Return of the Roo

 

It’s been over a year since I’ve updated this thing, which dismays me. All summer, I’ve been feeling the itch, as it’s been a big one for my beloved Blues. Things are happening in a most un-Evertonian way: early signings, wads of cash being thrown around the likes of which I have never seen in the fifteen years of my love affair with this club. It’s honestly a little hard to know what to do with it all.

First it was Jordan Pickford coming in for 30 million quid, followed immediately by Davy Klassen, the former Ajax captain, for a further 24 million. Then it’s this kid  Henry Onyekuru, who is sent out on loan immediately to Anderlecht. Then we bring in Michael Keane from Burnley, who was linked with a handful of clubs, including Manchester United. On the same day we sign Sandro from Malaga. The former Barcelona man bagged 16 goals in 30 appearances for the Boquerones last season, and at 22 years of age, he continues to push the average age of the Toffees squad down. In fact, none of the signings to this point are older than 24. There is a hint at long-term squad building, and the quality of all the signings is undoubtable. And we’re not even out of June at this point.

Then we get the one and only Wayne Rooney on a free. Holy shit.

The hoopla this is kicking up is epic. The fact that we’re losing our best striker since Gary Linekar seems to have been lost in the mix here, but with Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to Man U potentially rising to an eye-watering 90 million pounds, there’s optimism around the place that not even his departure can dampen. The fact that the check will be handed right over to Ronald Koeman to carry on his epic overhaul of the squad means that it is more than likely that we can continue to pad out our striking options while still reinforcing other areas of the pitch. I’m elated, giddy, and a little bit freaked out. What happened to our Toffees?

It would appear that Farhad Moshiri means business. When the Anglo-Iranian businessman divested from Arsenal back in February 2016 to fund his purchase of 49% of Everton’s shares, he speedily set about transforming the clubs fortunes. Moshiri signaled his intention to no longer tolerate mediocrity by shipping out Roberto Martinez with three games to go that season, and pursued his top target for the club, Ronald Koeman, quickly and decisively. This was followed up with the appointment of Steve Walsh as director of football, the man largely responsible for assembling Leicester’s surprise Premier League winning squad. The outlay last season came in at about 68 million pounds, largely offset by the sale of John Stones to Manchester City. The impression was Moshiri was here to do something, not just sit back and collect interest on his investment.

Then came the announcement that Everton intended to build a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Docks, an investment that would cost the club 300 million pounds. After the Kirkby and King’s Dock debacles of years past, this is one move that appears properly on the cards, and would signal that the reinvention of Everton as power player in both the Premier League and Europe. While I’ve felt a deep sense of trepidation in the past, these moves have a different feel about them altogether.

It could get more interesting, too. The connection between Moshiri and Alsher Usamov, who owns a 30% stake in Arsenal, has been mentioned extensively in the press. The two have been in business for many years, and Moshiri continues to be a junior shareholder in Usamov’s USM Holdings. It was recently announced that USM Holdings were making a 75 million pound investment in Everton’s Finch Farm training facility. This is not chump change. Then came news in May that Usamov tried and failed in a 1 billion pound bid to wrest Arsenal away from its majority shareholder Stan Kroenke.

One has to wonder whether Usamov is watching what his old Friend is doing at Everton with growing interest. What happens if the Toffees gate-crash the top four this season? Or if they win the Europa League and sneak into the Champions League? Or, a lá Leicester, they somehow win the Prem? A few seasons ago I’d be laughed off the stage with this kind of looney-ass comment, but the Foxes showed everyone that you can just never tell. A one-off, they’ll will say. Lightning never strikes the same place twice, they’ll say.

Until it does.

Wayne Rooney is past it, no question. He’s not the player who burned up the pitches in England and Europe back in the mid-oughts, but he is a winner, and is accustomed to winning. He didn’t come to Everton simply to put up his feet and enjoy the adulation. Everton cleverly published some photos of Rooney with another Gwladys hero, Duncan Ferguson. Those clever enough to draw the line will remember how Big Dunc also left Everton (albeit much against his will) back in the 90’s but came back when he could, and is now heavily involved in the coaching setup there. The great’s come home, they’ll say. They come home to ready the next generation for even greater things, they’ll say.

