The Star Club

Hamburg-map

According to most of the papers, SV Hamburg seem pretty confident about signing Nikica Jelavic.

Some director or other of the German club has been tweeting that Everton have made it known that the Croatian striker is available and they are big fans.

Without an appreciation of the bigger picture in as much as who else Roberto Martinez wants to bring in and what the player’s attitude is, it’s hard to work out whether releasing Jelavic, whose form has varied wildly over the last 18 months, is a good idea or not.

The player who arrived from Glasgow and seemed to score with every other touch was invaluable, but then at some point early last season it looked as if he said ‘Uh oh’ mid-match as Dr Sam Beckett quantum leapt into his body. After that, even the goal he scored against Manchester City at Goodison was the result of Dean Stockwell screaming in his ear: ‘Ziggy says JUST FUCKING HIT IT!’

There’s a school of thought that David Moyes was to blame for the alarming loss of form, because he asked him to do too much work outside the box, but Jelavic’s role didn’t really seem much different from when he was scoring ‘for fun’. All modern forwards are required to graft – it’s hard to think of any who are told to ‘just get up there and goal hang’ – and chasing the ball down doesn’t seem to adversely affect the goalscoring of, say, Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney.

Jelavic just seemed to react badly to missing chances and his confidence crumbled, Fernando Torres-style. Eventually no one argued when he was replaced in the team by Victor Anichebe – as big an indicator of a lack of form as you are ever likely to see.

In terms of striking options though, if Martinez doesn’t think it is worth persisting with Jelavic then presumably he will be looking to sign another centre-forward otherwise he will be left with only Aroune Kone and Anichebe with any proper first team experience. The new Blues’ boss is now linked with eternal misfit Scott Sinclair after seemingly giving up on Victor Moses, so perhaps he envisages a more central role for Kevin Mirallas, but still it looks like there is still some work to be done in order to fashion a forward line that carries a genuine, consistent threat in the Premier League.

Links with yet another Wigan player, James McCarthy, persist, but with figures of over £12 million being quoted it seems clear that deal will only happen in the event of either Marouane Fellaini or Leighton Baines leaving Goodison. However, everything seems to have gone a bit quiet in terms of both players, who were tipped as certs to be heading for Champions League clubs earlier in the summer.

Moyes would obviously love to have Baines at Manchester United, but a couple of stories recently give the impression that he’s been told that Everton’s refusal to sell is a genuine one – not one of those that actually mean ‘increase the offer and we can talk turkey’. As for Fellaini, we’ve said it before, where does he fit in at somewhere like United? Surely any side with genuine title aspirations would want a more creative player supporting the striker – not a target man as Fellaini pretty much was for many of his best games for Everton. That leaves the defensive midfield role that he isn’t consistent enough to be trusted with. Put it another way, Darron Gibson, who left United for a pittance was far better doing that job than Fellaini, and Michael Carrick, the current incumbent at Old Trafford, was one of their players of the season as they pissed the title.

If he doesn’t go to Arsenal, who seem to be desperate to spend a load of cash on anyone, just to show that they can, then it’s hard to see where he gets this big move that’s being predicted.

One final thing that was revealed this week was the deal that brought Gerard Deulofeu to Everton on loan stipulates that if he players 50% of the games while he is here then the Blues pay no loan fee. In which case you have to assume that the loudest cries of ‘Get the fucking Spanish kid on Martinez you cunt’ will come from the directors’ box and not some prick behind me in the Park End.

Other than that, we’ve been linked with some French defender – make of that what you will – but otherwise everyone still seems to be guessing in terms of how Everton are going to line up on the first day of the season.

A New Career In A New Town

deulofeu

Well, they are all back in training, doing fancy exercises around flag poles and ostentatiously ‘rehydrating’ wearing them weird monitoring sports bras, and it’s a far cry from the days when Richard Dunne was photographed struggling along at Bellefield with his bag-minder knees and chippy tits wobbling all over the place.

In fact, it’s all change even from this time last year, what with the new manager, coaches, players and, fuck it, even a fancy new badge on their pristine Mustang muscle car shirts. In the flesh, and from a bit of a distance, the controversial new Everton badge looks like that of some tiny Caribbean island’s piss poor cricket team, but it’s only here for another year so we’ll survive.

The Blues actually played a game against a decent side, Austria Vienna, and went down 2-1 – Apostolos Vellios scored the consolation goal with a ‘classic’ centre-forward’s header at the near post converting Leighton Baines’s cross from the left. Normally Everton beat some part-timers first before going down 2-0 to the first group of half-decent Northern European professionals they face, so in many ways this can probably be judged as progress already under Roberto Martinez.

But seriously though… it’s going to be interesting – well, almost certainly the absolute opposite, to be honest – to see how the debate about the merits of the new manager develops as Everton play more games, especially competitive ones. Online at least, you can almost be certain that there will a hangover from the David Moyes era in so much as every minty goal we concede will be attributed in some part to Martinez’s proven defensive naivety while every passage of decent attacking play is likely to be testament to the shackles coming off after the oppression of the Moyes the Merciless era.

