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On Everton’s Addition of Joshua King

The most 11th hour signing of the window…

Among the interesting stories from a quiet Transfer Deadline Day, the player who seemed to be involved in the biggest tug-of-war saga was Bournemouth striker Joshua King. The 29 year old Norwegian was a fixture of the Cherries team during their time in the Premier League, and with Bournemouth’s relegation to the Championship, it seemed to be only a matter of time before a Premier League side brought King in to bolster their attacking options. There was reportedly interest from a number of clubs on Deadline Day, with the ultimate will-he-or-won’t-he saga boiling down to a choice between two clubs: Everton and Fulham. The decision and drama quite literally went down to the wire, with the successful club ultimately needing to submit an offer sheet to the FA in order to finalize the deal.

Now, there is no secret here. There is no suspense. I even put it in the title. King went to Everton.

The Toffees secured the 11th hour signing of King on a six month deal, and, since his Bournemouth contract expires in the summer, this is basically a faux-permanent move. Everton described the fee to bring in the Norwegian as “a nominal fee” in their announcement on Twitter, but a £5 million fee has been thrown around and is the only number I can find, quite frankly, so I am going with it. By all accounts, he is also remaining at the wage figure that he earned at Bournemouth, about £45,000 a week. It is not really a loan, but it is not really a fully permanent move. Everton has the option to sign King to a more permanent deal in the summer, but should they not choose to do so, then he is free to sign with any club he pleases.

Now, I am an Everton fan, and one that clearly has quite a few opinions about things. I had a variety of thoughts after these rumors began, and my mind seemed to change all the way through the deal being completed. This is my attempt to not only report and talk about the signing, but to parse through my thoughts on this move as a fan. This might be the most “fan”-sounding thing I have written, but I do still think this could end up being an influential signing, especially given how close the race for the European places is at the moment. Besides, I support Everton, and it is about time I write a bit more about the club I support instead of about the club Vikram supports.

On paper, King brings quite a few traits that would be handy for Everton. He is a forward that is able to play in any position along the attacking line, offering Carlo Ancelotti some much-needed depth in attacking areas. He is a quick player, adept at playing off the shoulder of the center backs and attacking down the channels, which means he offers something quite different as a forward compared to Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He also has the ability to play in a two, able to play off a strike partner and make runs off of a target man. This would be very helpful for Everton when they are behind and chasing a game, as a strike pairing of King and Calvert-Lewin late in games is most likely better than using Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun. He also knows and understands the Premier League and the league’s physical demands, there is not a communication barrier between him and his teammates, and he is not traveling from outside of the United Kingdom, where COVID regulations might understandably get in the way. Again, this move on paper does have attractive qualities.

But if you are like me and automatically think “oh, I wonder how he has gotten on this season?” when the club you support is linked with a player, then you will start to see the negative sides of the deal. King has made 12 appearances in the Championship this season for Bournemouth, amassing a grand total of zero goals and zero assists.

Yeah, that is not quite the return you want from a striker.

Now, to be completely fair, he has three goals and two assists in two FA Cup games this season. Granted, they were both against League Two teams, but still, he has at least put the ball in the goal this season. He also had injury issues early on, which gave the opportunity for Dominic Solanke to cement himself as the starting striker for the Cherries and take away many opportunities for King to see serious time on the pitch. Even then, to not even score one league goal this season is not something that will inspire your new team with confidence.

The main concern for myself, and for plenty of other Everton fans, when these rumors started were his age and goal return in the Championship (and to be fair, his six goals in 26 Premier League games last season is also less than ideal). This seemed to be the characteristic “old Everton” panic buy: wait until you are in absolute desperate need to bring in a player, when you have absolutely no bargaining power, and overpay for an older player and give him a massive contract that will be almost impossible to move in a few years. Everton have already been burdened with too many of those kinds of players in the team over the last few seasons. The years of irresponsible spending under previous managers and previous directors of football were the exact reason why Everton were in this situation this window, unable to bolster the team in January due to Financial Fair Play issues when you finally have a good manager and a chance at European football next season. We all feared that King coming in was a sign that the same old Everton would never change.

After all, things were supposed to be different! Responsible signings, emerging talents, a clear direction with a competent director of football and manager at long last. And it has been that up to this point. Despite all of that, it does seem disheartening that we loan out Moise Kean back in October, knowing all too well that Cenk Tosun is not good enough to be our back up striker, and our solution is to wait until the final day of the transfer window to bring in a 29 year old forward with zero league goals this season on an expensive deal. I was quite frustrated with the rumor. While necessary depth for this season, I was worried about King becoming another Tosun or Sigurdsson, a player that was almost impossible to move if things did not go well.

Then, reports about the structure of the deal came out. Six month deal, on his Bournemouth wages, £5 million fee, he walks in the summer if it does not work out. This is significantly less irresponsible than I feared. Honestly, I am kind of a fan.

Now, I do not think that King is that good of a player. He had his moments in the Premier League, but he was never the best attacking player on those Bournemouth teams. The main threats were usually Callum Wilson and David Brooks, with King popping up with the occasional good performance. But in this case, he does not have to be a great player. He is not coming into this Everton team and needing to be a significant source of goals or even a consistent fixture in the starting team. At best, he is a “break glass in case of emergency” player, and given how little attacking depth this team has, I am fine with this. King offers a different sort of attacking player off the bench, able to come on in place of any of Everton’s main attacking starters or play alongside them should the situation arise. When you are playing nearly twice a week and exist two or three serious injuries away from having to call up youth team players, having extra depth is never a bad thing. It could also act as a nice bit of motivation for the players already at the club, knowing that there is a better player waiting to come into the team if they do not play at a high level.

The structure of the deal probably means Everton are bringing in a very motivated King. This is not a cushy deal or a sign of a player wanting one last Premier League payday before his career began to wind down. This is a very short term deal on the exact same money he was making at Bournemouth. King knows he was leaving Bournemouth at the end of the season, and given how much he has struggled this season, it is possible that the list of teams that would want to sign him on a free transfer this summer is not as long as it would have been a year ago. Everton have given King a chance to show his ability on the biggest stage. He has four months in a good side to show he is good enough to play at a Premier League level again. It is a gamble, but it takes a player being confident in their ability and motivated to succeed in order to bet on themselves in this manner. If he comes into this Everton team and plays well, helping them finish in the top six, then it is very possible that he finds a Premier League home in the summer, whether it be on Merseyside or elsewhere.

The last added benefit of this signing is it allows Everton the comfort of knowing they can loan out the players that need to be loaned out. Part of Director of Football Marcel Brands’ strategy is investing in young talent, either within the club structure or from outside. This has led to four very prominent and promising young players looking on the verge of breaking into the first team: Niels Nkounkou, Jarrad Branthwaite, Ellis Simms, and Anthony Gordon. Simms and Gordon, being the two attacking players of these four, are pertinent to this discussion. Both are incredibly promising young players, maybe the two most promising to come from the Everton youth set up since Ross Barkley came though back in the early 2010s. And young players need to play. Neither are able to play regularly for Everton at the moment but might have been needed to alleviate depth concerns. With the club bringing in King and also holding on to Bernard, they are able to loan out both Simms and Gordon without any concerns. Simms went on loan to Blackpool, where he has since made his debut, first start, and scored twice. Gordon went on loan to Preston North End on Deadline Day and looks to be a crucial player for them. This is what Everton need to do in order to progress in the long term, so bringing King in on this deal gives them that added benefit of allowing the kids to go on loan and play.

