LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27: Darron Gibson of Everton celebrates at the end of the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Everton and Fulham at Goodison Park on January 27, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
There’s nothing like a run of good form to put a smile on everybody’s face. And the last couple of months have left Everton supporters looking enough like the Chesire Cat that I half expect Alison in Wonderland to start knocking on Toffee doors. Everton has looked like a dynamic, dangerous, offensive minded squad, which is enough to make anybody feel like they've gone down the rabbit hole. But not all good form is created equal. What do the last two months mean for Everton? Take the jump and find out.
Sometimes an uptick in form is a panacea for an ailing club-- playing well begets playing well, confidence increases and a group of players perform beyond previous expectations. You only have to look to Newcastle to see a squad that has turned what most pundits thought was a passing hot streak into sustained high level play. Of course, just as often form can deceive. A stretch of good games can be just that and nothing more-- a thin coat of paint over a houseful of problems, a pleasant distraction that keeps fans from thinking about the deeper issues that remain. Even lowly Bolton had a four game stretch this month where they took seven points, beating Everton and Liverpool while drawing with Arsenal. So, which is it for Everton?
Let’s work from the top down. At an ownership level, nothing has changed. Simplifying a very complicated situation, the team needs more money than the owner has. The bank loans haven’t magically disappeared, the stadium hasn’t been upgraded over night, and there are no magical new revenue streams. There is no way of getting around it, Everton is a club the needs more money in a situation in which none is likely to be forthcoming.
But, never fear, Everton has become a club that is exceptionally skilled at doing more with less, thanks in large part to David Moyes. His ability to turn castaways into contributors and spend wisely and unheralded but ultimately successful players is becoming legendary. Thanks to Moyes’s 2004 run, Everton are still the cheapest team to ever finish in a Champions League spot. That’s why rumors that Moyes is the front runner to replace Harry Redknapp at Spurs (assuming, as everybody does, that Redknapp will eventually get offered and accept the England job) are absolutely devastating. There are times when it seems that Moyes’s steely will alone keeps Everton moving, if not in the right direction, then at least not too far backwards.
Despite what the bookmakers think though, I have a hard time imagining Moyes moving to North London. His tactical strengths lie in playing sound defensive football and clogging the middle of the field with 3 good physical tacklers. That’s not a strategy that fits Spurs roster if high flying, highly skilled runners (although it is interesting to think about whether Spurs might not benefit from stronger defensive discipline as a platform to launch devastating counter attacks). Also, Moyes’s main frustration is his lack of transfer funds. And while Spurs certainly have money, if Moyes were to take the job there he almost certainly wouldn’t have control over the personnel. Daniel Levy controls the purse strings there, and he is notorious both for fiscal discipline and shrewd patience in the transfer market. Imagine Moyes’s frustration at moving to a richer club only to find he is not allowed spend any of their money. On top of that he also would not be permitted to sell players he wanted to get rid of if it meant the team was taking a loss, and that's one of Moyes’s favorite moves. He needs the ability to get rid of players who aren’t performing up to his measure (because there are a lot of them).
And finally we come to the players themselves. Landon is already on his way back to America. Pienaar who has been by far the best player during this recent run is on loan. Straq, who has developed into a threat up front is only on loan. Drenthe is on loan as well. Do we see the pattern here? In fact the two acquired players who were permanent moves are Jelavic (from a team in even worse financial straights than Everton…just remember it can always be worse) who has yet to make an impact and is already out injured, and Darron Gibson who has had an uneven (at best) integration into the side.
As I’m sure you can gather by this point I am not at all optimistic about Everton’s current run of form being the start of a grand Toffee resurgence. At the same time though, I’m not willing to commit to the doom and gloom scenario either. Aside from my belief that Moyes will end up back at the club next year, I think something very important is going on. Everton had reached a point where the off field cloud was obscuring the game on the field. Watching dismal performance after dismal performance only served as a constant reminder of the dire financial straits of the team. Now, at least for a while, game time is an escape from the other stuff. If Everton goes out and lays an egg in their next game I’m sure fans will be up in arms about where Drenthe played, or how Moyes used Straq, or what the hell Neville was doing on the field, but you know what fans won’t be thinking about during the game? They won’t be thinking about the cloud overhead. So maybe this Everton squad won’t come together into something unbelievable, and maybe they’ll annoyingly drop points against QPR, or not find away to move on in the FA cup. That’s ok, because, at least for a while, the men on the field have played well enough to make us think about only the men on the field. And for me, that’s the only good form they need.