A New Beginning: Everton under Koeman

The best piece of business that Everton did in this season’s transfer window was not a player signing, but a managerial appointment. After the absolute shambles that was Martinez’s last season in charge, it was hard to feel hopeful for the club’s future. In fact, so bad had some performances been that some fans believed that even a new manager couldn’t turn the fortunes of the team around. Lukaku was firing blanks and lacking in confidence, Ross Barkley was just as likely to lose possession as he was to pass the ball on, and the defence looked…well, they looked like a typical Martinez defence. They were non-existent.

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In the end, Martinez was rightly sacked, and Everton went into the most exciting summer of the Premier League without a man to lead the squad. Fortunately, Ronald Koeman was appointed early on and given lots of time and money to build the squad he wanted. His appointment came a little out of left-field- he wasn’t one of the names linked with the job and, quite frankly, due to the fact he was already employed by Southampton, it seemed an odd move for him to make. However, Koeman was growing disillusioned with Southampton’s policy of selling players. He is the kind of manager who wants to build a team in his image and his employers’ insistence on selling off players season after season had left him frustrated. On the face of it, with Southampton finishing in a much higher position than Everton, it seemed like a backwards move, or at the most a sideways one. But with their new investor, Farhad Moshiri, and a board who were keen to elevate the club to the next level, he was given the promises he needed that he could build a squad for the future. Everton finally have the funds to sign players, and to tempt those who want out to stay with more lucrative contract offers. They have a bit of clout and Koeman clearly was swayed by this.

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Anyway, things looks brighter already- ignoring the surprise defeat in the cup to Norwich City- under the flying Dutchman. Koeman is a tough manager who, unlike Martinez, doesn’t make excuses for poor performances. He is honest with the press and the fans, and he settles for nothing less than the absolute best from his team. His signings, too, have been astute. The first was Stekelenburg, the goalkeeper, who at 33 is no spring chicken, but does have bags of European experience. I’m sure the original plan was for him to provide cover for a bigger, marquee signing of a man between the sticks, but that never materialised.. Luckily, he is a competent ‘keeper in his own right.His impressive performances already this season prove that perhaps Everton don’t need to go searching for a goalkeeper when the window opens again in January. Then in came Idriss Gueye, a strong holding midfielder who had spent an ill-fated time playing for Aston Villa. But don’t hold that against him- he is one of the few players who can hold their head high after Villa’s disastrous relegation. In fact, statistically, he is second behind only N’Golo Kante last season when considering the attributes needed to be a decent defensive midfielder. Next up was Ashley Williams, who completed a medical and signed from Swansea. After a dominating performance for Wales in the Euro 2016 tournament, he made the move to Liverpool at the age of 32, at the peak of his career and still with a good four or five years left in him if he keeps himself fit. Alongside Jagielka, he forms part of a central defensive pairing that has experience in bundles. His captain’s mentality will help out a fragile Everton defence. His addition, arguably, makes Everton’s default back four the strongest in England’s top flight. Yannick Bolasie signed, too, and I will admit that the fee of 30 million is a little steep, although it demonstrates both the insane valuations that are afforded to any and all players, and also the amount of money Everton are willing to spend in order to build the squad their manager needs. He looks the real deal, and with Koeman’s coaching, I’m sure his less than impressive goal and assist ratio will improve- plus he has pace to burn. Of course, John Stones also left for 50 million to Man City, but the less said about that, the better. Suffice to say, I feel that we got a good price for the player and it has allowed us to sign Williams, who is a better player for the here and now.

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There were a few lucky escapes, too. Lamine Kone nearly joined from Sunderland, but in the end, his parent club managed to offer him an improved contract that he was happy to accept. He would have been a good addition, but he would have probably spent a lot of time on the bench, which wouldn’t have suited him or the club. Moussa Sissoko, Newcastle’s troublesome and temperamental midfielder, nearly joined on deadline day, before being offered a better contract by Tottenham. Being the scum bag he is, he switched off his phone, travelled to London, and then announced via his Twitter feed that he had signed for Spurs. He didn’t even have the decency to call Everton and tell them that he had found a better offer and that the deal was off. When I heard that Everton were pursuing him, I was pretty dubious- he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory at Newcastle with his sulking and I was worried this attitude would disrupt the team. If Tottenham want to take that risk, then good on them, but I think Koeman may look back in a few months and see the deal as a lucky escape. Enner Valencia also joined on loan from West Ham, with the option to buy, and his versatility as both a wide man and a central striker will at least give us more options should Lukaku be struggling in a match. Heaven forbid in that situation that we would have to rely heavily of Arouna Kone. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

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In my opinion, Everton didn’t need to make many additions. Martinez had a decent squad, but he just had no idea how to get the best out of them, and he had lost the dressing room long before his reign came to a horrible end. Just look at how much Lukaku and Barkley- who endured torrid campaigns last season under Roberto- have improved under Koeman’s coaching and leadership. Lukaku is scoring again, and Ross Barkley is surging forward as if he was an 18 year old youth graduate again. The squad has been improved, it is under the leadership of a competent manager who knows what he is doing, and I am looking forward to the season ahead…and the season after that. Make no mistake, with an investor and a strong squad, Everton will have their sights set on some silverware at the end of the season. After the incompetent Spaniard’s mess, the future is looking brighter. It actually feels good to be an Everton fan again!

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