Well, that is my mindset on this as a fan. I went through a wide range of emotions from when the rumor came out to when King signed on the dotted line. I had my doubts, but this seems to be a sensible, low risk move for Everton in order to provide immediate depth, and it is a very good chance for King to come in motivated to prove he can still play at a high level. Despite some recent struggles and injury issues, Everton can still finish as high as the top four. Champions League, while a bit unrealistic, is within the realm of possibility, and even making it into the Europa League would still be a great accomplishment. If this move does not work out, then so be it. If it does, then Everton and the player still have options aside from being committed to each other for a long period of time. King can find a more permanent home, and Everton can move on and look to bring in more talent in the summer window.

If King scores a few goals that help to bring Everton into Europe, then it will be worth it a thousand times over.

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The Italian Job

How Carlo Ancelotti needed only a year to dramatically change Everton’s fortunes, and where they go from here…

On Christmas Day 2019, Everton Football Club found themselves in 15th. A few weeks prior, they had sacked manager Marco Silva, the fourth permanent manager to be removed by the Merseyside club since David Moyes’ departure in 2013, after the club once again found themselves in the relegation zone following an embarrassing 5-2 defeat in the Merseyside Derby at Anfield. Club legend Duncan Ferguson was appointed as caretaker manager and was able to squeeze five points out of three matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal, which would lift the Toffees out of the bottom three, but the situation at the club was still dire. I mean, who would seriously take the Everton job? A squad that was not good enough while being tied down by high wages and Financial Fair Play issues, led by a board and sporting director that seemingly did not see eye to eye, and dealing with the pressure from one of the most passionate-but-demanding fanbases in England. Who wanted to be known as the manager that took Everton down from the English top flight for the first time in nearly 70 years?

The list of candidates was not all that appealing. Sam Allardyce, the famous relegation firefighter, would most likely not return to the club that sacked him a few years prior. Then-Bournemouth manager and noted boyhood Evertonian Eddie Howe was seemingly the top choice, hailed for how he led an overachieving Bournemouth side to the Premier League. The fans reacted negatively to this rumor, which seemed to die on its own, as Howe reaffirmed his commitment to Bournemouth in the press. Former Everton midfielder and then-Manchester City assistant manager Mikel Arteta was among the names considered, but he was too closely linked to the Arsenal vacancy to be considered for the Everton job. The signs seemed to point to one man, an old friend, some might say. Former Everton manager David Moyes was also out of work, and this seemed to be the moment where the stars would align and lead to a heroic return for the Scotsman. This did not please Everton fans, who still have a bitter taste in their mouths from the end of Moyes’ previous tenure on Merseyside. The Scottish manager was fairly successful at Everton, doing much with very little in financial backing and resources, but he left quite unceremoniously when he was tabbed to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Not only did he depart without warning, but Moyes tried very hard to poach Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, and Leighton Baines from Everton upon his arrival in Manchester. Evertonians were not much in favor of a Moyes apology reunion tour, and one fan made his thoughts very clear. Spray-painted onto a wall outside of Goodison Park one evening were the messages “No Hughes, Moyes, Howe”, “SILVA OUT”, and “F**k Moyes”. Despite the very vocal objections, it seemed to be nearly decided, and even if it was not, there did not seem to be anyone better who would actually consider the Everton job. Fans clung onto hope that former Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt manager Niko Kovač would want the job, and excitement built up after the Croatian was spotted in attendance at Goodison Park for the Chelsea game, but that too went nowhere. There seemed to be no one else. ESPN FC’s senior writer Mark Ogden summed the situation up fairly well: “Everton need a reality check: Moyes is the best they can get”.

Around the same time, 1,500 miles away from Merseyside, Napoli sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti after only 16 months in charge. Despite qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League and taking four points from two matches against reigning European champions Liverpool, Ancelotti could not get Napoli on track to contend for the league title and was sacked with the Partenopei sitting in 7th, quite a distance behind league leaders Juventus. Ancelotti is a legendary manager, widely regarded as one of the best of his era, if not of all time, but times had been tough for the Italian recently. A rocky end to his successful time in Madrid was followed by an even more tumultuous spell at Bayern Munich, which ended with seemingly the entire dressing room turning on the Italian after a difficult start to his second season in 2017. He then took the Napoli job following the departure of Maurizio Sarri, and despite a successful first season, he was once again sacked following struggles in his second season. His successes in Milan, Paris, and Madrid, his three Champions League titles, everything that made him a legendary manager, it all seemed so far away from the Italian. Was Ancelotti washed up? Should he stay in management? Is there a big club in the world that is willing to take a chance on him? Arsenal hardly gave him a chance, focusing instead on Arteta. He also did not seem to be near the top of the pecking order in case of a potential opening at Barcelona or Manchester United, either. It feels weird to say, but we did not know where the legendary Italian’s next job was going to be.

An instance of perfect timing, almost seemingly dictated by fate, has allowed Everton and Carlo Ancelotti’s paths to cross, each needing the other as much as the other needed them. On December 21st, 2019, Ancelotti was announced as the new Everton manager.

Today, the day I have begun writing this, is December 21st, 2020, exactly one year to the day of Ancelotti being hired. Everton are fourth.

Things were positive around Everton going into Ancelotti’s first full season, but going from a relegation scrap to being in the top four in 365 days is still beyond many people’s expectations, and league position by itself does not tell the whole story. The players that have been brought in, the positive transformations of players who Ancelotti inherited, the swagger and style of play, some of the results, all of it has combined to form a sense of true energy and positivity around a club that has not had much in the way of positivity over the years. For the first time in a while, it feels like there is a genuine plan at Everton, and there is a clear pathway forward for the club on the pitch.

And this really evolves around the man himself. There are very few cases in football where the arrival of the manager and the almost aura that it provides a club is able to change the club’s fortunes almost instantly, but the arrival of Ancelotti has seemingly evolved Everton overnight. He has provided some calmness to the team and some composure on the pitch. Most Everton teams have the reputation of falling apart when things go wrong, but Ancelotti has given the team a calmness about them, the ability for the players to keep pushing and change the plan when things go wrong instead of having their heads drop and things going from bad to worse. This composure also shows when Everton play away from Goodison Park. A team that was notoriously poor away from home under Marco Silva has now changed that reputation under Ancelotti, even winning away at Tottenham to start this season to break a 41-game winless streak away to “Big Six” teams. Ancelotti is famously a manager that does not restrict himself to one specific tactical set up, at least he has not done so since the beginning of his managerial career, which allows this Everton team to adapt when injuries or other issues arise. For example, Everton played against Chelsea, Leicester, and Arsenal without James Rodríguez, Seamus Coleman, and Lucas Digne. The change came with becoming for solid defensively and playing directly on the counter. Without Coleman and Digne, Ancelotti basically played four center backs at the back, with Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate deputizing in place of the injured Digne and Coleman. What the English duo could not provide in attacking quality, they more than made up for in defensive resolve and grit. As the results showed, the system worked perfectly, with three wins from three in those games.

He has also gotten the most out of the players at his disposal. Not only has Dominic Calvert-Lewin begun his evolution into a superstar and Richarlison maintained his status as the best player in the team, but even the mid-level players, considered an afterthought by the fans, have played at a higher level. Michael Keane has become one of the most consistent center backs in the Premier League, with Holgate returning from injury to become a consistent role player in the team. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex Iwobi have been very useful when injuries hit the team, with Iwobi especially putting in a string of very good performances. When Ancelotti arrived at Everton, he inherited a team facing financial difficulties, and while they did make some moves in the transfer window, he has mostly had to make do with the pieces he has, which he has done very well. The often-maligned Tom Davies even came in against Leicester and Arsenal after Allan got injured and played fairly well. The players that underperformed under Koeman and Silva, the players Everton fans could not wait to get rid of, are now performing very well and becoming a part of Everton’s rise.

