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(Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Are Everton finally ready to make The Leap?

(Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

If you ask some older folk, Everton Football Club is one of the great old clubs of English football. Their nine league titles are the fourth most in the history of the English game. Those league trophies sit alongside five FA Cup triumphs. Goodison Park, the Toffees home since 1892, is an English institution and still possesses arguably the most intimidating atmosphere in the Premier League. Their expected move to Bramley Moore in the next few years, while a substantial economic boost, will sadly see the club lose a little bit of its soul.

Everton has boasted some of the most revered sides in the history of the English game, from Dixie Dean’s warriors of the 1930s to the ‘School of Science’ of the ’60s, to the ‘Dogs of War’ of the 1980s.

Since those halcyon days of the ’80s, when alongside their neighbors Liverpool, Merseyside football ruled the world; it’s been slim pickings for the cities oldest football club. To provide some idea of how far Everton have fallen since their last league triumph, back in 1987, below is a list of the most league and FA Cup champions at the end of the 1987 season set against the current list:

ClubLeague WinsClubLeague Wins
Liverpool16Manchester Utd20
Manchester Utd7Everton9
Aston Villa7Aston Villa7
League wins: 1987 vs 2020
ClubFA Cup WinsClubFA Cup Wins
Aston Villa7Manchester Utd12
Manchester Utd5Liverpool7
West Brom5Aston Villa7
Manchester City4Manchester City6
Bolton4West Brom5
Sheffield Utd4Everton5
FA Cup wins: 1987 vs 2020

In 1987, Everton was the second most successful club in English football history. Everyone revered Everton in the same way that Manchester United or Arsenal are these days. Since then, they’ve won a single FA Cup, defeating Manchester United in a huge upset back in 1995. The club’s fall from grace has been startling.

Much of that has come down to timing. The club was in a swoon as the Premier League era came about in the early ’90s. Resulting in Everton mostly missing out on the relatively staggering amounts of financial gains made by Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea – clubs who have all surpassed the Toffees in the modern era.

Everton has tread water in the 20 years since the 1995 Cup win, bankrolled by – in footballing terms, at least – the relatively skint but passionate Bill Kenwright. They’ve made some shrewd signings such as Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, and Tim Howard that have secured their mid-table safety but haven’t been able to kick on from there. That all changed in 2016 when Iranian-British billionaire Farhad Moshiri invested in the club. This man was to be Everton’s Sheikh Mansour; their Roman Abramovich – the man who’s millions, would restore the club to its rightful place amongst the big boys. That has not worked out so well.

Despite spending north of $350 million on players as well as bringing in a string of managers, the team has finished no higher than a Romelu Lukaku inspired seventh place and finished the recently completed season in a lowly 12th.

There have been successes in the transfer market: Richarlison was an expensive gamble that has paid off, as was Lucas Digne. Younger, cheaper purchases such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate have emerged, as have academy products Tom Davies and Antony Gordon.

Undoubtedly the most significant coup for the club in the Moshiri era is the capture of legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti. The 61-year-old Italian capped 26 times as a player. As a manager, a four-time league winner and three-time Champions League winner is easily the most credentialed person to man the Goodison touchline. He brings instant respect and authority, which, considering Everton’s serial averageness, is sorely needed. With that reputation comes increased expectations (which an apathetic Everton sorely need) and access to a better standard of player.

Marcel Brands, Everton’s Director of Football, favors finding younger and cheaper talent, developing them, and on-selling at a profit. That method works, but it only gets you so far. Talent intimately wins out, and that’s where Ancelotti comes in.

The manager has openly stated that he’s happy with his forwards in Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. He also manages a solid – if shallow – defense, led my Digne, club captain Seamus Coleman and Michael Keane, who has been reborn under Ancelotti’s tutelage. Questions remain over the consistency of the talented but erratic Jordan Pickford in goal, but Ancelotti’s primary concern in this truncated offseason was to repair his broken midfield.

Evert has spent lavishly on their midfield in the past few seasons, with little success. Idrissa Gana Gueye departed to Paris Saint-Germain for a considerable profit, but no other midfielder looks either a world-class talent or a potentially profitable asset. Davies is okay but inconsistent. Jean-Philippe Gbamin – Gueye’s replacement – looks a player, but has barely played due to injury. The team’s best midfielder last season was Andre Gomes, who was also cut down by injury.

Players such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Fabian Delph, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, and Bernard have all flattered to deceive, to put it mildly.

