In the absence of a takeover by an Indian industrialist, baseball-franchise-owning American or a Gulf state, or indeed investment of any kind, Everton better get used to being self-sufficient. In crude terms this means selling in order to buy. Being less emotional, more ruthless, about off-loading players who have been loyal, but are past their peak. Being cold, calculating and business like. The possibility of selling Tim Cahill for a rumoured £3.5m to QPR was met, in some quarters, by howls of anguish. However much we admire the man these are just the sort of tough decisions which have to be addressed; Cahill is 32 years old and cost just £1.5m.
Managing a Premier League club these days isn’t just about selecting, motivating, training and winning. It is also about mentoring a group of millionaire footballers and handling the 24-hour media circus. As if that wasn’t enough it’s also about asset management. The biggest financial commitment any club makes is the capital invested in its playing squad and the chunk of annual revenue, usually well over 50%, which goes in salaries. At Everton, according to the latest annual report & accounts, wages were 71% of turnover last season; a figure which is by no means the highest in the league. While the value of the squad is well in excess of £150m.
This is a huge responsibility and one which David Moyes, looking at it in cold profit and loss terms, has exercised skilfully. Of course there have been poor investments like Yakubu, Bilyaletdinov, Beattie and AJ, but the majority of his dealings have been profitable – Arteta, Baines, Beckford, Cahill, Coleman, Fellaini, Jagielka, Lescott, McFadden, Neill, Vellios. Do the maths – these players have either been acquired at a fraction of their current value or sold at a substantial profit. And with an ageing squad – Cahill 32, Distin 34, Hibbert 30, Neville 34, Osman 30, Saha 33 – the need to refresh and renew is insistent. With the youth system recently producing the likes of Barkley, Rodwell, Duffy and the once-in-a-generation Rooney, some of the renewal can be undertaken from within. However the major part of this constant overhaul will always be done in the market and a key part of it is correctly judging when to sell.
This season is rapidly becoming the modern-era watershed for Everton; when the pressure of keeping up with vastly better financed competitors finally capsized the old order; when the need for substantial investment in the club at every level, from which reality the club have been shielded by the brilliant efforts of its manager, finally and irrevocably broke surface. All that stands between an ever-widening gap between MUCCA (Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal) and Everton is the stoic, honest and driven-man, who has, under financial constraints which would have crushed a lesser mortal, delivered an average sixth place finish over the last five seasons. How much longer David Moyes will continue carrying the club on his shoulders only he can know.
If there is an investor out there, now would be a really good time to show yourself.