The biggest change at the club, however, has come off the pitch. The presence of Ancelotti has forced Everton to be more proactive when it comes to the long-term planning at the club. In working with sporting director Marcel Brands, Ancelotti has established the team and tactics, with a vision for how the team will evolve over the next few years. It is the first time in years that you can see how Everton are evolving, showing signs of clear forward thinking and planning. This, combined with increased funding from owner Farhad Moshiri, shows the club is backing the plan that Ancelotti and Brands have. This ties into Everton’s presence in the transfer market, where Ancelotti’s presence is able to elevate the level of player Everton are able to attract. Who in their right mind thought James Rodríguez would be playing for Everton? A star player whose insane social media following also increases Everton’s brand around the world, specifically throughout South America. Everton spawned fairly successful Spanish language social media accounts after signing the Colombian, a testament to the growth of their brand due to the signing. And James would have never considered a move to Everton without Ancelotti at the helm. Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré both had a list of clubs vying for their signature but specifically chose moves to Everton. Younger players, such as Niels Nkounkou and Ben Godfrey, desired moves to Everton to be a part of the project. Even without the promise of European football, Everton are able to use Ancelotti’s pull to bring in quality players that improve the team. On their day, a midfield of James, Allan, and Doucouré is among the best in the league (though two of those three players are now injured). Nkounkou has not featured recently, but he has shown enough in short stints to have fans believe he will be the eventual replacement for Lucas Digne. Ben Godfrey has seemingly started evolving into a cult hero figure among Everton fans and he has not even played at his natural center back position yet. The upcoming January transfer window could potentially see Everton make moves for the likes of Isco or Dele Alli, players who never would have been on the club’s radar before now. It is all a bit mind-boggling, especially considering where Everton were as a club just a few years prior.

All of this has combined into results, the obvious reason why Everton find themselves in the Champions League places. While they did hit slight dip in form this season, they have still gotten wins against Arsenal, Leicester, Chelsea, and Tottenham, as well as a draw against Liverpool. The win against Spurs not only ended a 41-game winless run away to “Big Six” sides, but it was also the Toffees’ first league victory over Spurs since 2012. The win against Arsenal, while the Gunners are struggling, was only their third win over the North London side in the league in the last six years. On the pitch, they are a team of talented players that are assured in how they are going to play and manage a game. They are a talented attacking team, with players like James and Iwobi and Sigurdsson who are able to create chances for the prolific forwards. They are more resolute in defense, with the likes of Allan and Godfrey being hailed by fans for showing the tenacity and grit that plays well with Evertonians. That all combines to form, quite simply, a very talented and well-managed team. The wins over Chelsea, Leicester, and Spurs, who are all incredibly talented teams in their own right, seemed almost routine. It was not luck or fortune, as some big Everton wins have been in the past, it was execution of the plan by talented players. Now, it is not always perfect. The team left much to be desired in the loss to Leeds and draw to Burnley, for instance, but it is the general upward trend that is starting to become noticeable. Everton may not be contending for a title, they may not even be truly able to finish in the top four, but they are going in the right direction.

What happens next? Well, that partially depends on where they finish this season. I imagine Everton finishing in the top six is realistic, with the Europa League looking like the more likely destination. Should Everton add European football to their offer, they will become an even more attractive destination for transfers. They look ready to resist any offers for Digne, Richarlison, or Calvert-Lewin, so I imagine the focus of the transfer market will be upgrading around the already-established core. They were linked previously with moves for Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey and Real Betis right back Emerson. I imagine those links might re-emerge next summer, though with Bailey’s red-hot form for Leverkusen this season, I imagine any move for him would be much more costly and likely require the allure of European football. Right back and right wing seem to be the positions in need of upgrade, as Seamus Coleman is not getting any younger and the team might function better with James playing through the middle. Goalkeeper is also in question, as Jordan Pickford’s future still remains in doubt. I doubt there are any major moves that happen with this team in January, as the lack of available top talent may not convince them to make a move. Brands has always disliked the January window anyway, as he (correctly) noted the rarity of good moves available for teams in this window. All eyes look to the next summer window, and, should Everton finish the season well, they should be able to make some interesting moves, and now, under Brands and Ancelotti, there is a clear vision of what the team is going to look like and where and how the team needs to strengthen.

Ultimately, it is just another step in the process of building this team up. They have made great progress under Ancelotti, but this is not an instant thing. The old saying “Rome was not built in a day” applies just as much to football clubs as it does to ancient empires. It takes a few years for even top managers to get things right with teams, and this will be the same at Everton. But for the first time in ages, it actually does feel like there is a responsible plan being undertaken at the club, ran by people who know what they are doing. As if dictated by fate, Ancelotti and Everton were brought together. Ancelotti has given Everton the managerial nous and allure needed to begin restoring one of the biggest clubs in English football to their former glory, and Everton have given Ancelotti the platform to demonstrate that, despite some struggles the last few years, he’s still got it, and he is still a special manager. Now, we may be seeing the sleeping giant of the English game being awoken by the sleeping giant of the managerial world.

As it turns out, David Moyes was not the best that Everton could get.

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A Brand New Midfield

What Everton’s new signings mean for Carlo Ancelotti’s team and their chances at finally challenging the Big Six…

Everton have been active in the transfer market, bringing in three big name signings in a matter of a week. Allan Marques, James Rodríguez, and Abdoulaye Doucouré joined the Toffees from Napoli, Real Madrid, and Watford, respectively, giving manager Carlo Ancelotti almost an entirely new midfield in the blink of an eye. All three players were brought in for a total fee of around £50 million, making this an incredible bit of business for Everton and sporting director Marcel Brands.

With Everton’s first league match of the season on the horizon, many assume all three players will take part in their match against Spurs this weekend. Those three players should make a big difference for this Everton team, but how specifically will they fit into Ancelotti’s system? Well, this gives them the one thing the Italian manager seems to love the most: options.

In Allan and Doucouré, Ancelotti now has two midfielders that are very good at many different things and seem to complement each other very well. Both are very hard-working, dynamic midfielders, but their individual proficiency in defensive and attacking roles, respectively, allows them to function well in a midfield together. Allan is a warrior defensively, saying he prides himself in winning tackles and recovering the ball all over the pitch. He is also a competent passer, but it is mainly his defensive work rate that will greatly benefit this Everton team. Paired with him, Doucouré presents a box-to-box midfielder able to contribute defensively while also being a threat going forward, specializing in late runs and getting a high volume of shots off relative to his position. In some respects, Allan is forming a similar relationship to Doucouré that he had with Marek Hamšik at Napoli. The system is different, however, as they are fitting in with James Rodríguez, a natural attacking midfielder, compared to their former teammate Jorginho, a defensive midfielder. Allan could still function as the defensive player in the midfield, allowing Doucouré and another midfielder to play ahead of him. Doucouré could function in a deeper lying role or more forward, as shown when he was playing almost behind the striker for Watford near the end of last season. The options are there for Ancelotti, but what will they do? How does the system change? How will Everton line up?

