Lost momentum – Everton’s year of decline

EVERTON’s worst home defeat in a Merseyside derby since the days when Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish used to run the blues ragged highlighted the growing crisis at Goodison Park.

A year ago, Everton were, by recent standards, buoyant. At Christmas, they were second in the Premier League, had an England striker leading the line and had Mr. Valium, Carlo Ancelotti, in their dugout. They were also still hoping they would see the best of Colombian star James Rodríguez in an Everton shirt.

Today, Ancelotti is top of La Liga with Real Madrid, Rodriquez is plying his trade in Qatar and Everton have a former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benítez in charge. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who started 2020-21 on fire, is sidelined by a nasty injury. What’s more, Everton have made huge financial losses over the past two seasons. On the bright side, work continues on their new stadium, but the biggest fear at the moment is the Premier League status of one of England’s proudest clubs.

Everton were dire at times against their neighbours, especially in defence. Benítez was never a comfortable or popular appointment, as he wasn’t when he was interim boss at Chelsea. Once a Liverpool manager, always a Liverpool manager, they say. At 61, his best days are possibly behind him, but nobody can deny Rafa knows his business and refuses to be easy fodder for the media. He’s professional, focused and well connected, hence he also has Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Napoli on his CV. 

Despite starting well, Everton have truly sunk into the gloom that descended upon the club in 2021. Their home record has been a disaster, 13 league defeats last season and three already this time around. They have been beaten 16 times in 37 games, lower mid-table stuff, but the current trend  – eight games without a win – suggests it will deteriorate. They have averaged around one goal per game for a year. Calvert-Lewin, who began the campaign on form, is just one of a handful of key injuries that have compromised Everton’s early momentum.

There’s nothing like a derby defeat to remind Everton how far they have fallen in a year. Last season, they took four points off Liverpool, but the gulf in class was very evident in this latest clash. 

On paper, Everton should be faring much better, especially after laying-out almost £ 500 million gross over the past five years. Sadly, the club’s transfer policy has lacked a clear strategy and despite being the fifth highest spenders in the Premier during that period. Their current squad, according to Transfermarkt, has a market value of less than £ 400 million. 

While Moshiri has said Benítez will not be sacked, Everton have to ask themselves if they are serving the fans well in their decision-making and recruitment policy, not just in acquiring players, but also managers. For example, since Jürgen Klopp joined Liverpool, Everton have had half a dozen managers, including Roberto Martinez, Sam Allardyce, Ronald Koeman, Marco Silva, Carlo Ancelotti and Benítez. Most have struggled to get a win rate above 40%.

Certainly, the toxic atmosphere at Goodison saw the fans turn on the suits in the expensive seats. Benítez came in for criticism, but chants of “sack the board” could be heard from the frustrated faithful. Some supporters have also directed their anger at director of football, Marcel Brands.

Unfortunately, Rafa may not have the luxury of funds to strengthen his squad thanks to the profligacy of the recent past. Everton’s finances for the past two seasons do not make happy reading, losses of £ 112 million and £ 140 million, the latter among the worst generated by a Premier League club. 

Everton’s wage bill amounted to £ 164 million in 2019-20, which given revenues were £ 186 million in 2019-20, translates to a wage-to-turnover ratio of 89%. Net debt is currently more than £ 350 million. Operationally, Everton lose money, but at least they have a wealthy owner who has a net worth of almost £ 3 billion.

Where do Everton go from here? Such is the size and status of the club that the verdict on their situation changes every game. A few wins, and the mood can be transformed – Benítez believes things will get better. Importantly, the people employing must have the same view, but how long will the fans remain patient? It has been over a quarter of a century since Everton last placed something in their trophy cabinet, the longest spell in their history without some tangible success. It needs to change, but a long-term vision and clear strategy around team-building and management is a prerequisite.