The truth is rarely that straightforward though. Everton conceded plenty of horror goals under Moyes and also played a lot of very attractive winning football. From Martinez’s perspective, if he’s the intelligent football man that he is portrayed as he will surely be loathe to try and change too much too soon when he’s taken over a side that finished sixth in the Premier League. Defensively at least, if he switches to a back three immediately he will be taking a massive gamble.

Such a fundamental alteration to the team’s structure would bring a lot of pressure on him, not least from the players themselves. How would someone like Phil Jagielka, say, who is an England international on the back of playing within a system that comes naturally to him, react if he ends up being made to look a bit ‘Gary Caldwell’ by being asked to do things he’s not comfortable with?

Bear in mind that Martinez hasn’t come in, like most managers do, to pick up someone else’s shite, so there is not that pressing need to affect wholesale changes. He can’t do a Moyes or a Paolo Di Canio and get instant results from just improving the squad’s fitness, for instance, so what’s more likely is that he will look to make more subtle changes in the short term, perhaps to the disappointment of some supporters who are expecting to watch the Banzai Blues playing in 6-4 thrillers every other week next season.

Thus far Martinez has already strengthened the squad in terms of numbers – you wouldn’t exactly have been insanely jealous if any of the individuals he has brought in had gone and signed for West Ham or Sunderland, let’s be brutally honest, but Aroune Koné, who sounds like an ice cream they sell at Old Trafford, certainly offers something a bit different up front while Joel Robles seems to have been brought in as more of a live competitor for Tim Howard’s starting position than Jan Mucha or Stefan Wessels ever were.

Antolin Alcaraz sort of looks like a straight replacement for Johnny Heitinga should the Dutchman finally get the move he’s been rumoured to be looking for just about every summer since he arrived.

The young chap from Barcelona, Gerard Deulofeu is the wild card, clearly, but you have to be realistic about what you can expect from someone so young with almost no top level competitive experience. Bear in mind that Ross Barkley, for instance, is meant to be an absolute superstar within his own age group but has found the demands of the Premier League Thunderdome heavy going, and he hasn’t had to cope with moving to a new country and all that entails.

If we could just start the season now we’d certainly look a much healthier outfit than last time around, but the papers at least continue to agitate for moves away from Goodison for Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. How Martinez deals with replacing one or either of those pair will prove more taxing, and perhaps more revealing, than simply bulking out the squad by bringing in a load of fellas from Wigan.

Welcome back to hot soccer chat!

Everton 2 West Bromwich Albion 1

baines west brom

‘You can fuck off and take your mate’s fucking knee with you,’ is one of the more esoteric shouts heard at Goodison Park in recent times.

It came after Johnny Heitinga more or less summed himself up: after scoring the glorious last-minute winner at the weekend he started here and gifted West Bromwich Albion a goal that turned what should have been this season’s most straightforward win into yet another nail-biter.

David Moyes finally bit the bullet and dropped Nikica Jelavic, starting with Kevin Mirallas and Victor Anichebe up front and Phil Neville in midfield. It seemed a few changes too many, as it necessitated Leon Osman being shunted out to the wing where he’s never as effective as when he plays through the middle. It’s probably a bit of an indictment of how anaemic Jelavic has looked lately that without having a barn-stormer of a performance Anichebe still did enough that the Croatian’s absence was barely noticed.

One player who just keeps performing at a frighteningly high level though is Leighton Baines, and 28 minutes into what was a rather humdrum affair he had something of a Steven Gerrard moment – no, not defending himself and a gang of mates from a DJ who viciously threatened not to play the latest Matthew E White single – but rather taking the game by the scruff of the neck, in lieu of any better options, and smashing home a shot on the run that beat Ben Foster at the angle of his near post and crossbar.

Baines is just wonderful. Technically amazing, unassuming, his own man and removed enough from the general titheadery of football to be effortlessly, unintentionally, genuinely cool as fuck. He embodies almost everything we think of when we consider the abstract notion ‘Everton’.

He notched again on the stroke of half-time when Anichebe was caught as he spun onto Steven Pienaar’s pass on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area. Baines drilled the penalty home.

West Brom were poor and never posed any sort of threat until James Morrison was replace by Shane Long on 61 minutes. The Irishman’s sheer enthusiasm and willingness to just ‘leg about loads’ gave his teammates a lift that paid off after only three minutes. The otherwise subdued Romelu Lukaku beat the Everton offside trap and although Tim Howard seemed a bit slow off his line he managed to force the Belgian striker wide enough that his tame shot at goal looked easy for Heitinga to smash clear of the six-yard box.

In fact it was easy. So easy that the World Cup finalist chose to take a touch first – a shit one that spun up in the air and allowed Long to pile in and head it into the Park End goal. Some of the expletives aimed at the Dutchman haven’t been heard since that bit at the end of Cape Fear when Robert De Niro is going down on the sinking boat, speaking in tongues.

Obviously Everton’s collective arses went for a spell then, culminating with the moment when Graham Dorrans almost snapped Howard’s crossbar with a pearler of a free-kick. Eventually the Blues got their composure back though and should have ‘closed the game out’ with another goal when Pienaar struck the foot of the post and Osman lashed the follow up into the Glwadys Street stand. It was a bad miss, although seeing it again on the telly showed that he did have to get a bit of height on his shot to avoid the defender sliding in – just not that much.