Ancelotti has historically not glued himself to one formation or system. While he strongly preferred a 4-4-2 during his early years managing in Italy, he has seemingly grown into a process of formulating a formation and tactical plan to suit the players available to him. For Everton, he returned to his 4-4-2 roots, a system that, while it was not fantastic, seemed to get the best out of the limited resources he had available upon taking over on Merseyside in late December. I wrote in a previous piece about Everton that it is difficult to envision who Ancelotti and Brands might target in the transfer window, as it is hard to pin down exactly how Everton were going to play moving forward. Three signings into the window, and the vast unknown idea of how Everton could line up has formulated into three separate systems, and the key player in how the final system will be decided upon is James Rodríguez. They could line up in the same 4-4-2 they used last season, with a flat midfield four of Richarlison, Doucouré, Allan, and James, but that would seemingly require quite a bit of work defensively from James on the right, taking him out of his preferred attacking role and putting quite a bit of pressure on the right back. There were discussions of James playing in a traditional “number ten” role, which would indicate the usage of a 4-2-3-1, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin operating as a lone striker ahead of Richarlison, James, and the right winger, likely Theo Walcott or Anthony Gordon. Allan and Doucouré would then operate as a double pivot behind James.

Of those two likely options, the 4-2-3-1 is probably the best suited to the personnel available. James can play in that inverted winger role, and we will discuss that further in a bit, but a 4-4-2 system requires quite a bit of defensive work from both wingers in order to support the fullbacks in defending the wide areas and marking the attacking wingers and wingbacks. James is not a lazy player by any account, but he is a player who needs to be further up the pitch in dangerous attacking areas in order to impact the match, and forcing him to operate in that 4-4-2 will either run the risk of pinning him further back or isolating the right back. Both scenarios are not ideal. While the 4-4-2 has an added benefit of two strikers, and the pairing of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison showed some potential last season, it still does not have an ideal midfield set up. The 4-2-3-1 is better, and while the “number ten” role is starting to die out in football, it is a system that still functions if used correctly. Some may argue it is making a comeback, as demonstrated by Bayern Munich on their road to Champions League triumph, as well as by Manchester United during their resurgence following the arrival of “number ten” Bruno Fernandes. James is a traditional “number ten”, so he would function well in a system that provides him with freedom going forward and the ability to focus on the attack. The pairing of Doucouré and Allan would be a solid double pivot, with Allan being a defensive workhorse and solid passer from deep and Doucouré being a dynamic box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal, and they could also count on the potential inclusion of André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin in that position. It is not without its negative aspects, as it breaks up the partnership of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to put the Brazilian on the wing, and it also forces Everton to utilize a right winger, a position without much proven quality for the Toffees at the moment. Calvert-Lewin also hit his stride in a 4-4-2, and while he will definitely have much better service now than he did previously, he does run the risk of being isolated up top. Despite the negatives, the 4-2-3-1 seems the more logical choice to get the most out of his signings, so I would anticipate Ancelotti strays from his 4-4-2 to begin the season.

However, there is one system that could get the most out of James while not utilizing that now unconventional “number ten”. Everton could line up in a 4-3-3, with James as part of the front three with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin ahead of a (likely) midfield of Allan, Doucouré, and Gomes. In this system, James would function as a sort of inverted winger/inside forward, akin to how Hakim Ziyech was deployed for Ajax the past two seasons. He would have the room and space to drift inside, moving onto his stronger left foot and able to cross into the forwards, have a shot himself, or play a pass to the overlapping fullback. The cross specifically is tantalizing, as James has always been very good at the left-footed, in-swinging cross toward the far post. Calvert-Lewin is clearly competent in the air, but the potential late runs from Richarlison and Doucouré, who are both also very good in the air, onto that cross make it a very difficult move for teams to defend against. While his starting position is not as central as it would be if he were a “number ten”, this still provides James with freedom in attacking moves. The right back would still face a decent amount of pressure defensively, but at least the right sided midfielder would be able to provide some cover should the right back overlap James. A midfield three of Allan, Doucouré, and Gomes provides a nice blend of ability on the ball and defensive solidity, though the likely best third midfielder in that treble would be the now-injured Gbamin. Doucouré still brings goals from midfield to help lessen the goalscoring burden on the front three. It also means Everton do not have to field a right winger, where they are weak, and are able to keep Anthony Gordon as a game-changer coming off the bench. A 4-3-3 could also easily shift to a 4-4-2 defensively, with James moving up and Richarlison pivoting back to form the bank of four with the three midfielders. Calvert-Lewin would be available to knock down a clearing pass and James would be able to drop into space and play the pass to the darting winger or advancing midfielder. It is an unconventional set up, but it is one that just might work.

So how will these signings do? Well, they are definitely risks. For those who focus on resale value, which quite a few Everton fans have, these three do not have much in the way of resale potential. James, Allan, and Doucouré are 29, 29, and 27, respectively, so they have theoretically reached the peak of their values. Doucouré is a bit more of a known quantity than the other two, having played several seasons in the Premier League, but simply having experience in the league does not guarantee success. Everton fans know well that players who move from smaller teams in the league to bigger teams are not guaranteed constant success, despite having the notorious “proven Premier League player” tag attached to them. Allan has experience in a strong Napoli team and was part of their Coppa Italia triumph last season, as well as multiple European runs. He has not been at his best as of late, however, and there is a fear he could be on the decline as a player. James is the biggest risk, as the last few years have been very up and down for the Colombian. Success at Bayern Munich has been bookended by struggles for fitness and playing time at Real Madrid. The World Cup in Brazil, where James announced himself to the world, is getting further and further away, and this move to England represents a likely final hope at fully reviving James’ career. The risks are clear, and there is no guarantee any of these signings work out.

But there are still absolutely reasons to be positive about these signings. Doucouré has been a very solid player for several years, being a key player in a Watford team that regularly went through managerial and tactical changes. He demonstrated an ability to function in multiple roles while still being a difference maker in a Watford side that struggled at times throughout the years before their relegation last season. Allan was a favorite of Ancelotti while he was at Napoli, and he seems to bring the fight and toughness that the Everton midfield has lacked since the departure of Idrissa Gueye. He has many characteristics and personality traits that the Everton fans should love, and he brings a level of experience and leadership as a veteran and a trophy winner into a dressing room that already has quite a few Portuguese speakers in it. James’ best season since his breakout World Cup year came at Bayern Munich under Ancelotti. They have a good relationship, and Ancelotti tried to bring the Colombian to Napoli before his eventual departure from Campania. I still trust Ancelotti’s judgment as a manager, and if he sees quality still in James, then I trust that judgment. If you needed another testimony, you can look to the other team in Madrid. Diego Simeone was very interested in bringing James to Atlético Madrid before last season, and the deal was apparently very close to being finished. It was reportedly Real Madrid’s 7-3 loss to Atléti in their preseason match up in the United States that pressured Real Madrid to cancel the deal, not wanting to seemingly aid a direct rival. Simeone is also no fool, and he is a manager that is hard to impress as a player if you do not bring the level of effort and defensive work rate that fits into Simeone’s system. James does not seemingly bring that, but if El Cholo pushed hard to sign the Colombian in spite of that, then there clearly has to be some level of talent still there. There are clearly risks in these signings, but there is indisputable star power in all three of these players. If they are able to come into the team, fit into Ancelotti’s system, and find form, then Everton suddenly become a much better and much more dangerous team.

Ancelotti’s revolution on Merseyside is more than underway, and it will be interesting to see what else Everton can do in this window. If this is it, then it is definitely not a failure of a transfer window, and it shows how far Everton have gone in the last few years that they are able to attract this level of talent without the promise of European football. This team is far from the finished article, however, and there should not be an expectation of breaking into the Top Six this season. Everton are not there yet, but this has the potential of being a massive step in the right direction toward that goal of getting into Europe. At a bare minimum, this is an immediate upgrade on the Toffee midfield that struggled through the second half of last season. The phrase “scared money don’t make money” comes to mind, and while this was a risk, the reward is also quite high.