Everton has only made three signings so far in the transfer window, all with the expressed purpose of fixing that midfield. All three go against the Marcel Brands method, and all are attributed to the presence of Mr. Ancelotti: Allan Marques, James Rodriguez, and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Allan was first though the door. The 29-year-old Brazilian international had enjoyed the best spell of his career at Napoli under Ancelotti. At $22 million, he’s a relative snip compared to some of the players Everton has signed, despite his relatively advanced age. Allan fills a very definite need in the Everton midfield.

Assuming Gbamin’s injury woes remain, the team has nobody to fill the defensive midfielder role, which Allan plays wonderfully well. He’s not a blood and thunder type, flying into challenges with reckless abandon. Instead, Allan uses incredible anticipation and speed to eliminate a threat before it becomes apparent. Typically for a Brazilian, he’s also a delight on the ball, able to turn defense into attack in an instant. In that sense, he’s a classic mezzala. His partnership with Gomes, at his best one of the best metronomic deep playmakers in the Premier League, should excite Evertonians.

The club today confirmed the signing of the 27-year-old Doucoure from relegated Watford. A genuine box-to-box player, Doucoure’s energy, as well as his considerable technical ability, will make him a vital cog in the Everton midfield, linking the deeper lying players with the attackers. Doucoure is yet to be capped by France, but that says more about the incredible depth of French football than it does about Doucoure himself. The $20 million fee is a potential bargain, although certainly helped by Watford’s relegation: Everton had a bid of closer to $40 million rejected in June last year. Doucoure has openly referenced his desire to play for Ancelotti as a critical influence in his decision to sign on Merseyside.

But we’re burying the lede here. The signing that all Evertonians – indeed, all of England – are talking about is James Rodriguez.

The Colombian burst onto the scene in 2014, taking home the Golden Boot as the World Cup leading scorer, securing a big-money move to Real Madrid who at the time were managed by a certain Mr. Ancelotti. After a fine start a Real (13 goals and 13 assists), he faded once Ancelotti left for Bayern Munich, as Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane failed to put the same faith in the mercurial Rodriguez.

A two-year loan spell at Bayern restored some of the luster around him, though injuries – including a significant knee injury – halted his progress. With a single season to run on his Real contract, Everton has themselves a steal at $20 million. Even if he fails on the pitch, the boost in the club’s shirt sales and commercial opportunities in South America should make their money back – James has more twitter followers than all bar a pair of Premier League clubs; he has over nine times more than his new club! The impishly good looking Rodriguez will put Everton front and center for millions that otherwise wouldn’t give the club a second thought.

On the pitch, James should give the Toffees a sprinkle of stardust that they haven’t had in a generation. At his best, he’s a magical playmaker, able to play centrally in the #10 role, though his preferred position on the right will solve another of Everton’s problem areas. His eye for a pass is fantastic, and his set-pieces – with apologies to Digne’s superb delivery, as well as that of the recently retired Baines – will be the best the club has enjoyed in decades. Everton legend and current assistant coach Duncan Ferguson would love to have played with James.

James is also an exquisite finisher, as evidenced by his World Cup exploits. He doesn’t just score goals – he scores wonder goals:

James’ ability to score from practically anywhere, as well as his quality playmaking, could ignite Everton’s inconsistent attack.

Ancelotti has some decisions to make as to his formation, should everyone be available to him. Last season, he favored a 4-4-2 system that played to the strength of his forwards and attacking fullbacks, which, in effect, bypassed his troublesome midfield. Should he stick with a similar setup, he could send out a team looking like this, exploiting Allan’s ability to play wide:

That lineup is far more dynamic than many of last season’s XI’s. Allan would likely tuck inside, giving Digne the freedom of the left flank. Likewise, James’s natural inclination to come inside onto his left foot would provide the Irishman Coleman with all sorts of space for his cavalier runs from deep.

There is another potential formation that Ancelotti may implement that puts this assumed best XI in more natural roles:

Lining up in a 4-3-3 would consolidate the center of the pitch for Ancelotti, while also giving his fullbacks plenty of space to move into when joining the attack. Calvert-Lewin is a natural target man who could thrive from the comprehensive service this formation provides. It also plays James in his preferred position, while letting the powerful Richarlison run at defenders with a full head of steam, rather than forcing him to operate in the tight confines of a crowded box.

No matter how Ancelotti sets out his stall, Everton is, for the first time in the Moshiri reign, primed to make a move into the top-six. The top-end quality is there. Players expected to carry a load are now properly cast as depth pieces. If Ancelotti can curtail Pickford’s worst urges, they have a talented keeper. Most importantly, the man at the top is there. Carlo Ancelotti will demand his troops give there all. If they do, a return to European football beckons.

The Everton Football Club is perhaps the most intriguing team in the upcoming Premier League season. For once, it’s for all the right reasons.

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