than he actually is in reality. For a centre half he doesn’t attack the ball in the air, his spatial awareness is terrible and he makes whoever he’s partnered at CB with look half the player. Mainly because they have twice the work to do!

Hibbert – 34, our one club man has been a brilliant servant for the club. But he’s been anonymous this year due to injuries and is taking up wages that could be offered to another player. I’d personally offer him a coaching role at the club as his experience could be invaluable to the younger lads coming through.

Pienaar – 33, a player who came back from Spurs but never really reached the levels he achieved before his move to North London. His second spell and this season have been hampered by knee and thigh injuries. Have missed his link up play with Baines, we are desperate for a similar wide player.

Osman – 33, like Hibbert an Evertonian who understands the club and someone who we have also missed this year. He’s not getting any younger though and although a good squad player he can’t be relied upon to play 38 league games.

Kone – 31, his Everton career has been ruined by injuries so far. Only recently recovering from a long term knee injury. What we have seen though is he isn’t going to be threatening Lukaku’s place in the first team. A younger and better alternative is needed.

 If rumours are to be believed Kevin Mirallas will also be leaving. A player who is brilliant on his day but unfortunately has as much fight as a wet paper bag. When things are going well he’s brilliant but plays well every third game and when we are in need of players rolling up their sleeves he’s nowhere to be seen. If we get anything over £10 million for him will represent good business.

The above players need replacing as a matter of urgency. Nonetheless where are these players going to come from? I have conducted my own scouting of potential players that could come in and improve the current squad.

If we could offload Howard to the MLS it would open up sufficient wages to bring in a top goalkeeper. We have always struggled to find the right candidates where long term goalkeepers are concerned. Cast your minds back to the fateful botched attempts of signing Nigel Martyn or Mark Schwarzer in 1996. Both goalkeepers would’ve been excellent successors to Big Nev. We eventually brought in Martyn in 2003, to this day the best keeper we’ve had since Nev in his heyday. I couldn’t take another 7 years of Gerrard, Simonsen, Wright or the likes before we get it right. So who are the candidates? The obvious solution would be returning to Molde and attempting to resurrect the transfer of Orjan Nyland. We nearly completed the transfer in January but couldn’t get it over the line in time. The 6 foot 4 keeper has been scouted for some time and even had a trail in 2008. Having finishing 3rd with Norway at the European Under 21 tournament in 2013, he beat David De Gea to the goalkeeper of the tournament award. Reportedly worth £3 million, would certainly be regarded as value for money. Another keeper who should be on the clubs radar is Bayern Leverkusen’s 23 year old goalkeeper; Bernd Leno. A keeper who at 23 has accumulated 200+ appearances for Bayern and this season he has 12 clean sheets in 26 games. A big commanding 6 foot 3 keeper who’s a great shot stopper who reminds me of a young Peter Schmeichel. He only has two years left on his contract so would command a reduced fee.

With Distin probably leaving in the summer and the form of Alcaraz we are in need of greater centre half cover. The less we say about Alcaraz the better, especially after the Kiev game. But the game highlighted the need for better cover. Jagielka has got a couple more years in him left and Stones is getting better with every game but if any of the former gets injured we are left woefully short. It has been well documented that there is a shortage of good centre backs in European football. The fact that Manchester City paid nearly £32 million for Eliaquim Mangala is proof alone. Someone who is attainable this summer on a Bosman will be Ron Vlaar at Aston Villa; the imperious and commanding central defender had an excellent World Cup in Brazil. Unfortunately due to a persistent knee injury he has been reduced to just 14 appearances for the Midlands club. At only 29 he is of the right age to still get another good four to five years out of him in his peak. Also open on a free in the summer will be Fabian Schar of FC Basel. A ball playing centre half who is good with the ball, great from set pieces and at only 22 shows experience beyond his years. If successful he could well be our centre half partnership for Stones for next 10 years. With Hibbert’s injuries and advancing years we have limited options at right back. Ignazio Abate the AC Milan right back has stalled on a new contract and is available and at 27 would offer Coleman the competition he needs to drive him on. It’s fair to say he hasn’t hit the heights he hit last year, but that could be alleged of a few of the first team players. Ignazio is a tricky and pacey right back that can also play left back if need be.

Similar to the defence, we have struggled this year for wide players and creative options. We’ve been hampered by long term injuries to Osman and Pienaar. There are several different options across Europe that would improve the creative options in the squad. One player we’ve been linked to over the past year and have extensively scouted is Rafa Silva of SC Braga in Portugal. Silva is an attacking midfielder who can play right across the front three as a wide attacking midfielder or as a number 10. He’s played majority of his games for Braga as a left sided attacking midfielder, playing 26 games making 4 assists and scoring 2 goals. Not the greatest of stats but he’s only 21 and there is plenty of room to develop. His development this season has been hampered playing in a Braga team that have struggled this year, who are currently out of the champions league places in the Primeira Liga. He has a £19 million buyout clause but the Portuguese press have been quoted as stating that a fee closer to £8 million would be enough to seal the deal. Another player who looks increasingly likely to be available for free in the summer is Yevhen Konoplyanka of Dnipro. A fast, penetrative winger with outstanding dribbling skills, Yevhen Konoplyanka 25, has been talked up as the ‘Ukrainian Messi’. He has scored 6 goals in 27 appearances, contributing 5 assists. Kontoplyanka was linked to the club in January and there will be plenty of suitors come the summer but he is a player we are crying out for. Continuing the left winger theme we have been linked to Andre Ayew this week. According to recent reports Roberto flew out to watch Ayew in action for Olympique Marseille against RC Lens. Marseille won the game 4-0 with Ayew scoring the 3rd goal. Ayew is similar to Kontoplyanka as far as he is a winger with bags of pace. He’s more direct than the Ukrainian but suits playing in a 433. In 21 games in all competitions he has scored 8 goals and contributed 5 assists. We’ve been lacking players with pace this year as our football has been so slow and predictable. If we could attract one or two of these players, we certainly would look more direct and add goals and assists from midfield we’ve been crying out for this year.

Equally comparable to the way we’ve struggled creatively is the way we’ve lacked goals this season. It says something that Samuel Eto’o is still our fourth joint highest goal scorer in the league with 3 goals! In my opinion Kone is going to struggle to get anywhere near the amount of goals required, so for me he needs replacing as well as bringing in a forward to replace the outgoing Eto’o from January. There are numerous options across Europe that could come in and improve our front line. Two players who are available on Bosmans this summer are Andre-Pierre Gignac of Olympique Marseille and Mark Uth of SC Heerenveen. Gignac, 29 is a big strong centre forward who is great in the air. A player who could be a good foil for Lukaku and very similar to Kone in that respect. The difference to Kone is Gignac knows where the goal is. This season he has scored 18 in 31 appearances for the French side. Mark Uth 23, is a very different player to Gignac, a cultured centre forward who has good pace and an eye for goal, comparisons to Lucas Podolski have already been made. He’s had a brilliant season with Heerenveen scoring 14 in 27 appearances chipping in with 11 assists also. Not a household name but with youth on his side he would make a great addition to the squad. The prospect of having options such as Lukaku, Gignac and Uth are mouth-watering!

As you can see from above, there is plenty of quality existing this summer and especially on Bosman frees. Consequently Kenwright doesn’t have any excuses this summer. The squad is in need of a huge reshuffle and as fans we need to start seeing a progression. From the players, management and board we need to see a reaction this summer and we can send out a real message. It’s probably one of the biggest in our recent history. Let’s hope it a positive summer and one we can look back of and say 2015 was really the changing of the guard!

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