Can Everton afford to take gamble needed to join Europe's elite?

The Weekend Dossier: Merseyside club are locked into an atmospheric but dated ground and unable to find significant outside investment

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The Independent Football

In an era of seven substitutes, the bench reveals much about the strength of a football club's squad. Compare those at Loftus Road last Sunday when the teams in fourth and bottom met (see panel). In John Heitinga, Everton did have a player who figured and was dismissed in a World Cup final, but Queen's Park Rangers had more expensive, more experienced and theoretically stronger reserves than the team 16 places above them.

The same is likely to apply when Everton face Liverpool tomorrow, and in particular when they face the teams who appear to be their most likely rivals for a Champions League place: Tottenham and Arsenal. There is no great surprise or shame in this. Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal operate on far bigger budgets than Everton who, under David Moyes, have consistently out-performed their expenditure with six successive top-eight finishes.

This impressive achievement has, however, only earned the occasional Europa League appearance for they have failed to either crack the top four or win a cup. Such crumbs are not enough for a club of Everton's illustrious history, but it is difficult to envisage how they can live up to their heritage without taking fiscal risks.

Locked into an atmospheric but dated ground and unable to find significant outside investment, Everton's circumstances are akin to Aston Villa who, under Randy Lerner and Martin O'Neill, tried to break into the Champions League places a few years ago. Villa lacked the squad depth to maintain their challenge then fell away as Lerner took fright at the escalating wage bill and O'Neill quit in protest at the subsequent economies. They now languish and provide a cautionary tale to those who suggest Everton's Bill Kenwright should bankroll an assault on the top four by taking on further debt.

There have been two pivotal moments in Everton's recent history. Until the mid-1970s they were as big a club as Liverpool, matching them for titles and attendances. Then Liverpool, under Bob Paisley and his successors, began winning league championships and European Cups on a near-annual basis. It took Everton until the mid-Eighties and Howard Kendall's side to match their neighbours but just as it seemed they were poised to also conquer Europe the post-Heysel ban forced the break-up of that team.

Everton declined, somehow survived several relegation scrapes, and eventually, under Moyes in 2005, again had the chance to sup at Europe's top-table. But referee Pierluigi Collina, in his last game of note, disallowed the Duncan Ferguson goal that would have edged Everton past Villarreal in the Champions League qualifier. The Spanish club went on to reach the semi-final; for Everton the moment was gone. Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour ploughed millions into Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal developed the Emirates' cash machine and Manchester United became a global brand. That Liverpool have been similarly left trailing is only marginal consolation.

For Liverpool, though, there is hope. They have a worldwide name recognition Everton lack. The Blues may be enjoying the excruciating documentary series Being: Liverpool more than their rivals but the fact it is being made – and made for a US audience – speaks volumes. The Reds' glory years are recent enough, especially the miracle of Istanbul, to pull in fans from Toronto to Tokyo. Everton's are too distant. History moves on which is why Wigan Athletic, after just eight years in the Premier League following decades of obscurity, are better known worldwide than their neighbours Preston North End, winners of championships and FA Cups long before Wigan entered the league (Facebook likes: Wigan 21,000, Preston 6,400; Twitter followers: Wigan 34,000, Preston 7,400).

The reality is that only by breaking into the Champions League can Everton re-establish themselves as one of the English game's Big Clubs. Arsène Wenger was mocked for describing qualification as a trophy, but he was right to say the Champions League attracts players – the promise of playing in it lured Mikel Arteta from Everton to Arsenal. It also brings in huge income. Continued qualification becomes a virtuous circle making clubs stronger and stronger. The danger is Everton could cripple themselves in the attempt, as Lerner feared Villa would.

Moyes has a very good side now, one which has developed beyond being effective to playing good football, but he knows it could unravel with a couple of injuries to key personnel. It is a difficult equation to balance but, for 90 minutes tomorrow, everyone in blue can put such worries aside and get on with showing Liverpool they are, for the moment at least, equals.

Everton: Bare bench

Players on each bench in last week's 1-1 draw at Loftus Road reveal Everton, fourth in the league, are outperforming their rivals like QPR, bottom.

Queen's Park Rangers

R Green, A Ferdinand, N Onuoha, A Faurlin, S Wright-Phillips, D Cissé, J Mackie


J Mucha, J Heitinga, S Duffy, T Hitzlsperger, B Oviedo, S Naismith, M Gueye

Five Asides

1. Kick It Out could benefit from some players' cash

If part of the problem some players have with Kick It Out is that the anti-exclusion organisation lacks the independence and funding to work effectively, the solution is simple: put their hands in their pockets. Kick It Out's budget is £450,000 per annum, a few weeks' wages for some players. Some will feel this argument is facetious and insensitive of a white middle-class journalist to make, but given the wealth Premier League footballers receive this is an issue where they have the resources to change things directly if they want to. Plenty of footballers do use their income to effect change, notably African players working in their home countries.

The comments of Paul Mortimer are also pertinent. The former Charlton player, now involved with Show Racism the Red Card, said: "We have events where we request players to come and speak and give their experiences, and [mostly] they don't come. And when they do come, they don't talk about their experiences of racism." As Mortimer said: "Players have power, players can help by turning up to these events. We can give them a voice."

2. Fans' mockery of deaf player was vile to hear

It was depressing to hear of the experience of GB Deaf XI player Daniel Ailey, who plays for Ryman League Potters Bar Town. Ailey is not mute, but having been born deaf has no experience of how words sound, so usually communicates by sign language. On the pitch he has to make sounds to get the attention of team-mates. These were mocked by visiting Grays Athletic fans on Tuesday. Only when police were called did the taunting stop. That Ailey is black, and the mimicry could sound like grunting, added to the vileness.

3. It's up to supporters to get behind women's football

The post-Olympic return to obscurity of women's sport is a valid concern, but the FA is at least testing interest with plans to expand the WSL. Now it is up to sponsors and fans, of both sexes, to support the initiative.

4. Szczesny dismissal a clear case of triple jeopardy

Uefa's technical report on Euro 2012 highlighted Wojciech Szczesny's dismissal for Poland v Greece and pondered a rethink on red cards for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity (rather than denying a goal). Many coaches felt the combination of penalty, dismissal and suspension was excessive.

5. So what did Arbeloa do to upset Uefa selectors?

Is football a team game? Uefa's 23-man Euro 2012 all-star squad included 10 of Spain's starting XI in the final. Absent was Alvaro Arbeloa, who played every minute. Steven Gerrard was the only Englishman.