Adventures In The Skin Trade

james-mccarthy

Going to bed an hour before the transfer deadline means that you never know quite what you are going to wake up to – a bit like Christmas Eve.

Well, that is if there’s a chance that Santa Claus might drunkenly stamp your Big Trak into plastic shards and leave a big shit on the Axminster.

‘How could you not stay tuned for Jim White’s vinegar strokes though?’ you ask, knowing that the Blues were embroiled in a veritable tug-of-war with West Bromwich Albion for the services of staggered-run Super Cup spot-kick scuffer Romelu Lukaku? Well, despite being more philosophical than most about Everton’s position in football’s new world order, the thought of them desperately battling (i.e upping the wages on offer) to sign some fucking Chelsea reserve is not a welcome one.

It’s like you accept that your ma has to do whatever she can to feed her crack problem, but it doesn’t mean you want to watch her down on her knees at the docks. And you certainly don’t want running commentary from Vinny O’Connor.

It is, it’s exactly like that.

And while we’re on the subject of unsavoury sexual shenanigans, you have to say that years of being the cutest little thing on the Premier League prison yard has taught Everton a trick or two about survival while David Moyes appears to be struggling in his new role as top dog. The Manchester United manager eventually got what he wanted from the Blues, namely the signature of Marouane Fellaini, but the eventual price of £27.5 million – four more than he could have had him for the other week – represents a badly bitten cock.

Roberto Martinez took the money, or at least a portion of it, and replaced the versatile Fellaini with three specialists. Lukaku is a big centre-forward who scored 17 goals last season while on loan at West Brom – he certainly appears to be an upgrade on the strikers already at the club. The Baggies wanted him back by all accounts, but instead were left to sign our own Victor Anichebe instead. It’s reported that deal could eventually be worth £6 million, which few people would argue looks decent business for the Toffees. Anichebe made great strides last season in terms of his form, but did anyone ever see him genuinely becoming the first-choice Everton centre-forward? Good luck to him though – there will be a lot of expectation on him at the Hawthorns, especially as they not only missed out on getting Lukaku back but also allowed Shane Long to go to Hull City.

In terms of the roles Fellaini was asked to do in midfield, Martinez made another loan signing in the shape of Gareth Barry, a dedicated deep-lying or defensive player. It’s not the most glamorous appointment ever, granted, but in terms of ability he has always been underrated, and a title-winning England international can hopefully bring a degree of experience and character to the side. Don’t roll your eyes too soon, he might prove to be a very shrewd signing.

Finally, all-action – whatever that means – Wigan midfielder James McCarthy completed his protracted move to Goodison for the princely sum of £13 million. It’s a few bob, that’s for sure, but McCarthy has always impressed since a televised game against Liverpool that the Latics won 1-0. He left the field at the end purple in the face after harassing Steven Gerrard worse than an infamous local villain. At the time, Evertonians were trying to convince themselves that their own young midfielder Jack Rodwell’s ability to get through every game with his shorts spotless was a signifier of ‘class’, but unlike the golden boy McCarthy is no stranger to graft having made his debut amongst the shopping trollies and melted wheely bins of the Scottish First Division a day before his 16th birthday.

Martinez certainly appears to rate him as well.

With Leighton Baines remaining at Goodison then, and three almost certain first-team starters replacing one, you have to say that Everton have come out of this transfer window far better than they might have.

And as an added bonus, Moyes and Manchester United have emerged looking like absolute plums.

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Stevenage and Cardiff and That

deulofeu

As someone once famously said: the more something changes, the more it stays the same. It was probably Huey Lewis.

So, let’s get one thing straight, playing badly against lower league opposition has been a recurring theme for Everton for longer than any of us really care to remember. For the last decade or so though, the Blues have been a ‘pressure team’ who unashamedly thrived on forcing the opposition into making mistakes and there was a feeling that under David Moyes the players bought into that approach when playing against Premier League sides but found it hard to give the same respect to Brentford or Shrewsbury. Very often then, with a ‘rotated’ team, they would give performances in cup ties that fell into a strange no-man’s land where they never outpassed nor outfought their opponents, with grim results.