Stevie G is back home across Stanley Park preparing to take over the reigns at Liverpool FC once he’s acquired the coaching chops and Jürgen Klopp has moved on to bigger things. It would seem that Rooney is following the same path, although he appears very keen to win some silverware for Everton before he hangs up his boots. I’d envisage Big Dunc getting a chance at the Everton hotseat before too long, and I can see Rooney, three to four seasons from now, sitting next to him in an assistant’s role. I can see Rooney managing Everton further down the line. I also believe Moshiri sees the same thing, and this move is as much about reintegrating Rooney into the fabric of Everton’s mythos as having an “inspirational figure” about the place to motivate the young uns.

Which brings us to Ross Barkley. In my previous post last summer, I had kicked around the idea of signing Rooney then as a way to get the most out of Barkley. As the most talked about and hyped player to roll off the assembly line at Everton’s storied academy since Rooney himself, Barkley embodies the hopes of the Blue faithful of a home-grown talent who sticks it out, Stevie G style, with his boyhood club and goes on to lead the Toffees to glories at home and abroad. Even the captain’s armband seemed a few seasons ago to be his birthright when he burst upon the scene during Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge. He appeared to have it all: guile, skill, a brilliant footballing brain, a nose for the killer pass and the goal. And then he stalled in his progress during seasons two and three of the brief Martinez tenure. Last season under Koeman did little to dispel a nagging sense that his kid just didn’t have the bottle for the big time. Then he had the temerity to hold out on signing a massive contract with the club, a move that drew Koeman’s ire and a threat to sell him if he failed to do so before the end of the season. Well, the season is long over and still there’s been no news in that direction, with Koeman making it abundantly clear that he has no intention of letting him go for free, so he is up for sale. The club slapped a 50 million pound price tag on him, which has somewhat dissuaded the likes of Tottenham, who had shown an interest at one point.

There’s been news rumbling ever since the close of last season that Everton are in for Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, a marvelous player in his own right. Leicester had a 40 million pound bid rejected today, and Swansea have made it clear that he will not be shipped out for less than 50 million quid. This brings up a scenario of a straight-swap between the clubs, if Barkley is indeed intent upon leaving Everton. To my mind, this would be a massive let down. If he is to leave, he should shoot for a big club, such as a Tottenham or a Chelsea. I am loathe to mention these clubs, who have been either taking our players or luring our prospects away year upon year. A move to Swansea, though, wouldn’t even be a sideways move at this point. The Welsh club spent most of last season in relegation trouble. Why switch to that sort of action? Furthermore, it’s not like Sigurdsson is itching to move. He’s settled at his club, why uproot a 28 year old player who isn’t going to improve massively, nor is likely to up our fortunes? What if he arrive jaded to begin with? I don’t see this as good business.

That all being said, Ross Barkley looks like a player struggling to come to terms with the massive expectations with which the Goodison faithful have saddled him. He’s been tarred and feathered by an unkind press, where he was recently portrayed as a boorish, knuckle-dragging buffoon. The last few years have been hard on him, and I honestly don’t think Koeman’s approach did much good for his state of mind. My sincere hope is Rooney’s arrival will deflect some of the glaring light of expectation off of Barkley and give him some room to breathe. I can imagine Rooney has been given the brief to put his arm around the lad’s shoulders and encourage him. My hope is that the words spoken to him once from none other than Stevie G will ring in Barkley’s ears still: stay and be a legend.

When Rooney left back in 2004, Everton were a very different club. They could not compete for the big name signings, they had to plunder the loan market during every transfer window and hope they could dig up a gem from the lower leagues (see Tim Cahill as exhibit A). This, though, is a new day. With the news of Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to United official, this does not have the same stench of Everton still being a selling club. This is more the case of a wantaway player being offloaded for a ridiculous sum in order to reinvest in the future. A future of silverware, European adventures and growth, year upon year.

Welcome home, Wayne. Stay home, Ross.

 

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