Comment: Why neutral football fans should cheer for Everton over Liverpool in battle for Champions League place
That Everton are even under discussion for fourth place is a miracle and – to the neutral – an unalloyed delight
Tuesday 28 January 2014
Roberto Martinez is adopting a position on Everton’s financial situation which is strikingly different to the one used by his predecessor. While in many ways it was self-serving for David Moyes to talk down the club’s finances, Martinez doesn’t feel the need. “Remember that the financial situation we have got at the club is very good,” he said on Monday when talk turned to the gulf between the two clubs who contest tonight’s Merseyside derby. It is the second time he has made this observation in two weeks.
That’s Martinez for you: the eternal optimist. But Everton’s financial prospects really are not so good for a club aspiring, against fairly insuperable odds, to be in the Champions League once again. It is the reason why the neutrals should be hoping for an Everton win tonight, if the Merseyside derby between the Premier League’s fourth- and sixth-placed teams really does define which of the two of them makes next season’s elite European competition.
Liverpool, like Everton, know that this “transition year”, as Martinez described it yesterday, with Manchester United floundering and Tottenham in more turmoil than many appreciate, is an opportunity which may not come around again very soon. But they will get another chance. They are finally emerging from the anarchy of the George Gillett/Tom Hicks era with the stability and resources delivered by Fenway Sports Group. They will soon apply for permission to build an expanded 60,000 capacity stadium. They are a global entity – still sixth in last week’s Deloitte Money League, despite the grief inflicted by their previous American owners and their three years in Europe’s shadows.
Everton enjoy no such luxuries. Martinez was describing yesterday how necessity has been the mother of invention for him at Goodison – loan player here, low budget gamble there – and though the club’s last stated total wage bill is not pitiful at £65m, the ninth highest in the Premier League and structured around paying a few big names well, it is half of Liverpool’s £126m. In virtually every aspect of Everton’s competitive, innovative commercial operation, they are punching around mid-table, from their Chang shirt sponsorship deal to the matchday revenues which earn them a fraction of the money of the established top six.
The Everton ship sailed in 2009 when a planning inquiry decreed that they would not be permitted to build a new stadium at Kirkby and left them hemmed in, in every way. So, while compulsory purchases of houses neighbouring their stadium will soon allow Liverpool to spread out and breathe at Anfield, Everton know that if they knocked down Goodison and built a purpose-built stadium tomorrow, its capacity would be a mere 23,000, the same as Bolton Wanderers’ Reebok. That’s hardly an appealing landscape to a prospective foreign owner – though you sense that the advent of Financial Fair Play has further reduced the appeal of a benefactor buying a club like Everton anyway.
This club – who have pushed their wages-to-turnover ratio to around 80 per cent and keep ticket prices down because they know they are supported by many people who do not have money – cannot earn any more than they already are doing. They need the Champions League, with its £25m revenues, its spotlight and its appeal to prospective players, because they simply don’t have the artificial means of inflating their revenues as other clubs can. Only yesterday, Liverpool unveiled the new training kit and airline sponsorship deal, with Garuda Indonesia, which will bring them in £16m-a-year. Everton don’t have a training kit sponsor. They slipped out of the Deloitte League last week, replaced by Lazio in the 28th spot they occupied last year.
For them, the Champions League would mean Romelu Lukaku staying, another one or two core players joining Martinez’s ranks of the young and itinerant loanees and probably a little more help with the debt, because they were not the only Premier League club to be asked to use some of the enhanced TV deal money to reduce their exposure this season – in Everton’s case, a £23m facility with Barclays. And, more than all that, it would mean something unexpected and unpredictable in a British football landscape in which, with apologies for stating the obvious, power coalesces around the same few.
The fact that Everton are even under discussion for fourth place is little less than a miracle and – to the neutral – an unalloyed delight, considering that their limited resources have actually made them an example of Financial Fair Play in practice for the past decade. Their own innovations include the lease-back scheme for their Finch Farm training base, which has earned them £13m in a deal with a city council that has shown imagination under the auspices of directly elected mayor Joe Anderson. But their ultimate innovators have been Moyes and Martinez, men who know that there is no money to waste in the transfer market.
For 10 years, Everton have bought low, sold high and just about kept up. If Liverpool make the Champions League ahead of them, there is a good chance that the gulf between the two clubs will expand to a size which their wealth suggests ought to exist. But if Everton make it, by finishing ahead of Liverpool for the third successive year, they will hold on to their coattails for a little longer. The last time they made the Champions League, in 2006, Moyes was named manager of the year and Martinez would deserve at least the same. His accomplishment would be even greater, given the chasm that has opened up between the elite clubs and the rest in those intervening eight years. “We are what we are,” he said yesterday. “We’re delighted with the way we have used our finances.”
Don’t make Salah scapegoat for a complicated dispute
“We will be more than ready to help him,” said Jose Mourinho, when asked about his Egyptian signing Mohamed Salah’s apparent refusal to shake the hands with the Israeli players of Maccabi Tel Aviv when playing for Basel last August. But my inquiries tell me that there is more to this story than the notion, as Mourinho put it, that the 21-year-old might not have been “respectful… to ethnicity”.
The sentiments many Egyptians hold for Israel left Salah under immense pressure to make some kind of political gesture against Maccabi last summer. Egypt waited and watched for one and the surprise for observers like the writer and journalist James Montague, a Middle East specialist, was that Salah desisted. He appeared to avoid the challenge by tying his shoelaces. The Egypt manager, Bob Bradley, has spoken enthusiastically about Salah’s personality, Montague says. The Tel Aviv experience seems like a lot of pressure to heap on one who is barely a man. The faintest comparison with Nicolas Anelka seems incredibly far-fetched.
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