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What on Earth is Wrong With Everton?

Years of mismanagement and irresponsibility have made Ancelotti’s job that much harder

Everton’s humiliating 3-0 loss to Wolves last weekend was one that many Everton fans are familiar with. That same feeling of “one step forward, two steps back” has encapsulated the Evertonian experience over the last several seasons. The loss also demonstrated that, despite all of the great work Carlo Ancelotti has done since taking over at Goodison Park, there is still a long journey ahead of the Italian in his hopes to revive the fallen blue giant on Merseyside. Ancelotti has walked into a situation where he inherits a flawed team, somewhat restricted finances, and not much room for flexibility or error. Despite some strong performances when he arrived, it is now clear that he merely got the team performing above their level, something which is hard to duplicate repeatedly for a long stretch. Everton were flirting with a relegation fight earlier in the season, and while the squad was seemingly too good to go down, they are also not good enough to contend for a European place, as it looked like they could have done at the end of this season. There are significant problems that Ancelotti must solve, and the unfortunate thing for Evertonians is that these problems are deep-rooted, substantial, and date back several years, all pointing to one simple conclusion:

in a sporting sense, Everton are not a well-ran football club.

The fact that Everton are not in any better position years after Farhad Moshiri’s takeover and after hundreds of millions of pounds spent in the transfer window is a massive failure and a reflection on the poor leadership and disorder within the club. Let us look at their opponents last week as a comparison point. Wolves and Everton both received financial takeovers in 2016, Everton by Moshiri and Wolves by Chinese investment group Fosun International. At the end of the 2015-16 season, Everton finished 11th in the Premier League, while Wolves finished 14th in the Championship. In the four years that followed, Everton finished seventh, eighth, and eighth in the Premier League, and they look on course to finish comfortably mid-table this season. Wolves won promotion to the Premier League two years after their takeover, being remembered as arguably one of the best sides the Championship had ever seen. In their two years in the Premier League, they finished above Everton twice, finishing seventh in 2018-19 and looking like they will finish in the top six this season. Both clubs received their financial backing at the same time, but Wolves have grown exponentially more than Everton, and this reflects the operating of each club. Wolves had a clear vision for their club progression, tabbed Nuno Espírito Santo from the beginning as the man to create that image, and progressed from the Championship to the Premier League using a smart financial strategy on club operation and transfers. Everton have not done any of those things, for several reasons, and they are well behind in their rebuilding process because of it.

Financially, Everton seem to be in the best position they have been in for decades. Moshiri coming into the club hierarchy in 2016 injected new financial life into a struggling football club, helping them clear debt, invest in club infrastructure, and finally establish a solid plan for life after Goodison Park, with a stadium at the Bramley-Moore Docks currently under construction. Everton also got a refresh in the transfer market, having one of the highest transfer net spends in the league over the last five years, but that does not mean they are moving in the right direction on the pitch. It is somewhat of a misconception to think that you need to spend barrels of money on transfers to break into the top four. While financial backing in the transfer market, especially in the post-“Neymar to PSG” market, is important in securing talent, spending money alone is not a guarantee of impending success. A team must spend money in a smart way, making signings that improve the team and build into an overall idea of how the team should look and play. A player coming with a high transfer fee does not guarantee they will be good, and if a team invests less in transfers than their rivals but make more intelligent signings, then they will still likely be better than their rivals. Leicester City, Wolves, and Tottenham are examples of teams that do not spend at the level Everton and do not have a wage bill at the level of Everton, but have turned smart investments into success and Top Four/Top Six finishes. The best example of this, however, is that team on the other side of Stanley Park. Liverpool have indulged in the transfer market, especially in recent seasons, but their relatively low net spend shows how well the club invested their money. Liverpool sold Fernando Torres, Luis Suárez, Raheem Sterling, and Philippe Coutinho, arguably four of the best players in the world at the time of their departure, and seemed to upgrade their team every time.

Everton, meanwhile, have massively struggled in this capacity. Romelu Lukaku leaving in 2017 left a massive hole in the Everton attack, and they have yet to fully replace the goals that left the side when the Belgian departed for Man United. They have spent a significant amount of money on transfers, but they have spent mostly on signings that have not consistently worked out in a blue shirt. Richarlison, Lucas Digne, and Idrissa Gueye are the ones that clearly worked, and while the jury is still out on some, there are others that clearly did not work. Jordan Pickford, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Michael Keane showed flashes of good performance, but have since stagnated or gotten stuck in a rut of bad form. Davy Klaassen, Alex Iwobi, Sandro Ramírez, Theo Walcott, and Cenk Tosun have all fallen or are starting to fall by the wayside, being unable to reach the level that Everton need them to. The list of poor signings is much more extensive than this, and this shows that there needs to be a significant change in how Everton scout and identify transfers. While you could defend some of the moves as having made sense at the time, some of the other ones seem to not have made much sense, with Alex Iwobi’s £35 million move from Arsenal being chief among them. They have spent significantly more on transfers and wages than teams above them in the league table. Their inability to use this money in an intelligent way, bringing in signings that improve the side and build toward an overall idea and picture of what the team should look like, has left them in this mid-table quagmire.

A substantial part of why their transfer spending has been ineffective has been their manager turnover over the last several years, which has impeded the creation of an ideal team. Everyone likes to talk about the succession of managers that have taken over at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. David Moyes took over from Ferguson going into the 2013-14 season, signing a six-year contract and being tabbed as Ferguson’s hand-picked successor. Within that six year contract window, United would hire four more managers: Ryan Giggs (interim), Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Five managers in around six to seven years. What is not talked about, however, is the significantly worse spell of instability on the other side of the Moyes departure. Since David Moyes left Goodison Park, Everton have made eight managerial changes: Roberto Martínez, David Unsworth and Joe Royle (interim co-managers), Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth again (interim), Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Duncan Ferguson (interim), and Carlo Ancelotti. In that time span, Everton finished no higher than seventh, reached one FA Cup semifinal, and found themselves in or near the relegation zone on multiple occasions. Martínez, Koeman, Allardyce, and Silva, the four main non-interim managers that preceded Ancelotti, each lasted no more than two to three seasons, with things turning quite sour at the end of each of their tenures. All four of them also had at least one transfer window to start building their team. Their short tenures in charge, however, halted their project and restarted the team with a new manager with new ideas. This has left Everton with a group of different players able to fill different roles and ideally fitting into different systems. A player identified by Marco Silva as fitting into his ideal 4-3-3 system may not be able to fit into Ancelotti’s 4-4-2, and so on and so forth for different players and different managers. This has left Everton with an aging, unbalanced squad that lacks in quality, does not necessarily fit the system of their current manager, and contains players on high wages that are very difficult to offload.

