Exclusive: The inside story of how Everton are planning to crack the top four
On the top floor of Liverpool’s Cunard Building overlooking the River Mersey, the next tentative step on Everton’s journey to the European elite could be taken on Friday.
Liverpool’s City Council cabinet is expected to confirm its support for the club’s plans for a £300 million stadium, a mile along the waterfront at Bramley Moore Dock.
As with last week’s agreement for Everton to acquire this land, there will be cautious optimism rather than cork popping at Goodison Park.
The scars of previous blueprints – notably at King’s Dock, Walton Hall Park and the rather less celebrated aborted move to Kirkby – linger enough to ensure the current mantra is focused on delivery above promise.
Yet beneath the caution, there is far greater substance to the current mood of aspiration at Everton.
Everton have been at Goodison Park for the last 125 years
Much of it comes from manager Ronald Koeman, an A-list coach who since the New Year has been achieving A-grade results (Everton would be the top of the Premier League if only results in 2017 counted).
Inevitably, it also comes from confidence instilled since billionaire Farhad Moshiri invested into the club just over a year ago.
But mostly it comes from a determination to ensure the phrase ‘knocking on the door of the top six’ is made redundant as the foundations that have kept Everton close to the European elite are rewarded.
In nine of the last 14 years, Everton finished seventh. Three times they were 5th. Once they took a coveted top four place only to (controversially) lose a Champions League qualifier.
Building on or maintaining the momentum of encouraging seasons has been challenging, but for chief executive Robert Elstone the years defying the economic trends in the Premier League are the ideal base now the financial picture is healthier.
Billionaire Farhad Moshiri invested into the club just over a year ago
“Leicester City aside, more often than not, you do get what you pay for,” says Elstone.
“Having said that, our average finishing position over the past ten years sits well above our average wage bill and net transfer spend, though, evidently, not well enough to break into the Champions League elite.
“We said for many years that the clubs above us had either big, modern stadia they filled every week, a billionaire owner or a global fan base built on the back of lengthy periods of on-field success. Add in the recurring, substantial benefit of European football, and the income that generates, and the gap in spending power – wages and transfer fees - is substantial. Everton’s wage bill is significantly below the six clubs sitting above the club in the League table. In the latest Deloitte Report, Everton’s total wages are 70% of Spurs’, less than half of Liverpool’s and around one-third of Chelsea’s.
“To underscore the optimism in the club, the new investor has arrived and is demonstrating his ambition.
“Stadium plans have gathered pace and this is significant in that the other clubs in the Premier League either have a new stadium, are building one or arguably don’t need to move from their existing stadium. Delivering the stadium would be an important step towards the top four.
“Also, perhaps an ingredient less tangible, there’s a widening belief that it’s not just about money. As the club has proven many times in the past, it is possible to outperform budget.
“The signs are very positive. Young players are pushing for places, results are good and confidence is running high - and the manager is at the heart of that. His steely determination, his burning ambition and his calm and understated approach are very Everton. And, as he would say himself, it is ultimately about actions, not words.
“We can only convince by results and we relish that challenge.
“When Man City or Chelsea made the step up, they were less constrained by Financial Fair Play rules than we are today. This, along with the overall player wage and transfer inflation, means that the gap is even harder to bridge now, hence we have to be smarter going about it, from our academy operations to player recruitment and building the right infrastructure at the club.”
Bridging the gap is not just about Premier League points, but also revenue streams. European qualification – at the very least Everton should be in the Europa League next season - will open further opportunities.
“By pretty much all measures - total income (dominated for most clubs by broadcast fees), commercial income and wage spend, there’s a relatively flat curve from the 20th placed club to the teams playing in Europe,” says Elstone.
“The curve then kicks up dramatically, reflecting European football, billionaire owner or big stadium full every week. Commercial revenues are polarising all the time and the big brands and the big cheques want the profile of Europe and the platform of a new stadium. Of course, for some, commercial revenues also come from friendly sources. Everton’s challenge is to move from the point at which the curve kinks, to a place firmly on the upwards slope. It can only do this by securing success on the pitch and success in delivering the new stadium. It’s a substantial challenge.
“Commercially, life outside the Champions League is tough. Likewise finding the hundreds of millions of pounds to build a new stadium is tough.
“We have taken some steps forward commercially but we are not there yet and we will never rest on our laurels.
Romelu Lukaku is expected to leave Everton
“We’re highly likely to have to cap season tickets next season which means for the second season in a row every seat at every game will be full. That’s the reward for an industry-leading community-led marketing strategy winning hearts and minds all over the city. It also means one in four of the fans at Goodison every week are under 22 years of age, significantly better than the Premier League average.
“The future is in good shape. It’s also the reward for a clear, long-standing strategy of fan and community engagement based on traditional football values, values encapsulated by a title with which we’ve become synonymous, The People’s Club.
“Expectations are high, demands are tough and only the best will do and that’s exactly how it should be."
Another advisable requirement to fulfilling European ambitions is ensuring top players move to rather than from the blue half of the city.
When Romelu Lukaku told the club he did not wish to sign a new contract at Goodison Park, where once there might have been resignation and even some private understanding, this time there was defiance and exasperation.
Ronald Koeman is a man on a mission
Koeman’s appointment is in itself a demonstration of the changing nature of the club, and his response to the suggestion Everton’s ambitions do not match some of their players was emphatic.
“In every aspect we are striving to improve, grow stronger and be as good as we can possibly be and we are showing that ambition,” he said.
“We are trying to make the team as strong as possible and the strong run of results in 2017 show this as well. The new stadium will be a big statement, but no less significant is the work we’ve doing at USM Finch Farm, improvements that will cement our training ground as one of the top, professional facilities in football. “Always you have to get better, you cannot stand still.
“We want to play an attractive game, solid and strong yes, but also good football, exciting football that the fans want to watch and will stir their passion. As I said before, if this club was not ambitious, I would not be the manager of Everton. It takes time and there are steps to take and the first will be qualifying for Europe this season. Next season we will look to take the next step.”