How do you make a small fortune in football? Start off with a big fortune. It is an old joke and, for Everton, not a particularly funny one. A club at their lowest ebb for years have spent more than half a billion pounds on transfers under Farhad Moshiri’s ownership. Indeed, they had before January’s acquisition of two full-backs, in Nathan Patterson and Vitaly Mykolenko, for a combined £27 million. The Ukrainian at least made two appearances for the manager who signed him, in Rafa Benitez. The Scot made none.
To look at Everton’s squad sometimes can prompt a question: where did all the money go? Because their best signing of the Moshiri era, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, only cost £1.5 million. Arguably their player of the season, Demarai Gray, arrived for £1.7 million. Their talisman in recent weeks has been the homegrown Anthony Gordon. Earlier in the campaign, that status may have resided with the free transfer Andros Townsend.
A handful of bigger buys can form the core of the team – Jordan Pickford, Ben Godfrey, Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Richarlison – but they only account for around a quarter of Everton’s outlay of around £550 million in the Moshiri era. Throw in Michael Keane and Yerry Mina, both overpriced, neither always entirely convincing and it still leaves huge sums that have been spent with no benefit to the team now; or indeed, the bank balance.
One of the features of Everton’s spending is a repeated inability to bring in meaningful fees for past recruits. Yannick Bolasie, Morgan Schneiderlin, Theo Walcott, Ashley Williams, Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney arrived for more than £100 million of the outlay and, after contributing too little on the field, brought in a fraction of that.
Profits have been altogether rarer: Idrissa Gueye, Steve Walsh’s finest signing in his otherwise ill-fated spell as director of football, produced one and more recently Lucas Digne brought another. Everton have made money on some of those Moshiri were bequeathed - John Stones, a parting gift from David Moyes, and Romelu Lukaku, Roberto Martinez’s flagship buy – but fewer that he, Walsh, the more recent director of football Marcel Brands and five managers have bought. That at least eight individuals have been responsible for recruitment of at least some players explains the constant confusion and the lack of logical thinking. The most infamous example may be the summer of 2017, which brought three No.10s (and, in Nikola Vlasic, a fourth player with designs on that role but who was marginalised at Goodison Park).
Whereas some have speculated to accumulate, Everton have paid to decay. They have spent so much they were in danger of failing Financial Fair Play, limiting Benitez to a £1.7 million budget last summer because of their repeated inability to bring in money who cost them too much.
Those still on the books, not in the first-choice side and often either on the treatment table and languishing unused on the bench, include Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Alex Iwobi, Fabian Delph, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Cenk Tosun plus the loaned-out Moise Kean: between them, they account for around £150 million. They may not even get a tenth of it back and only Sigurdsson has ever had much impact on the pitch. If Andre Gomes, who has never recaptured his best after injury, is a case where Everton may feel luckless, Iwobi, wanted by neither manager Marco Silva nor Brands, stands out as a spectacularly atrocious, Moshiri-led signing.
But there is a recurring theme for a club with designs of joining the Champions League elite. Everton often sign from their supposed superiors and if it would be unfair to say every newcomer thinks he is doing them a favour by going to Goodison Park, James Rodriguez sometimes offered that impression and none have elevated them to the next level. Most have instead declined at Everton. Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal have been grateful for Everton’s repeated willingness to pay them sizeable sums for their unwanted players.
That Everton’s minority of successful signings have tended to be players in the first halves of their careers from clubs such as Sheffield United, Watford, Aston Villa, Norwich and Bayer Leverkusen perhaps ought to offer a lesson. It was one that Benitez at least seemed to heed in his recruitment. But now a mismatched, unbalanced squad recruited by a host of managers and powerbrokers and with no coherent, consistent plan will have another head coach soon. And Moshiri is on to his second half-billion of buys. Some of it is Premier League broadcast revenue funds, but some of it is his money. Perhaps it is his right to spend it so badly but regression is rarely as expensive.
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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.
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