Going on in the background to all this was the transfer deal – or saga, if you are being pedantic – to try and bring FC Twente’s Dutch international midfielder Leroy Fer to Goodison Park. It all started very positively until the rangy racehorse owner had a medical that raised concerns over his knee. It seems that Everton went back to Twente and stated a desire to renegotiate the terms of the transfer based on these results and, at the time of writing this, the whole deal is dead.

It’s up to you how you choose to interpret that. One way, and it’s no doubt a popular one, is that it’s typical Everton who can’t do anything in a straightforward manner – they clearly tried to ‘nickel and dime’ Twente, the small-time gets.

An alternative spin is that the club were being very professional, in the strictest sense of the word. The medical staff did their job properly and the executives acted on their results: Fer represented more of a risk than originally thought and so Everton wanted Twente to take some of that burden. ‘Oh sod it, we’ll just give them what they want and keep our fingers crossed’ is perhaps more along the lines of how things were done in the past, and indeed still are at cash-sodden clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea, but that doesn’t make it the right way. With news that even Liverpool are looking to make players’ contracts more performance-orientated it does seem that some clubs are finally waking up to the fact that they have to curb the excesses of the past.

This sort of prudence won’t ever increase your chances of short-term success – City, United and Chelsea have shown that spunking oceans of cash is the only way to do that – but it can certainly help reduce the chances of long-term catastrophic failure. Essentially, some of the people paid to look after football clubs are finally starting to question the Premier League’s ‘shit or bust’ economic model, as unsexy as that might be for sports pages, agents and fans.

There are a few hours left of the transfer window left now and it looks as if the Blues have missed out on another target with Seville stating that only ‘crazy money’ would make them sell striker Alvaro Negredo. Presumably that means crazy amounts of cash and they are not referring to the piles of hallucinatory magic money that Everton often do business in, because we’ve got yards of that.

That leaves us with a teenage right-back from Barnsley whose nickname is almost certainly going to be ‘Paintstrophy, lad’. And even he’s not even signed yet.

Just turn off Sky Sports and go and read a book.

Swansea City And That

file under cuntish

Before the start of this season few people would have had this game down as an ‘eagerly anticipated clash’ but the way the ‘campaign’ – terrible word but it saves us saying season again – has unfolded for both clubs, this ‘encounter’ – same again – has an intriguing look about it.

The match at the Liberty Stadium encapsulated Everton’s season so far and, to a certain extent, this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons – we actually used it twice there but possibly got away with it. Everton absolutely murdered the home side for long stretches and eventually ran out 3-1 winners but that only tells part of the story: as well as squandering a ton of chances to make the scoreline even more emphatic they were caught on the break repeatedly and just before half-time Swansea might have actually levelled the scores and changed the outcome completely.

Michael Laudrup’s team are mustard on the break and they will certainly look to soak up Everton pressure on Saturday and then spring counter-attacks when the opportunity arises. The onus is on the Blues then to pin them back and keep them chasing the ball to the point where they start to get dispirited and doubt themselves when the time comes to try and commit men forward.

Their midweek win at Stamford Bridge showed just what they are all about and underlined once again how cool their star man Michu is when presented with a sight of goal. Both goals on Wednesday night were very similar, with Michu and then Danny Graham pouncing – yeah, that’s right, pouncing – on Branislav Ivanovich errors. When you are long-haired and slightly Christy-looking like Michu your finish gets noticed by everyone whereas if you are Graham and resemble one of the lads off the stacker trucks in the Wernham Hogg warehouse you barely get a mention. Such is life.

That result against Chelsea will have certainly given Swansea a boost then in terms of confidence but Goodison Park is one of the last places they would want to visit only three days later.

It will be Marouane Fellaini’s first home game back following his three match ban and if the newspapers are to be believed it could well be one of his last. Many of them are of the opinion that there’s a release clause in his contract somewhere north of £22 million and that Chelsea are prepared to activate it. That fee is the equivalent of 11 Michu’s – the Spaniard is has become a standard unit of measurement now, the transfer fee equivalent of London buses, full-sized football pitches and areas the size of Rafa’s shadow.

We’ve been through this whole Fellaini to leave thing countless times now so there’s really no point sweating it. It is worth pointing out though what a snidey development these provisions in contracts are though. Essentially, when you negotiate a new deal you insist that if you actually justify your pay rise then not only do you have the right to move elsewhere unopposed, but there should be a limit on how much money the club can make on the deal –therefore maximising the amount you can leverage in terms of a signing fee. That said, no one forces the clubs to agree to these terms in the first place so they only have themselves to blame when players and agents exploit them.

Wigan’s James McCarthy is said to be the player David Moyes sees as a replacement for Fellaini, even though their styles are not really alike. The young Republic of Ireland midfield rarely scores but he does look a good player though – big, quick and all action, sort of like a Jack Rodwell who doesn’t mind getting his kit muddy.