Sean Dyche made no attempt to sugarcoat Everton’s latest relegation escape after victory against Bournemouth on the final day. Survival afforded the Everton manager opportunity to speak with refreshing honesty about the problems he inherited and the “massive amount of work to be done, not just from me but from everyone at the club” to ensure next season does not bring a third successive relegation scrap. What does need to change?
No member of the Everton board has watched the current manager take charge of a game at Goodison Park. No matter how the club attempts to spin it, that sorry fact alone demonstrates the relationship between the fanbase and hierarchy is beyond repair. Only by making sweeping, long-overdue changes in the boardroom can Farhad Moshiri even begin to restore the unity Dyche has called for. Unfortunately, and despite the urgent need clear for all to see, Moshiri has shown no sign of getting a grip on the club he owns since first investing seven years ago. The chairman, Bill Kenwright, has a 1.3% shareholding but retains a major influence with support from the chief executive, Denise Barrett-Baxendale. An announcement of their departures should accompany Premier League survival. As the former Everton defender Alan Stubbs said on 5 Live: “Bill Kenwright, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, thanks very much but it’s time to go because you’ve failed this football club, on and off the pitch. The animosity among the fanbase, they’ve had enough. Everton is broken. It can be fixed but there has to be major changes for that to happen.”
Everton started a must-win Premier League fixture with enormous ramifications for their financial future without a striker, any full-backs and with six outfield substitutes, including a 20-year-old in Sean McAllister who has never appeared for the first team. The squad is the inevitable sum of its disparate parts – built by several different managers (although not one player has been signed by Dyche) and three directors of football. The captain, Seamus Coleman, at 34, remains the most reliable full-back and Dominic Calvert-Lewin the only Premier League-level forward, carrying all hope as a result, despite being restricted to 34 appearances over the past two years by injuries. Yerry Mina is leaving as a free agent and Conor Coady could return to his parent club, Wolves, after his loan. Dele Alli, André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin have a year remaining on their contracts. The squad needs upgrading and rebalancing, with a clear strategy finally in place, and the club cannot afford to gamble on its top-flight status by neglecting its forward line again.
The upcoming window will be Dyche’s first as Everton’s manager. The dynamic of his working relationship with the director of football, Kevin Thelwell, will be interesting, to say the least, and key to any recovery. Thelwell has much to prove having decided that Neal Maupay was the answer to any question last summer and failed to sign a desperately needed striker in January. On the plus side, James Garner emerged as an important, intelligent addition in the final weeks. As a young player on the way up, as opposed to an older big name on the way down, Garner is the type of signing Everton should be making. Dyche made his power play immediately after keeping Everton up, but manager and director of football must work in tandem to avoid a repeat of the dysfunction that has plagued the Moshiri years. “I know the industry, I’ve been in it all my life, I know what I’m doing,” he said. “We need to click it back together, realign it and get the fans connected to what we are as a team, to what I am as a manager. And then there will be another day when a fashionista can come in and we’ll have a beautiful product, but what we need now is actually a rawness, a heartbeat that the Evertonians can grip to.”
Moshiri will hope Premier League survival means progress can be made on a deal with MSP Sports Capital for fresh investment, enabling work to be completed on Everton’s impressive new stadium at Bramley Moore dock. That will be one major concern alleviated. Another remains, however, with an alleged breach of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules still hanging over a club that has recorded total losses of £305.5m over the past three financial years. Dyche admitted there would be no transfer war chest to spend and some players may have to be sold to raise funds. Amadou Onana, signed in a €40m deal last summer, attracted interest from Arsenal and Chelsea in January, but no firm bids, and Everton would have a difficult decision should a sizeable offer arrive for Jordan Pickford. The goalkeeper was outstanding again this season and showed his commitment by signing a new four-and-a-half-year contract in February. Serious, sensible investment in the team is essential to avoid another relegation fight. Everton need to strengthen in attack, at left-back and in central defence. “We have to recruit wisely and recruit players who, if possible, understand this club,” Dyche said. “They have to be able to handle what it is to be part of Everton. I’m learning that all the time and we have to be able to get that heartbeat and also talent as well.”