The managers have also had differing relationships with club hierarchy, namely within the director of football structure that Everton have tried to establish. In 2016, Everton appointed former Leicester City chief scout Steve Walsh as their director of football. Being the one responsible for bringing Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kanté, and Riyad Mahrez to Leicester, Walsh was seen as someone who could bring similar hidden gem talents to Everton. His time on Merseyside, however, was reportedly plagued by a poor relationship between himself, manager Ronald Koeman, and the higher-ups at the club. It does not change the bedrock conclusion that Walsh was not cut out for a director of football role, but the speculation around certain signings being the doing of certain people in that relationship did not help the idea that Everton were a well-functioning club. The move for Wayne Rooney, for example, largely came from the influence of then-chairman Bill Kenwright, rather than being something heavily pushed for by Walsh or Koeman. Walsh claimed after the fact that he had moves lined up for Erling Håland, Andrew Robertson, and Harry Maguire, but the moves were shut down by club hierarchy. While I question the validity of these claims, as they did seem like Walsh trying to manipulate the narrative to get his next job, it does highlight the flawed relationship within the Everton hierarchy at the time. Marcel Brands arrived from PSV to replace Walsh, and while he did make some solid signings, the relationship between him and Marco Silva was not entirely perfect. Sure, it was not as turbulent as the Walsh-Koeman issues, but there was some pickiness on Silva’s side that seemed to impact deals. Silva’s desire to bring in a “Premier League proven” center back, for example, left them stuck trying to build a deal for Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma instead of looking at other targets when it was clear that a Zouma deal was not going to happen. The Iwobi deal is also a head-scratcher, though I am honestly not sure if that was influenced by Silva. This high-manager turnover and troubled sporting director relationship has massively screwed with Everton’s transfer strategy, leaving them with several players who do not fit the current system, are seemingly fairly apathetic about remaining at Everton, and are very difficult to offload due to poor performances and high wages. This has been very apparent in Everton’s last few matches, as it is clear some players recognize that their time on Merseyside is numbered and are resigned to their fate.

So where does this leave Ancelotti and his rebuild? Well, there is a lot of work to do. The foundation needs to be ripped up from this team. Several players who make up the spine of this team need to be shipped on, and the Ancelotti-Brands pairing need to completely rethink Everton’s ideas on player recruitment and the ideal transfer targets for the club. There has been much written about the overhaul of Liverpool’s player scouting department and how it impacted their rise to dominance, and similar root-and-branch changes may have to take place here. Even though it could be argued that Financial Fair Play is now dead due to the Manchester City-CAS ruling, they still might see themselves as hampered financially in the transfer market due to COVID or FFP reasons. This is an ideal time for them to try and find better deals in the market, moving away from the Sigurdsson/Iwobi/Richarlison levels of financial investment into transfers. The recent rumored move for Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is more along the right track of the type of deals they should be looking for, moving for players who offer consistent statistical output in their positions and have considerable room for improvement while not sinking tremendous amounts of money into it. The 24-year-old Højbjerg is a player that has been a consistently strong defensive midfielder for Southampton, has put up impressive statistical performances in several defensive stats and in several passing stats, has considerable experience as a first team player, but also still has room to grow due to his young age and would only set the Toffees back, reportedly, around £25 million at most.

The players Everton should go for really depends on how Ancelotti wants to set up his team, formation-wise. Signing midfielders is probably a safe bet, given how weak Everton have been in that area of the pitch this season, but the type of player depends on the formation Ancelotti envisions. A 4-4-2 demands different things from your central midfielders than a 4-3-3 does. A move for a box-to-box midfielder, such as Napoli’s Allan for example, could work in both systems, but trying to utilize a “number 10” role, akin to where Alex Iwobi wants to play, does not work in a 4-4-2. The same idea works for signing wingers. An attack-minded winger like Wilfried Zaha or Cengiz Ünder might work better in a 4-3-3, where they have less responsibility to defend, than in a 4-4-2. A winger with attacking output as well as a high work rate and ability to track back when needed, such as Norwich City’s Emiliano Buendía, might work better in a 4-4-2. Ancelotti has consistently started matches in a 4-4-2 at Everton, but his 4-3-3 approach against Spurs was a curveball, justified by the Italian saying he wants a team able to play multiple styles and formations. That is all well and good, but it does not really answer the question of how this Everton team will shape up going into the transfer window, which does not really give us a full picture of where and how Everton can strengthen. Ancelotti is a significantly smarter man than I am, so I have no doubt he has a clear picture of what he wants, but after years of Everton mixing up the signals in player recruitment, they need to go into this window with a clear vision of what this team will look like.

Ok, this article was quite negative, but Evertonians, I will throw us all a bone here and talk about some positives that Ancelotti is working with. There may not be that many, but there is one major area of positivity, and that is the performance of some of the younger players in this team. Richarlison just turned 23 and looks like he is a budding star. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, while he has struggled since the league season restarted, has shown signs of putting it all together this season when Ancelotti arrived, and it is possible that he is able to improve even more over the next 12 months, and he is also only 23. Mason Holgate has been Everton’s breakout star of the season, turning into a rock at the back and demonstrating flexibility in being able to also play as a fullback or midfielder, and he is also only 23. Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite have shown considerable amount of positives since making their way into the first team after the season restart, and both of them are still teenagers. There is something there to build on. They have a budding superstar to build around in Richarlison and one part of a center back partnership in Holgate, and while there is still a considerable amount to build around it, that is still a solid start.

So yeah, what’s wrong with Everton? Quite a bit, but it all really centers around how they got Moshiri’s money and messed it all up. Everton is the rich kid who blew all of their money on stupid things instead of investing it to reap long-term rewards. This also completely ignores the mentality issue at the club, which especially rears its ugly head whenever they play away to a “Big Six” team or play at Wembley Stadium, but that is another article for another time. Everton had the resources they needed to succeed, but mismanagement and poor financial spending led to teams around them making the top six jump that the Toffees had always envisioned. Ancelotti has quite a bit of work to do; the rotting and molded foundations laid in the last five years need to be ripped up and rebuilt. This is going to take several years and several transfer windows. It is going to require a considerable amount of patience from all involved: players, club staff, and supporters. It is going to require every part and department of the club to read from the same hymn sheet, working to develop the image of the football club that Ancelotti and Brands envision. Structurally, at all levels, the club must improve, and they must work to find the one thing they have been unable to find over the last half-decade: stability.

Where Next for Thiago Silva?

4th October 2011 will be a dark day that Jack Transou will remember for the rest of his life. On that fateful day, Qatari Sports Investment bought Paris Saint-Germain, and it marked a new era of Parisian dominance in French football. While Thiago Motta and Alex arrived in the Winter transfer window, it was the following summer when PSG flexed their financial muscle. Many big names were brought into the club for then-big fees: Ezequiel Lavezzi was brought in for €26.5 million from Napoli, Lucas Moura cost €45 million from Sao Paulo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was purchased for €20 million from Milan. Joining him from Milan was none other than Brazilian international Thiago Silva, whose transfer fee was rumoured to be €42 million.

Unlike the other big-name signings who have since left the club or retired, Silva has remained at PSG and, together with Marco Veratti, is the longest-serving player at the club since the Qatari takeover. Well, after spending almost a decade in Paris, it looks like Thiago Silva will finally move on to greener pastures elsewhere after it was announced that PSG were not going to renew his contract. Even though he turns 36 in September, that hasn’t stopped clubs and reportedly, a host of suitors are lining up to acquire his services. If he remains fit, whichever club that buys him would have gained a solid centre-back who not only still has at least 1 to 2 seasons in him, but also a real leader in the dressing room and a great mentor for young defenders.

The question then beckons, what is the next best destination for Thiago Silva?

Reconnecting with Ancelotti at Everton

Image by jorono from Pixabay

Carlo Ancelotti was the man who brought Silva to PSG from Milan, and signing the Brazilian rock at the back would undoubtedly be a real statement of intention for Everton. For several years now, Everton have been trying to break into the top 4 and are aiming to play Champions League football regularly. Yet despite spending loads in the transfer market, things haven’t always gelled well at the club. However, that may change under Ancelotti’s guidance, and he may finally transform the club into a real powerhouse in the Premier League.

