The idea that Michael Keane could finally move to Goodison Park from Burnley – the well-trodden path in the North West of England chosen by previous exports of the Manchester United academy should not come as much of a surprise.
But what Ronald Koeman is achieving at Everton on the back of a fine season particularly at their fabled home, in this summer transfer window – will have certainly raised eyebrows across Merseyside – even that of the Blues who have been used to a passive and conservative Everton side for years under the ownership of Bill Kenwright. Everton are growing on and off the pitch – taking steps to improve their global profile they have always wanted to – two at at time now. The change in the mood around Goodison and their future home in the Docks is almost palpable even for an outside – like this writer. A cauldron is simmering and we could smell it.
Following the long-awaited stadium announcement and their clearest sign of progress under the ambitious new ownership, Everton have impressively managed to keep that excitement alive among the fans – by a good mixture of incoming and potentially future signings, showing signs of intent to bridge the admittedly wide gap between themselves and the top six.
The Blues finished seventh in the league in 2016/17 – a whopping 15 points above Southampton, yet despite enjoying a brilliant second half of the season, they managed to fall way behind Manchester United, who remained sixth for virtually the whole campaign. Nevertheless, Ronald Koeman is doing the right things this summer – that allows the club to look upwards and not down below their necks.
The Dutchman is as methodical as managers come, but there was a flair to Everton’s game when everyone gelled together in the second half of the campaign. Manchester City were reduced to mere spectators in a 4-0 defeat as Everton showed a glimpse of what they could do to teams above them on a memorable night at Goodison Park. But days like those at home, if anything, only exacerbated their travails on the road.
On one day they overcome the might of Arsenal in front of the Gwladys End on a thrilling night but on the other, they struggle to move as if their legs carried the weight of two people, like the fateful 0-0 at West Ham. Such was the contrast at Everton in 16/17 and if they were to chip away at the gap between themselves and the top six – Ronald Koeman will do well to look internally and replicate their own performances at home – away from it.
The only tried-and-trusted way to do it is by channeling more investment into the first-team squad – bolster the spine with ready-made signings that will improve the starting XI rather than potential that require time and space to grow. Everton has got plenty of the latter – with their U23 side recently crowned champions of PL2. And they are doing just that.
After smashing their own transfer record for Sunderland’s Pickford – who is clearly one of the brightest and best shot-stoppers in the country, the Blues secured a long-term deal for Ajax skipper Davy Klassen – a midfielder coached in the Dutch school of total football, with the ability to fill in a variety of roles across the midfield and further forward. Koeman said,
“He’s a player who is only 24 but has a lot of experience and is a leader on the pitch. He has already captained Ajax for two seasons and that shows you the type of person he is. He is hardworking, likes to press and, of course, will give us more creativity and goals. It is another major signing for Everton Football Club and I am really happy we have been able to complete the deal so early in the summer.”
It is clear that Everton are not only planning for a strong present and future but also putting that plan to action. With recent reports regarding the imminent arrival of English centre-back Michael Keane, 25 years old with Premier League experience at a well-drilled Burnley side, the Blues will have taken another important step in the right direction towards closing that gap down to finally begin their ascent.