Premier League 2016-17 preview No6: Everton

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Everton manager Ronald Koeman (R)

“Everything will be fine,” Ronald Koeman replied when asked why Everton had not signed one outfield player less than three weeks before the start of the Premier League season.

The calm assurance was based not on his experience at Southampton – where Koeman’s first campaign began with a player exodus and ended in seventh place – but the rebuilding work commenced by Farhad Moshiri. Fundamental change is under way at Goodison Park but the new manager’s confidence will carry weight only when it emerges from behind the scenes.

This summer provides the first test of the British-Iranian billionaire’s intentions for Everton after he acquired an initial 49.9% stake in February. The club’s major shareholder has stayed in the background while the chairman, Bill Kenwright, remains front-of-house, but the early indications are of an investor with long-term aims and genuine ambition.

League finishes in the past five seasons

That is not measured by £30m-plus signings alone – not this summer – but an imbalanced squad that has finished 11th for two seasons running and may lose John Stones and Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to make great strides without a rebuild. The process finally started on Tuesday with the £7.1m signing of Idrissa Gueye from Aston Villa and Ashley Williams remains a target despite Swansea City’s rejection of a £10m offer for their captain. Everton are leaving it late once again, although an overhaul of their managerial structure was the priority and handled impressively.

Moshiri moved decisively to sack Roberto Martínez when the former manager’s three-year reign, along with the organisation, spirit and effort of his players, disintegrated last season. He immediately identified Koeman as the man to correct those faults and return Everton to European contention but the early signals were the 53-year-old, having taken Southampton to sixth and three points off Champions League qualification, wished to consider his options.

A double-your-money offer of £6m per annum to the Dutchman and meeting Southampton’s demands for £5m compensation for their manager, his assistant Erwin Koeman and the coach Jan Kluitenberg hastened the thought process. It also signalled a sea-change at Everton. The club was finally willing and able to put a horse’s head in the bed to get what it wanted.

Last season's results

Remarkably, Koeman is the first manager Everton have appointed directly from another Premier League club in 22 years. Mike Walker was the last, in 1994. No wonder they looked elsewhere after that. Martínez had taken Wigan Athletic into the Championship when Kenwright called in 2013, hoping FA Cup success was a more accurate gauge of the supreme optimist’s work rather than relegation with a shambolic defence. It wasn’t. David Moyes was the bright young thing of the Championship when hired from Preston North End. Walter Smith was one month into his post-Rangers’ retirement when tempted by the former owner Peter Johnson’s promise of nonexistent riches.

The late Howard Kendall, his name fittingly adorning the Gwladys Street stand from this season, had just lost a second-tier play-off final with Sheffield United when answering Everton’s call for the third time in 1997. Joe Royle, the last man to bring a trophy to Goodison, in 1995, accepted the SOS to clear up Walker’s mess and secure the club’s top-flight status while back in the second tier with Oldham Athletic.

In one expensive appointment Moshiri demonstrated the intent that has been lacking at Goodison for years. His voice on the Everton board, Alexander Ryazantsev, described it accurately. “There is such a big concentration [of Premier League clubs] in the north-west that we could not have fallen behind,” said the Russian financier. “It was very important to appoint someone of that stature at the club.”

Moshiri has reshaped Everton’s management structure with a first director of football, too. Frustrated in attempts to land Monchi, the sporting director at the Europa League winners Sevilla, the 61-year-old trained his sights on the Premier League champions and the man credited with bringing Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez to Leicester City. Again compensation was no obstacle and Steve Walsh was secured on a four-year contract.

Everton’s new major shareholder, a close friend of the Arsenal investor Alisher Usmanov, has also resolved to end the torturous saga of a new stadium. Talks have been held with Peel Holdings and Liverpool City Council over two potential sites – one on the banks of the Mersey, the other in Croxteth – with the mayor, Joe Anderson, claiming Everton could have a new home in two to three years following a 90-minute meeting with Moshiri and Kenwright in London recently.

