Kenyans, born at altitude, produce more red blood cells, so that when they run in an environment low in oxygen they can still perform. Bring them down to sea level and they are the masters. The Eritrichium Nanum or King of the Alps thrives in the wet and freezing mountain air above 8,000ft., where few other plants can survive. Likewise Everton have had to survive for a long time in the rarefied financial world of the Premier League, unaided, indeed handicapped by an ancient stadium, surviving at times only thanks to their bankers, bankers who act out of self-interest, not out of generosity, being driven as they are by commercial discipline, by a cold calculation of risk and reward.
The harshness of the economic environment has gradually bitten into all but the ‘magic circle’ of billionaire endowed clubs. Aston Villa, Blackburn, Newcastle, Sunderland, West Ham, Liverpool, even Manchester United, were all at one time or another unrestricted spenders; they now have to dine more frugally. And it is very tough to suddenly and unexpectedly have to survive on a fat-free diet unless you have done it all your life. However for some this need for financial discipline is not new, it’s the way it has always been. Could it be that Everton’s perceived financial frailty and experience of living, even thriving, in an atmosphere starved of the oxygen of ‘free’ money has in fact made them stronger, more experienced and able, not just to survive, but to thrive in tough times?
At the end of last season when the triumvirate who run Everton – Bill Kenwright, Robert Elstone and David Moyes – met to discuss their plans for strengthening the squad during the transfer window they had a number of priorities, priorities they are used to managing: Keep tight control of the wage bill – don’t let it rise above its current approximate 71% of turnover; keep hold of star players; add depth to the squad; maintain, or better still, reduce the average age of the squad; tie players to long contracts – which helps ensure their resale value; raise funds for reinvestment by selling players based on age or where their market value appears excessive.
Another factor in the mix will have been the huge – 70% – uplift in broadcasting income due to start flowing into Premier League coffers from the 2013/14 season; the current three-year domestic TV rights deal is worth £1.76bn which will rise to over £3.0bn next year. Put another way, from next season the BOTTOM team in 2013/14 will earn a guaranteed minimum of £65m from TV money – more than champions Manchester City received last season and much more than the £48.9m seventh placed Everton received. So if a disciplined approach to player acquisitions could be maintained with total expenditure not exceeding fees received allied to a sensible mix of strategies for financing player purchases; some on loan deals with an option to buy, some financed by a modest down-payment with the remainder spread over the length of the contract and some for cash – then perhaps a larger and stronger squad could be contemplated a year before next year’s windfall actually arrives. Not a green light to spend, more of an amber light providing some confidence and clearer visibility about the future.
The sales of Rodwell (21) for £12m, Cahill (32) for £1m and Yobo (31) for £2m raised £15m. The average age of these players is 28. The acquisitions of Pienaar (30) for £4.5m, Naismith (25) free, Mirallas (24) for £5.2m, Oviedo (22) for £5m, Kennedy (17) for a ‘nominal’ fee say £0.5m and Odjidja-Ofoe (23) on loan, adds up to £15.2m. The average age of these players is 23.5. Thus financial discipline has been maintained, key players retained; the squad has been deepened, strengthened and made more youthful. The window is shut. Everton’s custodians have shown initiative, drive and ambition. Now it’s up to the supporters, the real owners of the club, to pack Goodison to the rafters and get behind the team.