The dust has settled on Everton’s dramatic escape from relegation, if not the relief that accompanied victory over Crystal Palace, yet awkward realities linger for the club’s hierarchy and Frank Lampard as they seek to avoid a repeat next season. That was underlined even before the transfer window opened.
Almost three weeks after Everton extended their top-flight residence into a 69th year the owner, Farhad Moshiri, sent an open letter to the supporters who played an instrumental, impassioned role in the survival. He apologised for mistakes that produced a campaign of “frustration and fear” but there was no mention of his ill-fated decision to appoint Rafael Benítez as manager at the start of it all, no promise to stop meddling in the work of football professionals or to cease listening to the agents who have cost him a fortune over the past six years.
On the plus side, Moshiri did recognise “how we have not always spent significant amounts of money wisely”, admitted “we need to do better” and reaffirmed his commitment to delivering “a fully funded stadium” at Bramley Moore dock. And it was communicated via the club he owns, not through Jim White.
The club have also this week incurred the wrath of the government and anti-gambling campaigners after announcing a shirt sponsorship deal worth more than £10m a year with Stake.com, the casino and sports betting platform. The government had wanted the Premier League, which held its AGM on the day Everton announced the deal, to introduce a voluntary ban on such partnerships and has warned it may go further with its gambling reforms in light of the club’s decision. The deal comes two years after Everton terminated sponsorship from another betting company, SportPesa, amid supporter opposition.
“In an ideal world we would look to have a different type of sponsor on the front of our shirts like all football clubs would,” the chief executive, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, told the club’s AGM in January 2020. “But that is a commercial decision that we make as a football club.” In the real world, Everton have suspended multimillion-pound commercial and sponsorship deals with companies connected to the oligarch Alisher Usmanov after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and they have run up staggering losses of £372.6m over the past three financial years. The club record deal with Stake.com is a commercially driven response.
On the playing side, Richarlison has cast inevitable doubt over his future while on international duty with Brazil and Newcastle are among the suitors for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The potential sale of one or both of Everton’s leading strikers will have a major bearing on Lampard’s summer as he commences the process of constructing a squad in his image. The expected arrival of James Tarkowski on a free transfer would be a sensible start for a team that lacked a reliable, authoritative presence in central defence last season. It also reflects the financial realities at a club working to meet the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.
In Lampard, Everton have a manager who has established an immediate rapport with a once-divided fanbase and showed his tactical flexibility in shifting from a preferred high-pressing, possession-based game to the deep, defensive unit that eventually averted the financial catastrophe of relegation. He accepts that fresh questions will be asked of his managerial abilities, and of the club, before his first full season in charge.
Lampard said: “This is football and every year it restarts and then you say: ‘OK, well what are you going to do now?’ There will be different questions next year and I will be ready for them but I think that goes for all us. Questions will remain on the players and the club, because when you work in this business with a huge club and a great history and great support, the questions drive you to look inside yourself and to ask: ‘Well how can I be better? Can I take this club forward? What decisions can I make and we as a club make?’ There is nothing wrong with that.”
Lampard says he has established a close working relationship with Everton’s new director of football, Kevin Thelwell, who has implemented changes in the academy structure and had identified transfer targets with the manager before the club’s Premier League status was secured. Lampard insists the hierarchy is in alignment, which has not always been the case in the Moshiri years.
“My personal relationships with the owner, with Denise and the chairman [Bill Kenwright] have absolutely stayed the same – they have been rock solid,” Lampard said. “Through moments like pre-Man United when people were questioning whether I would stay at the club. The conversations behind the scenes were of absolute support, of ‘What do we need to get to where we want to be?’ and that is still the same now.
“A huge plus for me has been working with Kevin. Kevin coming in has helped me and is helping the club because he is very much at the centre of things looking at how we can be better across the club. We are very close, we are very open, we are two new people coming into the job and we are hungry for the best and we are working very well. That has been a big help for me.”
The departure of several big earners this summer will be of further assistance to Lampard, who received some education in Everton, the squad, its limitations and its possibilities during his 21 games last season. The willingness of Moshiri and the club’s executive to learn from their mistakes would be another.