Everton are up for sale. Or maybe they’re not. Their players are up for sale. Or maybe they’re not. It’s the season of mixed messaging at Goodison Park.
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”
Mentioning bankruptcy in relation to Everton in their current state might feel like tempting fate, but Ernest Hemingway’s well-known quotation from The Sun Also Rises speaks to more than just financial penury. It seems to be wrapped into the human condition that we don’t notice the little cracks that pool together to cause our worlds to come crashing down around our ears until it’s too late, with only the benefit of hindsight offering the clarity to show us what should have been obvious all along.
As recently as Saturday afternoon at West Ham United, it felt as though Everton’s biggest problem was the feeling of inertia that has settled over the club this season. The team wasn’t improving. The manager didn’t seem to be making much of a difference. Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright sat in the stands, looking for all the world like Statler and Waldorf come to life, surveying the wreckage with blank expressions on their faces.
But life comes at you fast, and four days on from The London Stadium debacle, it feels as though things at Goodison Park might change very much indeed. Frank Lampard lasted until Monday morning, afternoon or evening, depending on where you get your news. No successor has yet been announced and it comes as no great surprise to see that the list of names being linked to the club is as disparate as the list of those who’ve crashed and burned at Everton over the last few years.
As has frequently been the case at this particular club under Moshiri, it doesn’t feel as though there’s much of a plan.
But that wasn’t the only news to have come out of Goodison Park this week. It has been reported that Everton are for sale, and that Moshiri will be looking at offers in excess of £500m to sell the club. This is very much a sentence of two halves. Few Everton supporters would argue that the club wouldn’t be better off under new ownership. But it’s the second part of that sentence that causes the sound of a needle being violently pulled from a turntable to be suddenly audible in the distance. HOW MUCH?
Cross-comparisons of football club valuations can be a fool’s errand. Each club, each buyer and each seller’s circumstances are different, and clubs near the very top of the Premier League – or those expected to be able to challenge there – are worth multiple billions of pounds. But you don’t have to drop very far from the very top of that list before the numbers start to drop substantially.
When Newcastle United were sold to the Saudi Public Investment Fund in October 2021, the sale price was £305m. When Bournemouth were sold to Bill Foley’s consortium at the end of last year, the sale price was reported at £120m. It is perfectly possible to raise an eyebrow at the possibility of Everton in their current state being worth 15% more than Newcastle United in October 2021 and Bournemouth in December 2022 combined. It seems a little…optimistic.
But while Moshiri claims that “The club is not for sale, but I’ve been talking to top investors of real quality to bridge a gap on the stadium” and that “We are close to having a deal done”, it continues to feel as though the position of the current directors of the club is untenable, with a fundamental bond of trust between the owner and the fanbase severed. Even the timing of the release of the video has been called into question. If the interview concerned was, as has been suggested, recorded last week, why release it in the middle of such a tumultuous few days?
Quite beside anything else, who is ultimately pulling the strings at Goodison Park? Because it has been recently claimed that Alisher Usmanov, the former ‘main sponsor’ who abruptly had to drop that position after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine last year, has been present at meetings within the club despite being a ‘sanctioned individual’ as a result of his close ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime.
It certainly seems unlikely that any sale would go through particularly quickly, with the biggest potential stumbling block being that of how on earth you value a club in their current position. Everton are at serious risk of relegation from the Premier League, and relegation would have a hugely negative impact on the value of the club.
Would buyers really drop half a billion pounds on Everton in the next month or two in the full knowledge that there is a serious risk of their Premier League TV and prize income – which made up 60% of the club’s total annual revenue for the year to June 2022 – suddenly ending? Less than a year ago, there was a conversation over whether player contracts had relegation release clauses and even the club’s comments on the matter only confirmed ‘some of them’. There’s a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock which is due to open in the summer of 2024 but which for now remains half-completed.
Mixed messaging, incoherent and contradictory comments from the senior management have long been par for the course at Goodison Park, but it’s really ramped up to a new level over the last few days. On the same day that the ‘for sale’ story was published, Everton were said to be pursuing Marcelo Bielsa as the replacement for Frank Lampard.
This sounds like a great idea in theory, but Bielsa is famously meticulous in his preparations for anything and getting him in quickly seems unlikely, if it’s possible at all. Other names mentioned include Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche, Wayne Rooney and Thomas Frank, an array of names which continues to ask the question of whether Moshiri’s new manager policy might just to be to pull a name out of a hat filled labelled ‘managers I’ve heard of’.
On the same day, Everton were Evertonning in the transfer market. They thought they’d completed the deal to take Arnaut Danjuma on loan for the rest of the season only to be gazumped by Spurs at the last minute, while vultures are circling for highly rated winger Anthony Gordon.
Again, the messaging is mixed. Gordon has commonly been discussed as being worth in the region of £60m, but the figures being touted for him now are barely half that. And with Danjuma having possibly been considered a replacement for him, what happens to all that interest should that deal now be dead in the water?
Are Everton actually going to strengthen before the end of the January transfer window? Will Lampard’s replacement have any opportunity to bring in some fresh blood before the end of January or – as Lampard himself had to do at almost exactly the same stage last year – will they have to make do with that they’ve got barring a couple of short-term deals?
All these interlocking questions merge together to form the cloud that hangs over Goodison Park. If the club has been put up for sale, it’s possible that this has happened too late to make much of an appreciable difference to their fortunes this season.
The club has to bring in a new manager, but that manager may not get the chance to strengthen their squad before the end of the January transfer window. Moshiri may or may not want to remain in control. Usmanov may or may not be still involved.
Change is coming to Everton, but still nobody truly knows what this will look like because the club has been so badly run in recent years and even now the messaging has been almost absurdly garbled. It is to be hoped that this change, when it does come, is positive rather than what so many of the clubs fans currently fear.
The stakes are high at Goodison Park, and the club both literally and figuratively cannot afford to get the next few weeks and months wrong.