The Time Is Now For Everton...

Everton have lost fewer games than any other PL team and looked bloody lovely at times. Daniel Storey argues that the January window is the time for them to really kick on...

Last Updated: 14/01/14 at 16:24 Post Comment

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Shortly after arriving at Everton, Roberto Martinez raised eyebrows by making a striking promise to supporters and new employers. "Roberto's first words were 'I'll get you in the Champions League'," chairman Bill Kenwright admitted - quite a statement given that the comparative strength of Chelsea and Manchester City only left two realistic places to target. Arsenal's upsurge has effectively threatened to make that just one.

Martinez, however, has impressed immensely at Goodison. It is mid-January and they sit one point behind the top four, having still lost just two matches all season, fewer than any other side in the top flight. They have won at Manchester United, drawn at Arsenal and beaten Chelsea, ridding the club of an era of consistent underperformance against the Premier League's leading lights. David Moyes had never won away at a Big Four club - that Martinez did so at Old Trafford fitted perfectly with the Spaniard's new-look Everton narrative.

Most striking has been Martinez's use of the transfer market, achieving exactly what he desired this summer. Marouane Fellaini was never a Martinez-type option in midfield - he provided brawn where the Spaniard wanted beauty and brains. Despite that, Everton held out for an inflated fee and yet retained their most prized asset, Leighton Baines. In addition, Martinez was able to complete arguably the two best signings of the season when both Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku joined on season-long loan deals.

This season has provided a perfect storm for Everton to achieve their lofty ambition of Champions League participation. The underperformance (at least against pre-season expectations) of Manchester United and Spurs, combined with the instant impact of Lukaku (who will surely only be at Goodison for this season alone) and the warmth generated by fans for Martinez's playing style, has actually created the perfect breeding ground for success. There is an optimism surrounding Everton. However, that creates its own rather negative, although perfectly justified, connotation - will Everton ever get a better chance?

The validity of that question makes January a crucial time for both manager and club. Despite the window being a decidedly turgid affair thus far (and by that we mean unmitigated dross), one can assume that Everton's rivals for a top four place will look to fortify squads that already contain more strength in depth than at Martinez's disposal. To keep pace, Everton must at least match this ambition.

It is not an area in which Everton normally excel. The oft-used line from Bill Kenwright is that money is tight and that transfer budgets have to be considered, but both supporters and managers have every right to grow weary of such a stance. Kenwright has stated his desire to "find a person, or institution, with the finance to move us forward", but the club's reported self-valuation of £125million for anyone wishing to purchase was considered unrealistic by many given the current debts of £46million.

The new TV deal should have inflated coffers considerably, but the playing squad has seen little benefit from those funds. Martinez may have been permitted to spend £24m this summer, but that figure was eclipsed simply by the Fellaini fee - they still made £8m profit on transfers this summer. The club do seem to have hired a sorcerer to conduct all outgoing transfer business. That a club can command almost £80m for Victor Anichebe, Nikica Jelavic, Jack Rodwell, Joleon Lescott and Fellaini is verging on black magic, and I will struggle to be convinced otherwise. Such revenues are not being re-invested sufficiently.

Jelavic is evidently the latest in this line of sales, and whilst making profit on a striker with one goal in his last 26 Premier League games is utterly baffling, it does leave Everton hugely short in the final third. A back-up strikeforce of Steven Naismith, Arouna Kone (out for the season), Gerard Deulofeu (out until late February) and Apostos Vellios does not make for pretty reading, and rather banks on Lukaku being fit for every game. Martinez may have remarked in September that Kevin Mirallas could operate as a central striker, but forgive me for being unconvinced.

Jelavic's rumoured replacement doesn't exactly set the pulse racing, either. A rumoured £2m move for Kenwyne Jones is just about as underwhelming as it gets (other than signing Grant Holt on loan, obviously) - when your principle asset is physical presence and you are frozen out of Stoke City, there is an obvious issue over ability or aptitude.

Everton are also unable to rely on the loan market, so often their close friend. Premier League rules dictate that clubs are only able to sign two players domestically (ie from an English club) on long-term loans per season. Instead, Martinez must convince Kenwright to part with significant funds in order to bolster a strikeforce and defence that threatens to look flimsy when injuries and suspensions land. Aiden McGeady has been brought in from out in the (literal) cold at Spartak Moscow, but again the question deserves be asked - is he really a top-four player?

It all just goes back to that word again: underwhelming. This should be a time for great celebration for Everton fans - a new manager, a new mentality, a new style and new hope, but until the club can commit to the measured investment in a thin squad, a ceiling will always be placed on Everton's achievement. Right now, it remains difficult to see how Martinez can keep his pre-season promise.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

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