“I was blown away by his passion and commitment,” Anderson said. “Mr Moshiri understands how much investment Everton require both on and off the pitch. The scope of his ambition is vast. Make no mistake about it – he is here to make Everton a success story. His vision is not just about new players and a new stadium, it’s fundamentally transforming the club at every level. It’s clear he is not just here for the short term. It’s about securing the club’s future.”

Failing to build a stadium at King’s Dock on Liverpool’s waterfront, for the price of a £30m share, ranks among Everton’s greatest mistakes and was one of three aborted ground projects during Kenwright’s time as majority shareholder. Delivering a dockside arena at the second opportunity would be the clearest sign that Everton have started anew. It would be potentially Moshiri’s most important achievement – a legacy – but a new home at an unspecified date in the future is currently of no concern to Koeman. The restructuring of Everton is under way and proceeding in the correct order but Koeman did not leave a club in sixth to take his career backwards. Work on the team needs to catch up quickly.

Everton’s manager is clear on the causes of recent underachievement and how he wants the team to play: more direct, more pressing from the front, greater intensity all round and with more physical presence. One of European football’s finest defenders in his day is sure to bring better organisation to a team that conceded 12 goals from set pieces alone last season. Honest, blunt appraisals of performances have also been embraced by supporters during pre-season. But he inherits a significant problem. What Koeman wants does not tally with the players at his disposal, particularly up front.

Everton activated the release clause in Gueye’s Villa contract as, according to Koeman, “he was one of the players last season with the best record in interceptions and pressing in the midfield”. Maarten Stekelenburg has arrived from Fulham ostensibly as a back-up goalkeeper and Shani Tarashaj, an attacking midfielder, has joined the squad having initially signed in January from Grasshoppers Zurich. Otherwise, despite exploring expensive deals for the likes of Alex Witsel, Moussa Sissoko, Joe Hart and Kalidou Koulibaly, Everton’s statement signing has been confined to the manager’s chair so far.

Spending does not guarantee a leap forward, of course, and it is encouraging that bright academy prospects Tom Davies, Kieran Dowell and Callum Connolly have signed new contracts. There is scope for improvement from within should Koeman get more consistency and influence from Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, Leighton Baines and others who struggled under Martínez. But there are weaknesses that need addressing and whatever team materialises before the transfer deadline will have had little time to integrate.

The pursuit of a director of football impacted on Everton’s recruitment drive, with Walsh appointed only on 21 July. Holding out for £50m from Manchester City for Stones and waiting for Lukaku’s suitors to reveal themselves has also complicated business. Koeman needs to know where both will be playing next season before installing their replacements. He will be in the market for two more physically imposing central defenders should Stones get his wish to work with Pep Guardiola, and his attack will need reconstructing if Lukaku leaves. Chelsea have been linked with a £67m reunion with the Belgium international but no bids have been lodged.

Beyond Lukaku, who would need to improve his work-rate should he stay, Everton lack forwards suited to an intense pressing game. Arouna Koné and Martínez’s dreadful £13.5m signing Oumar Niasse remain on the books yet Koeman has preferred a winger, Gerard Deulofeu, up front in pre-season. “If we don’t have Lukaku maybe, for me, he is the best option to replace Romelu in that position,” said the manager. Niasse has not been near an Everton game since a 45-minute run-out against FK Jablonec in mid-July. That appears sufficient for Koeman to have reached his conclusion on the third most expensive signing in the club’s history, who played 152 minutes for the first team and has not been given a squad number.

As well as Gueye and possibly two central defenders – the captain Phil Jagielka has missed much of pre-season with a hamstring problem – Koeman wants a first-choice goalkeeper and striker. A new spine, basically. There is work to be done before “everything is fine”, on the pitch at least.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andy Hunter, for The Guardian on Wednesday 3rd August 2016 13.00 Europe/London

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