As the saying goes, it’s the hope that kills you and nowhere does that ring more accurate than during the transfer window.
Fans up and down the country are suckered in during the summer transfer window, hoping that their club will do the kind of business that gets the blood pumping and the dreams stirring.
So when it doesn’t happen, and their club instead decides to stick to the plan, do sensible business and stay out of the transfer window madness, the naysayers raise their heads. That’s precisely what happened with Everton last week, with the gloom merchants emerging from the shadows on deadline day and gleefully declaring a disaster and revelling in it after a dull opening day draw with Crystal Palace.
The transfer window was a disaster, Jean-Philippe Gbamin has been written off, and Marcel Brands has joined the ever-expanding list of frauds that now populate football. Except, none of that is true. Everton’s summer was an excellent one on all fronts.
Seven new first-team players arrived for a combined sum of £107m, only Aston Villa, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City spent more, and they come out significantly stronger than how they went into it.
It is important first, though, to comment on the business Everton didn’t do, namely signing Kurt Zouma or Wilfried Zaha. There is no denying that both would have been significant and impressive purchases for the Toffees.
Zouma excelled during his loan spell last year, forming an impressive central defensive partnership with Michael Keane. He is a top centre back on his day, albeit that day was not Sunday at Old Trafford, and fits perfectly into the system and style that Marco Silva wants to play.
Zaha, on the other hand, is the kind of signing that would have pushed Everton on. He’s a player that can create something out of nothing and produce the magic that settles the tightest of games.
While his assist and goalscoring records are not impressive, there is a sense that a move to a bigger club with better players will only enhance those numbers and help him become a bonafide star. He, in turn, would have been the player to close the 12 point gap between Everton and the top six.
It was clear that neither Palace or Chelsea were willing to sell their men, though. In Zouma’s case, Chelsea decided to hold on, and Palace demanded too much for a player who, for them, is the difference between relegation and survival. In both cases, it was clear Everton were unwilling to pay over the odds for players they wanted, and that’s not only good business sense but sets the right tone from Marcel Brands.
The previous regime were far too happy to pay over the odds, and it put Everton in increasingly worse situations when it came to acquiring players. Failing to sign further back up at centre-back can be considered worrying, and Marco Silva has admitted as much, but it would also be disturbing had they paid over the odds for a second or third choice player, as was the case with Marcos Rojo. That’s the kind of haphazard transfer business that can ruin a club, as it very nearly did under Steve Walsh’s misguided hand.
So what of the players that did arrive? British journalists, pundits and those residing in the dark corners of Everton Twitter may not be impressed, but those in the know, know differently.
Everton headed into this transfer window desperately seeking a striker, having failed to replace Romelu Lukaku in the four previous windows, and did that with the capture of Moise Kean.
The young Italian is by no means the finished product, but he is one of the hottest prospects in Europe and demonstrated that for Juventus and Italy last season. Juve’s insistence for a buy-back clause in the deal, something Marcel Brands fought against and managed to eliminate entirely, is evidence enough of Kean’s talent.
If it isn’t then the hype from those who have watched his development in Italy, his rise to prominence last season and the disappointment from Juventus’ fans around his departure, should help to dispel any lingering doubts. Kean is by no means the proven, 20 goal striker Everton need but he has all the attributes to become one and is a much-needed upgrade on Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Alex Iwobi falls into that same bracket. The 23-year-old was highly rated at Arsenal and proved during his time at the Emirates, albeit in flashes, that he is a player with ability. Anyone who watched his performance in the Europa League final defeat to Chelsea, in which he was Arsenal’s star performer despite only featuring as a substitute, would be hard-pressed to say he isn’t an upgrade on Everton’s current options. He’s not quite at Zaha’s level but he is three years younger and considerably cheaper than the Ivory Coast international.
Filling out the roster of youngsters is Jean-Philippe Gbamin, the man whose job it is to replace Idrissa Gana Gueye. Gueye was a star performer throughout his time at Goodison, and it’s because of that that PSG came back for him this summer. His shoes are big ones to fill, but Gbamin has the attributes to do so.
He is well regarded in Germany and, like Kean and Iwobi, has plenty of development left in the tank. Marco Silva loves a tall, dominant and athletic midfielder dominating the middle of the park, which is why Abdoulaye Doucoure shone during his spell at Watford and remains a target for the Blues.
Gbamin, once fit and up to scratch, can play that Doucoure role in the Everton midfield. He’s tall, strong, comfortable on the ball and provides a ‘presence’ to a midfield that was previously lacking it. He also gives Everton another option at centre back, where they’re apparently short, should they need it.
He arrives with positive reviews from Germany, and the fact that the German residing across Stanley Park was once keen should provide plenty of cause for optimism. Everton fans don’t listen to the opinions emanating from Anfield too often, but even they would be hard-pressed to deny Liverpool’s transfer business has been exemplary under Jurgen Klopp.
So the fact that Gbamin was a player Liverpool were looking at, as his agent has confirmed, speaks volumes. Indeed, had Fabinho not been available the indication was that he may have moved to Merseyside sooner than this summer and that’s a glowing recommendation if there ever was one.
Then there are the ‘older’ heads. Securing Andre Gomes on a permanent deal for £22m is a remarkable piece of business in the current climate. Gomes is a player of definite quality and showed that at times on loan last season. Getting someone of that ability and experience is a bargain by any reckoning. With a year of Premier League football under his belt and pre-season behind him, he should kick on significantly in blue this year.
Fabian Delph and Djibril Sidibe are similarly smart signings. Delph arrives for £8m, a nothing sum in this market, but adds plenty. This is a player who has spent several years working under Pep Guardiola and learning plenty as a result. That time was not wasted, and anyone who happens to have watched a particular Amazon documentary will testify to the vital role he played in that City dressing room.
He’ll bring Premier League and Champions League experience to Goodison Park while Sidibe is a World Cup winner and adds serious competition for Seamus Coleman. The Frenchman is a full back who thrives going forward and if he is truly over his knee injury, will be forcing Everton’s new captain to stay on his toes. A good year and Everton can get him for a pittance at €14m. Both Delph and Sidibe add vital experience to a young Everton squad.
Indeed, that is the last and perhaps most significant reason why neither Everton or Marcel Brands deserve criticism from this window.
They have continued to reduce the age of the squad, shipping out ‘deadwood’ and replacing it with young, hungry players with high ceilings and plenty of time and room to grow into them. The squad is stronger and more youthful than it was a year ago and Marcel Brands still has the best part of a month to move on the likes of Yannick Bolasie, Cuco Martina, Kevin Mirallas, Oumar Niasse and Cenk Tosun to further bring down the net spend and wages. Martina is the only one on that list that is yet to be linked with a club in Europe.
All of that has been achieved with an evident plan and strategy that Brands directed and deserves credit for. It is not so long ago that Steve Walsh was wandering around Italy with a suitcase and no distinct sense of a strategy. Improving the squad by signing young talented players, reducing the wage bill and balancing the books is the kind of failure that every club outside the top six, even some of those in it, would happily embrace.