Over the past 12 months, Goodison Park has been emanating seismic waves of optimism.
After financial restrictions under Bill Kenwright hindered hopes of Everton breaking the glass ceiling of the Premier League for the best part of a decade, the recent takeover by an Iranian businessman with deep pockets has filled this antiquated club with renewed belief and direction once again.
Following an encouraging first seaon for Ronald Koeman, the club’s new owners backed their manager in the transfer market this summer by splashing over £130m on new players. Also, talk of a new stadium – to match England’s elite – looks like finally coming to fruition with plans underway for a move to Bramley Moor Dock.
Indeed, the progress made by the Merseyside club in recent times has been encouraging, however, the question still remains as to whether it will be enough to secure Champions League football.
Certainly, in Koeman, Everton have an ambitious manager who wants to achieve great things. The Dutchman bringing back Wayne Rooney this summer highlighted that spectacularly. Every team needs a star man to look up to and Rooney’s been there and seen it all.
It was a great signing not only due to the player’s footballing ability but because of the leadership and talismanic qualities he will offer his teammates. Already scoring two goals in the first three league matches, it was evident that the legendary striker feels inspired and reinvented since moving back to his boyhood club.
Elsewhere, Michael Keane, 24, and Jordan Pickford, 23, are two players on the up. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who covered the most ground in the Premier League last season and has made the fifth most assists over the last three years, will also surely make a difference to their fortunes.
Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez, meanwhile, performed admirably at Ajax and Malaga last season, and at 24 and 22, seem like two promising talents. And we also shouldn’t forget the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin who should be better in his second season and Yannick Bolasie who is still to come back from injury.
Hence, on paper, the squad looks promising. But that’s not the be all and end all. To join the elite, you not only need talent but belief, mental resilience and consistency – qualities which Everton still struggle to show on a regular basis.
Last year, Everton won 43 points at home – their highest tally since the 1989-90 season. Yet their form on the road was less than convincing – winning only four times.
If they harbour hopes of Champions League football, then they will certainly have to collect more points away from home. The point earned at the Etihad was a commendable one, but you do wonder if Everton should have taken all three.
With Man City down to 10 men, it was a real opportunity for Everton to stamp their authority and show everybody that they are to be taken seriously. Perhaps still scarred by the 5-0 drubbing last year, the defeat which followed at Chelsea on Sunday was also disappointing as the players didn’t perform as if they truly believed they could win the match.
Clearly, thinking big on the pitch, prevailing against the superior sides and performing away from home are hurdles which the Toffees will have to overcome if they want to break into the top four.
As said, the squad has been shrewdly assembled. The blend of youth and experience is perfect. In Pickford, Keane, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin you have a core of homegrown talent with scope for improvement. Then you have guidance and nous from the likes of Rooney, Sigurdsson, Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams and Leighton Baines.
Koeman has the tools at his disposal to pull off a surprise and make the Champions League. But first he still needs to change the mentality of his team.