This season, Everton have been really leaky at the back, and they lack a real physical presence in the team. Their poor defending was especially evident in their match against Newcastle, when ridiculous defending allowed the Magpies to score 2 goals in the 94th and 95th minute of stoppage time and draw the game, 2-2. Michael Keane had tons of promise when they first arrived at Goodison Park but he haven’t lived up to the hype. Yerry Mina is a decent option but he needs a good partner and that partner isn’t Keane.

Mason Holgate has shown that he has the potential to be an excellent centre-back in the future, but he needs a player who acts as both a reliable partner in defence and a mentor. None are as ideal as Thiago Silva. Just ask Marquinhos at PSG. Sure, the younger Brazilian was brimming with potential and was certainly a gifted footballer when PSG transferred him in. However, it was arguably spending time as Silva’s partner in the heart of defence that helped raise Marquinhos’s game to the next level.

With no transfer fee involved, Everton should be able to afford Silva’s staggering wages. Silva’s arrival could also be beneficial for Mina and Keane, who could benefit from Silva’s presence. More importantly, Silva would help Everton’s lack of depth in centre-backs. Mina, Keane, and Holgate are the only first-team centre-backs currently in the Everton squad, and Silva could provide more cover for that position. Thiago Silva also speaks Italian and he could help rein in Moise Kean.

Overall, a move to Everton would not only be beneficial to Everton but offer a similar kind of challenge for Thiago Silva to the one he had at PSG – helping to transform an above average team into a great one.

Becoming a Locker Room leader at United

Image by Jakub Mularski from Pixabay

For some time now, I have been saying that Manchester United lack experienced heads in the locker room. And I’m not talking about players who’ve racked up hundreds of games. I’m talking about consistent title-winners who know what it takes to win championships and cups regularly. Harry Maguire is a fitting captain for the club, but there still seems to be little locker room leaders at Old Trafford. Thiago Silva’s arrival would surely help plug that lack of leadership. After all, the Brazilian international has been captain for both club and country for several years now.

However, unlike Everton, United do have a wealth of defenders at their disposal. Even if the club does sell Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones, they would still have Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Would it be wise for United to sign Thiago Silva, who would probably play for two seasons max? Such a move would not only alienate either Bailly or Lindelöf but also potentially stunt the development of Tuanzebe.

Furthermore, Silva may not be starting every game for the club. Supposedly, there are plans to partner Tuanzebe and Maguire together. If Thiago Silva is content with being a rotation player at the club, then a move to United might make sense. However, I feel that it would be a shame if he did not start games. Unless the club decides to sell Bailly or Lindelöf, a move to United would not be the most ideal for all parties.

Solving Arsenal’s Defensive Crisis

Image by jorono from Pixabay

For the longest time, Arsenal have had a defender crisis at their hands. Sokratis and Mustafi have failed to convince that they deserve a spot in the starting line-up while David Luiz, Rob Holding, and Callum Chambers have all been mediocre at best. Arsenal have yet to effectively replace the defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. There is hope for the future, however, with William Saliba and Konstantinos Mavropanos set to return to the Gunners next season.

In particular, a centre-back partnership of Thiago Silva and William Saliba would sound tantalizing to Arsenal fans. As things stand, Arsenal fans are eagerly waiting to see their new man Saliba in action. Touted as an exciting prospect, he ushers in hope for Gooners, who mostly are fed up with the club’s regular poor defensive displays. Like with Holgate, Silva would be an ideal mentor to a young talented defender like Saliba. Under the Brazilian’s tutelage, he could definitely raise his game to the next level just like Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe.

If Arteta feels that Saliba needs to be eased into the Premier League instead, the Spaniard could revive the partnership of David Luiz and Thiago Silva instead. Having played together for PSG and the Brazil National team, both players can top on their shared chemistry and act as a short term fix for Arsenal’s defensive issues. At the same time, Saliba and Mavropanos are groomed to replace them.

Then there’s Pablo Marí who Arteta is looking to sign permanently. A partnership between Marí and Silva could be interesting as well and perhaps better than a pairing of Silva and Luiz. Hence, if Arsenal plan to acquire Silva, they need to clear out the deadwood. Mustafi and Sokratis need to be offloaded while either Chambers or Holding should be sent out on loan. If not, the defence would be cluttered with players.

Short-term Cover for Barcelona

Image by Iwan Bettschen from Pixabay

How has it gone wrong for Samuel Umtiti?

He was supposed to be Gerard Piqué’s successor but hasn’t delivered when it has mattered. Barcelona have reportedly slashed his asking price and it would seem that his days as a Barcelona player are drawing to a close.

If Umtiti does leave, and he probably will, Barcelona are only left with Gerrard Piqué and Clément Lenglet as experienced centre-backs. Yes, it is true that the Catalonians have Todibo next season, who will return from his loan at Schalke, and Barcelona B central defender Ronald Araújo, who has already featured once in the league this campaign. However, these players lack significant experience and are, quite truthfully, still not ready for consistent first-team football just yet. Even then, Barcelona are supposedly looking at selling the Todibo. If Araújo’s debut is anything to go by, he has a lot to learn. The Uruguayan debuted against Sevilla in October 2019, coming off the bench to replace Todibo in the 73rd minute only to be sent off 13 minutes later. The defender was all over Javier Hernandez, who was clear through goal. Even though it seems like Javier Hernandez made the most out of Araújo’s tugging, it is clear that the young Uruguayan does not possess enough experience yet. Hence, brining in a player like Silva makes a lot of sense.

In essence, Barcelona will replace Umtiti with Silva, albeit probably on a short term basis. Regardless of the length of his tenure at Camp Nou, the Brazilian’s arrival helps provide short-term depth in central defence. Besides gaining a mentor for the younger defenders, Silva’s arrival would give time for a young defender like Araújo to grow instead of rushing them into the first team. But Silva’s true purpose would be to buy Barcelona some time so that they can assess long-term options for central defenders instead of panic buying.

For years, Silva has faced Messi either on the cub level or internationally when Brazil and Argentina collide. To see both players on the same team though, now that would be interesting.

Reuniting with Zlatan and reviving Milan

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Zlatan and Thiago Silva were playing together in A.C. Milan before they were both poached by PSG in the 2012 Summer transfer window. They played together in Paris for 4 years before Zlatan made a move to Manchester United in the summer of 2016. It would be the dream of every footballing romanticist to witness the reunion of these two formidable players. Even though they are in their mid to late 30s, both footballers are going strong.

Besides the prospect of playing alongside Zlatan again, what better way to finish off his career than to return to Milan and help them get back to their glory days. Milan today are a real shadow of their past and perhaps Silva’s return could help reinvigorate the club to it’s glory days. A partnership between Thiago Silva and Alessio Romagnoli could see Silva symbolically passing the mantle to the Italian international. Silva’s arrival would be timely given how like other clubs in this list, Milan lack depth in central defence.

A New Challenge in Japan?

Image by Philavert from Pixabay

Instead of a move to the Chinese Super League, which arguably pays more, many stalwarts have looked to Japan as the final destination of their playing career. David Villa, Fernando Torres, and Lukas Podolski have all played in Japan towards the latter stages of their careers. Currently, Andreas Iniesta still plies his trade in Japan and the J1 League has long known to offer a unique challenge for European footballers. After years of domestic triumphs with PSG, Silva has never won a continental competition at the club level. Could he fulfil this dream by joining a J League side and help guide it to an AFC Champions League triumph? Or think about the exciting prospects of Thiago Silva, Andreas Iniesta, and Thomas Vermaelen playing in the same team if the Brazilian joined Vissel Kobe?

Where to then?

