Everton off-field problems run so deep they cannot even afford delusions anymore

Steven Chicken
A view of Goodison Park
Everton have avoided relegation but their troubles might only just be starting

It must be a chilling realisation for Everton fans to have lived through what they have over the past three years and yet still know that this might be as good as it gets for them for the foreseeable future.

Sean Dyche admirably led his limited side well clear of the relegation zone weeks ago, overcoming points deductions and a troubling run of post-Christmas form to make Everton into one of the form sides of the final furlong of the Premier League season.

Everton facing up to harsh realities of long, difficult future

But as we all know, the problems might just be starting. More points deductions could be on the way for next season, and the takeover that looked like it might be their salvation could yet prove to be their ruin.

Out of sheer necessity, Everton have borrowed more than £200m from 777 Partners in expectation of a takeover that now looks like it might not even happen, thanks to 777’s other business interests going into peril. Both the Everton Shareholders’ Association and their Fan Advisory Board have called for the deal to be nixed and the process of finding new ownership to start anew.

Even if that debt ends up being covered by current owner Farhad Moshiri, or some other payment plan is agreed – and reports have suggested 777 cannot simply ask for it all back in one go – it is not the end of their debts. They owe yet more hundreds of millions besides, and have reportedly called in insolvency advisors to try and plot the best way forward. Going into administration is a real possibility unless they can finagle an alternative route out.

You almost certainly know all of this already, but it bears reminding ourselves of just how serious their woes are – and how it could impact their fortunes on the pitch.

The only previous Premier League club to have ever gone into administration were Portsmouth, back in 2010. Fourteen years later, their road to recovery from falling precipitously into League Two has only extended so far as their winning promotion back to the Championship this season.

Since Portsmouth, a further seven EFL clubs have gone into administration. Of those seven, only Port Vale – then in League Two – have been able to avoid getting relegated to a lower level in the years that followed. In the hyper-competitive Premier League, is it realistic to expect that Everton could fight those kinds of odds?

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The club will be clinging on to hope that it may not come to that, but even in a best case – if they found a new owner tomorrow, which may not be impossible if MSP Sports Capital’s reported interest is indeed a viable goer – the necessary paperwork and approvals that need to be sorted out would take Everton most or all of the way through the summer transfer window and into the new season.

After their experience with 777, they cannot go about conducting business as usual: they will have to cut their cloth one way or the other.

Everton have made no attempt to disguise that reality. While most clubs like to kick off their summers by talking about being ambitious, about having a vision, about having a plan to improve the team, Everton have already moved to set the expectations for this summer appropriately low.

“The reality is, given the regulations in place and the Club’s current financial position, we have to trade well,” wrote director of football Kevin Thelwell in an open letter to the club’s fans last week, fulfilling the bizarre football club house style for capitalising the letter ‘c’ on ‘Club’ like he’s writing an HR handbook.

“Working within such tight financial parameters makes the job extremely difficult. Whilst we want to ensure that the team is as competitive as possible, we cannot lose sight of our central objective to protect the long-term stability of the Club.

“That does mean that players will be sold, and also that every tool at our disposal will be used to secure new additions to the squad, including utilisation of the loan market. Both Sean [Dyche] and I understand the responsibility we have – and that is a responsibility which has to be our priority. That may not be exciting to hear but, under our current circumstances, it is the right thing for Everton.”

And boy is it going to be difficult. The loan market would only extend so far for a start, with Premier League clubs only allowed to take in seven senior loanees at any one time, only two of which can be from other Premier League clubs.

Any recruitment they do will be difficult. Their wage bill would naturally be extremely limited, and it would take a certain kind of character or a certain level of desperation for players to be talked into jumping aboard a sinking ship.

Their intentions to sell their prize assets will naturally weaken the team, but there is a very real prospect of having to make pragmatic decisions when it comes to their valuation for their most valuable players.

Clubs in this kind of position have historically run into trouble securing moves for everyone they consider dispensable, too; there is never any guarantee that the personal terms those players are offered will be sufficient for some to simply say “nah, I’ll sit on my current contract, thanks” – even if that is something of a calculated risk on their part.

At least, for the time being, Everton are being somewhat honest with themselves about what needs to happen – but then, their problems simply run so deep that they can’t even afford delusions anymore.