The difference on Wednesday night, against a Stevenage side presently struggling in League One, is that the new Everton comfortably replicated their league approach from the weekend but still found themselves minutes away from a penalty shoot-out when substitute Marouane Fellaini scored and removed a modicum of pressure from his manager. Because the idea of Roberto Martinez chewing and sweating Quadrant Park-style while finding the positives from a cup exit so early in his Everton career really doesn’t bear thinking about.

When Martinez arrived at Goodison the perception was that he would encourage a more fluent, attacking style that would result in a higher goals tally, almost certainly at the expense of conceding more. And after years of a more pragmatic approach the general consensus was that represented an acceptable trade-off.

After three games though – and let’s remember, it is only three – the worries are not about the defence, although we haven’t played anyone really good yet, but the manner in which the Blues go forward. On the whole it’s slow and staggered, allowing the opposition to easily drop back and occupy the valuable territory on the pitch while we construct these long, lazy letter Ws along the halfway line before looping a crossfield ball onto the chest of a winger who still has two men to beat. Thus far it is very much like the style employed by Swansea City at Goodison last season – one that attracted a certain amount of derision at the time.

That’s what has people a little bit concerned, and over the course of this season it appears that we are set to be debating the merits of this new ‘philosophy’ after every game, especially at home where all the emphasis is on Everton to ‘force the issue’.

That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

For all the reservations, Everton certainly controlled the majority of the game, despite the number of regular first-teamers missing from the starting eleven, and if they had scored early on when Gerard Deulofeu was ragging the Stevenage left-back all over the place then the evening may have taken a far different shape. However, with Arouna Kone still looking distinctly peckish and doubts just beginning to creep in, the away side scored the classic League Cup giantkillers’ goal 10 minutes before half time.

A lost cause chased into the corner, the hopeful cutback, a massively miscued shot and the next minute someone – in this case Luke Freeman – finds himself unmarked in the box and lashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Gúlp!

Thankfully, a rare injection of pace into the Everton game saw Steven Naismith feed a through-ball to Deulofeu for the last kick of the half, and what a lovely boot it proved. The young Spaniard, who looks really similar in style to Kevin Mirallas, opened up his body – whatever that really means – and curled a delicious low effort around a knot of players and into the bottom corner of the Park End goal.

After the break Everton briefly looked like they had learned from their scare but after another little flurry of action they again got bogged down in their own passing drills. Mercifully Fellaini got lashed on in extra-time though and his sheer presence gave the Blues something tangible to work with up front. He had already been denied by one good low save when an unseemly succession of scuffs and mis-controls in the away team’s area eventually saw the ball carom drunkenly off Naismith’s shins for ‘the big Belgian’ to spare everyone the ignominy of penalties.

Other positives on the night were the performances of John Stones and Ross Barkley who were not quite as eye-catching as Deulofeu but still outshone many of their senior colleagues. Barkley’s ‘Mr Grimsdale!’ routine where he drops his shoulder about three times before shooting wildly can be a bit frustrating but is as much a product of the Blues’ inability to open up a packed defence as his own youthful over-enthusiasm.

Going back to Fellaini, the stories continue linking him with Manchester United, with some papers now suggesting that not only is his move something of a formality, but that Leighton Baines is trying to force his proposed transfer through as well. Martinez is clearly getting fed up with being constantly quizzed on the subject, describing the present transfer window as a circus. The fact remains though, if we are genuinely unwilling to sell then it’s not an issue.

We’ve stated previously that it’s at home where Martinez and his team will set the whole tone for the season, and let’s be honest it’s not been exactly a blazing opening so far. After dropping four points against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion though it’s important that the Blues simply start picking up points and have to be looking at anything less than three at the Cardiff City Stadium as unacceptable.

The slightly wacky Welsh club – come on, just get on Vincent Tan’s chain-smoking-in-Sayers chic and that story about the fella driving up from Luton in his slippers walking around the away dressing room – played so well in their home game against Manchester City that they won the prestigious League Managers’ Association performance of the week award. Don’t scoff, according to the Cardiff website it’s decided by Howard Wilkinson, Joe Royle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Dave Basset and Barry Fry. You can only imagine that this group (the collective noun is in fact a bung of former managers) all get together at a Midlands hotel each week and chew the decision over for hours on end, like a boozier, more arl arse 12 Angry Men.

How else could it be decided?