Personally, I feel that Silva should make a move to Everton and link up with Carlo Ancelotti once again. Everton have the resources to build a solid team and Silva would definitely improve the current lacklustre defence. Besides linking up with Ancelotti, Everton also offers Silva the chance of regular first-team football – something that other clubs may fail to provide. However, Silva is but one man and for Everton to excel, changes need to happen. Top of that list would be to offload Michael Keane and bring in a new defender. The Merseyside club is rumoured to be after Gabriel Magalhaes of Lille and that would be a fantastic signing. Under Silva’s guidance, perhaps Everton will have a reliable defence in the future with Holgate and Magalhaes at the heart of it.

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My First Live Football Match

Following in the steps of Vikram, I will also share a personal football story, one that reminds us of the bond we have to this game

So for those who do not know, I support two teams: Everton and Olympique Lyonnais (If you have issue with that, then know that I do not care). I followed both of those teams for years, and when I got the opportunity to attend a study abroad course in England the summer after my freshman year at university, I knew I had to take the opportunity to see a match live.

Now, my first match experience is quite different from the experience of many other Americans who travel over. Most Americans travel over ahead of time, take plenty of pictures outside of their beloved team’s stadium, and maybe even take an official tour. They have their tickets purchased and packed ahead of time, they arrive well before kickoff to take in the sights, and they proudly display their team’s colors the whole time. My experience was not that, and you know what? I would not have traded it away.

So the first major detail of difference is the location. I have never seen Goodison Park. I have never even stepped foot into the city of Liverpool, and while I aim to change that in the near future, before Goodison is eventually torn down, I was not able to on this trip. This match was an away match, as Everton traveled to East London to play West Ham. Much easier on my bank account, as rail tickets between London and Liverpool were quite expensive, but it presented a significantly different potential experience than going to a home match.

The second major difference was the ticket and its acquisition. Home matches are, at least relatively, easier to get tickets to for the home fan, but when their team travels away, the issues arise. While I considered buying a home ticket, I felt that the experience would be less whole, a fish out of water sort of thing, if I were not with the Everton fans, so I embarked on the challenge of finding an away ticket. For those that do not know, in England (at least with Everton), the opportunities to buy away tickets are offered in phases that are based on a points system, which accounts for season ticket holders and how many matches they attend, before they are released to the general public. Now Everton are a very well supported team with a very large base of season ticket holders (and a nearly-four-year-long waiting list for season tickets), and if you are not a season ticket holder, it is near impossible to get an away ticket from general sale. I took to fan forums to see if I could find a ticket, and I eventually found what I was looking for. I made an agreement with the Everton fan from whom I was purchasing tickets, one for myself and another for my friend Blake (an Arsenal fan but he was supporting Everton that day), to meet him outside of his place of work where we would exchange the tickets and I would pay him for them. Now in retrospect, this definitely sounds like a set up to rob some dumb gullible tourists, but as luck would have it, it was not a set up. He was a nice guy, even offering me face value for the tickets. We made the exchange, he wished me well, and we were on our way. It took me until a few days before the match, but the tickets were acquired.

The match day experience was also quite different from the typical American fan’s first match. For starters, I did not wear anything with an Everton badge on it. Not a shirt, not a scarf, nothing, and the only thing I wore that was even blue was my jeans. Many of the (unfair and overgeneralized) stereotypes about some English fans, and namely with West Ham, circled through my head leading up to the match, and I did feel more comfortable as an away fan not wearing anything signifying my support of the away team. My fears ended up being vastly exaggerated, a handy lesson that I learned in this experience. Timing was also an issue. Do not get me wrong, we wanted to be there early to take in the scenes like other American tourists, but we ran into some issues. We had to get from Central London to East London, and on paper, it was an easy route through the London Underground. However, we had not been in the country long enough to completely master the public transportation, and we unfortunately went one station in the wrong direction before we realized we had to turn around. We got to the match as soon as it had kicked off, no time to soak in the sights, it was time for the match.

Ok, so we got to the point where I am in the stadium. I have made my way up to my seat, which was in the very top row of the away section. The remnants of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” still echo through the stadium, and the referee has blown his whistle to start the match. I look out onto the pitch and it hits me: I am actually at a Premier League match, watching the team I support. I have spent nearly half a decade waking up at odd hours of the morning to watch these matches and now I am actually here. The grass was greener than it appeared on tv, and the colors were more vibrant. The air almost even felt different. The feeling everyone talks about when they step out and see the pitch for the first time, the shared experience that football fans have that signifies the romanticism and allure of the sport, is quite real, and I was experiencing it.

It started a bit dull, with the match at 0-0 going into the half with a few chances between two evenly-matched teams, but I did not care. I clung with every possible memory. The Lukaku free kick that did not go in sure looked like it did from where I was. The general feel and aura of watching a Premier League match was breathtaking. I enjoyed the atmosphere of being in the away end, including standing for the whole of the match, impossible in the home end, and chanting “Red and White S**te” at ex-Liverpool midfielder Stuart Downing, who suited up for the Hammers on that day. Every little thing about this experience was amazing, and it seemed to meet and exceed the standards I had set in my head.

That old nemesis Stuart Downing aimed to ruin my experience, though, as he fired West Ham into the lead around the hour mark. For some reason, whether it was the positivity around me being there or something else, I had belief that Everton would find their way back into the match. Now, for those of you not akin to the experience of supporting Everton, things like hope and belief are frivolous commodities for which we have little use, so it is remarkable to think back and feel that I was hopeful we would turn it around. And, would you know it, that belief paid off. Lukaku, who had been toying with West Ham’s defense all day, found himself in some space on the right side and played in a cross to Leon Osman, who took it on the half volley from close range and leveled the match. Right in front of the away end.

The first goal I had ever seen Everton score, and it was right in front of me. I had a perfect view of everything. It is hard to create a more ideal first goal to ever see your team score. I was ecstatic. A little more than 20 minutes from time, and Everton were level. I thought that was the best thing I would experience in that match, that this would be the peak of my football fandom. Well, I was wrong.

As the game went on, both sides had their chances, but it started to feel like it was going to end at a draw. I was not too fussed, as it was still an incredible experience. But little did I know, it was not over yet. In the 93rd minute, Aidan McGeady (remember him?) found some room on the right side and lofted in a weak-but-inviting cross toward the far post. The ball seemed to hang there, almost teasingly, waiting for someone.

And up stepped the big man.

Romelu Lukaku.

2-1 Everton.

The West Ham fans started making their way toward the exits. Lukaku stood in front of the away end, basking in the sounds of the Everton fans chanting his name. It was over. This was the peak. The final whistle blew shortly after, Everton would be leaving East London with the three points thanks to the heroics of their talismanic striker.

It took a long time to get out of the stadium. It took even longer to get to a tube station that did not have a line that stretched multiple blocks. I did not care, I did not want the day to end. I did not get the opportunities to be much of a tourist, and I do not think I ever returned to the Boleyn Ground, but I would not change that experience for anything.

Memories like this serve to remind us why we love this sport, and they remind us of the things that we took for granted about football before the pandemic struck. We cling on to the memories of seeing the stadium, of smelling the grass, of experiencing the atmosphere, of celebrating with thousands of random strangers. It is about the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, and football is the one sport where you can experience all of those emotions and concentrate them into 90 minutes. West Ham-Everton is not the most glorious match up, it is not Champions League football and it is maybe a match that most fans would not have given a second thought to, but the little things made it a day I will never forget. Whether it is El Clasico or non-league football, those things are still there. It is the little things that we miss the most, and it is those things that we will not take for granted when football returns to our lives again.