The Wizard of Os
A season to forget? Well, certainly the first part of it was eminently forgettable as good performances were not rewarded with good results - and once again the 2nd half of the season was one of steady progress up the table. Perhaps a good old-fashioned kick up the butt is what Everton as a team thrive on - from a position of adversity - (though we wish it was different) and if only they could get off to the proverbial flier and show the world just how good they can be over a 38 game season things might be different.
So let's examine the performances of those who under and over achieved in the past year and try to cast an eye over prospects for the forthcoming season. Experience has told me that many seasons that are preceded by a World Cup often are muddling affairs. Some players return from international duty and have poor seasons. So it doesn't come as a great surprise to me that the likes of Johnny Heitinga should have had a fairly poor year. Furthermore he was not the only one who needed to look in the mirror and question their commitment to the cause.
Let's deal with the negative contributors first:
Johnny Heitinga: Either Johnny had a massive hangover post-World Cup or he simply lost heart at Goodison last year. Like the now departed Stevie P he seems to have a finely attuned self worth set on "ten" which lends itself to making rash statements about his own ambition - a trait he may well have picked up from Marouane's Dad - but he simply didn't contribute enough of his undoubted ability and there were definitely signs of self-grandeur in his apparent reluctance to contribute higher up the pitch to his preferred role at the back. On the other hand, with so many injuries in the side to contend with, there simply weren't the options to rest or remove the preferred combination of Distin and Jagielka from the centre of defence. So I conclude that, come next season Johnny needs to knuckle down and put in a shift. The fans will certainly appreciate a return to the Johnny 5 they remember from the previous season.
Mikel Arteta: The fans for most of last season were left to wonder who the imposter in the Number 10 shirt was! Here Everton's finest asset was largely devoid of all the lovely first touches, the fabulous range of passing he is capable of, and the great finishing he definitely has. Perhaps fatherhood had concentrated his mind elsewhere. Perhaps his failure to even break into the Spanish National squad - once again - surely justified on the back of several seasons of great football from the 'Best Little Spaniard We Know' had finally taken their toll. Perhaps it was even the security of a wonderful new contract that had dulled the senses. Or perhaps the answer was much more prosaic - a combination of the deeper role he took on (in part caused by the continued injury crisis that enveloped Everton) and the effect of recent injuries. Certainly we'll be looking for a return of the old Mikel come August.
Louis Saha: Yet another victim of the injury curse - but just what exactly was he doing between August and December - here was a man who either resented being left alone up front or simply couldn't cut it any more. Some how he rediscovered his old self in the New Year until another injury promptly returned him to the treatment table for another protracted absence.
Yakubu: The faith that David Moyes had put in the Nigerian after his horrific injury at Tottenham was remarkable. At times he showed a willingness to work his way back into the first team (a wonderful cameo at Blackburn at the end of the previous season and a tremendous contribution in the Derby match win in October). Otherwise totally lamentable and fully justified his departure in January on loan. Here's hoping he too can rediscover his hunger.
Victor Anichebe: What ever happened to the hungry youngster who threatened to make a big name for himself?Here was yet another of the Nigerian contingent who seemed to go on strike (apart from a tremendous effort at Man City - ending in a silly 2nd yellow card). Another player who needs to re-evaluate his contribution or he'll be surplus to requirements.
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov: Needs to learn that his contribution to the game needs to be more than a spectacular strike every 10 or 15 games - this undoubtedly talented player must not turn away from the flow of the game and get more involved. Secondly he needs to learn that tackling does not need to result in a stupid red card, justified or not.
Jack Rodwell: Another incredibly talented footballer who has flattered to deceive - but the solution is to give this player a regular place in the side and a regular role. There definitely is a great footballer in their somewhere and if he can overcome some injury problems then we may well start to see a leader in the side who is capable of almost anything - a tremendous shot, great passing range and defensive strength. In the meantime he continues to be a filler when senior players are absent.
Finally, Joseph Yobo, still an Everton player but on loan all last season, could still make a contribution if he forgets the issues that appear to surround his present status.
So, before you sign off and imagine it's all doom and gloom there's still space to praise those in the Royal Blue Jersey who made a much more positive contribution to the side last season:
Sylvain Distin - quite simply a monster in defence who has proven to be an excellent signing, popular amongst the fan base. Sealed his place in Everton folklore with a goal at Anfield - apart from 2 or 3 shaky moments and a stinker in the game at home to Manchester United he was a rock at the heart of the defence. Alongside Distin was the excellent Phil Jagielka one of the best defenders in the Premier League. The defence was generally heralded in every position with the evergreen Phil Neville, Tim Howard largely performing well in goal, Seamus Coleman maturing in his dual role at Right Back or Right Midfield, Tony Hibbert being ever dependable and of course no assessment would be complete without acknowledging the best left back in the Premier League - one Leighton Baines, with many accolades coming his way and the status of Player of the Year was fully deserved.
Marouane Fellaini (before yet another season-ending injury) once again showed how good a player he is, Jermaine Beckford learned to keep the ball beneath the bar and scored a number of excellent and valuable goals and Tim Cahill proved what a great servant he is to the club before his exploits in the Asian Cup took their toll on his season. The younger elements in the squad started to make progress with Magaye Gueye and Apostolos Vellios starting to adapt to the Premier League. Glimpses of the young Greek give me hope that Everton can see a young Dimitar Berbatov amongst our ranks with his eye for goal and a languid easy movement in his armoury.
If Everton can get the very best from their players - and keep them off the treatment table - there's no doubt that they can be a force to be reckoned with. If the talent bubbling under like Ross Barkley can make a major impact then the lack of transfer activity and a small squad need not be an impediment and prove that a great team ethic and the collective long service (relatively speaking) of the Everton squad could work in their favour next season.
So, before I sign off I've saved the best for last - a local lad who last season seemed to finally shake off the last of the boo-boys on the Street End. I am of course talking about Leon Osman. Thrust into a central midfield role in the absence of many others he stood out like a beacon. His work ethic has never been questioned, just sometimes his lack of goals or his ability to find a final pass or an extra yard. But when the chips were down we saw the very best of Leon - sublime skill, 100% effort and some end product - his headed goal in the 2-1 win over Manchester City will live long in the memory as he outjumped Vincent Kompany and placed a header beyond England's keeper to complete a fabulous comeback victory.