Seriously though, we were all appalled at the thought of getting a manager like Malky Mackay when he was linked heavily with the Everton job, so we really shouldn’t have any fear about facing his newly promoted side containing the likes of Craig Bellamy, Frasier Campbell and Tommy fucking Smith. That weird Denis Stracqualarsi-looking fella in midfield can frig off as well – the one who seems to have got a transfer on the strength of a Youtube video where he concedes scores of fouls against Barcelona – If he’s allowed to look like some sort of hard case against us then it’s time to wrap up and go home.

Them’s just the facts.

Betis Hotpot

the-sting-newman-redford

There’s something weird about the last friendly of the summer, when they break the seal on Goodison and allow us our first tentative whiff of the new season.

It’s always vaguely unsatisfactory, with the stands sparsely populated and the invited foreign Johnnies playing at half-pace. It also detracts from the anticipation of the first proper league game of the season; a bit like finding your Christmas presents halfway through December if you were one of them kids that did that sort of thing.

Real Betis are the third Spanish opponents the Toffees have faced this summer following that reportedly spirited 2-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid and then a 1-0 reverse against Valencia in the prestigious 5th/6th place play-off that ended the tournament in the United States. Again reportedly – because despite the advice from some concerned readers there was still no way we were staying up to watch that nonsense – Everton looked last in that match. Roberto Martinez made a load of changes and apparently it showed in a disjointed performance. It was meant to be fucking boiling as well.

Never mind.

Betis play in a rather distinctive green and white kit but other than that does anyone know much about them? A quick scan at their squad shows very few familiar names – about the most well-known to the likes of us who quite frankly couldn’t care less about Spanish football is former Real Madrid winger Juanfran. And you wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line-up either, unless of course he had his kit on with his name on the back and all the other fellas were the usual leather jacket and knitted cap sorts. That would be a dead giveaway.

The ascendant club in Seville actually finished seventh in La Liga last season, which is fairly respectable until you realise that was a mere 44 points behind champions Barcelona. Congratulations Spain on pursuing a footballing agenda that makes the Premier League look like some sort of Corinthian meritocracy.

It will be interesting to see if either Marouane Fellaini or Leighton Baines feature in Sunday’s game, or whether, like so many want away stars of the English game they will develop what is known as the ‘Suarez sprain’ or the ‘Bale bruising’. There’s also the ‘Rooney rupture’ but that’s something altogether more unseemly.

Manchester United are reportedly ready to offer somewhere in the region of £30 million for the pair having already been knocked back with a £12 million offer for Baines earlier in the summer. Now, we all know that if the players really want to go – and why wouldn’t they, let’s face it – then ultimately they are likely to get what they want. However, for once Everton have the upper hand when it comes to negotiating the price. When push comes to shove, the Blues can simply refuse to sell as, thanks to the fact that all the clubs have received a stack of money from the new television deal, they are for the first time in a long while under no pressure from the bank. What’s more, after being right royally mugged off by Cesc Fabregas and his agents – who are mocking him like the fellas on the ramparts in The Holy Grail – David Moyes is already under massive pressure in his new job.

Welcome to the next level, Charlie Big Spuds.

United are used to getting their own way in the transfer market, and while their lack of any signings so far this summer could be down any number of Glazer-related reasons, the impression that the world is starting to get is that Moyes just isn’t the same sort of shrewd operator as his predecessor. He’s going to lose Wayne Rooney and looks miles away from signing a Bale or a Cristiano Ronaldo – imagine what sort of cunt he is going to look if he can’t even sign a couple of players from the usually compliant Everton then?

That’s what Robert Elstone and Bill Kenwright should play on. Whatever offer comes in they need to go to the papers and give it loads about how they expected him to act like the manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world now that he’s got the finances that he has been publicly bleating on about for years. Put him in the spot where he has to table a daft bid or risk looking like the small-time character that a lot of United fans can’t help but worry that he is.

You can just see Bob and Bill, ties loosened, playing cards in the Everton boardroom with their stockinged feet on the table, puffing on big cigars and sharing a bottle of Johnny Walker. The big old-fashioned phone that we all presume they still have in there goes and Elstone says, ‘Here we go, that’s the soft get now. No, no, let me get it this time’.

‘Hello, yeah, how much are you offering now lad? How much? Seriously? Ha, no dice Rusty Griswald. And don’t ring back again if you’re just going to waste our time. Bill, Bill, have you heard this tit? Ah, he’s gone’.