If the January sales represents a misnomer at the best of times, that is particularly true on Merseyside now. Liverpool have already spent £75 million on Virgil van Dijk. If and when Everton complete the £25million signing of Cenk Tosun, their overall expenditure will reach the £100 million mark.
And there it should stop, at least at Goodison Park. And not for one reason, but several. The first is that Everton, scarred by last summer’s £140 million spending spree and subsequent descent into the relegation zone, ought to know buying is no short-cut to success. That ought to have taught them that a more coherent recruitment policy is required.
A more pertinent issue in the short term is that, if they lose at Anfield on Friday, their season will be effectively over. Sam Allardyce may be a relegation firefighter, but that blaze was extinguished within weeks of his appointment. Everton will not go down, just as they will not finish in the top six. They need not panic buy or chase the dream.
And after a frantic autumn, they will have a more leisurely spring that scarcely necessitates stockpiling players. Go out of the FA Cup and Everton will have 16 games to go, most spaced out so that the squad should not be stretched. Their injury problems are easing. Yannick Bolasie and James McCarthy have already returned from lengthy absences and Seamus Coleman will follow. Even if Ross Barkley, another on the comeback trail, is sold, Everton are not exactly short of prospective No. 10s. As it is, they could dispense with Davy Klaassen and the chances are that few would even notice.
The one glaring vacancy in an imbalanced squad is for a goalscoring No. 9. The interest in Tosun is explainable; it would have been better had it come five months earlier. The prolific Romelu Lukaku has not been replaced. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has showed promise in a series of valiant displays. Oumar Niasse has a better goal-per-game ratio while reinforcing the impression a trier is not really good enough. Sandro Ramirez has offered too few indications of how he scored 14 goals in La Liga last season.
But there is no such need for a quick fix elsewhere. Allardyce has spoken of signing full-backs but Jonjoe Kenny has been a precocious presence on the right. On the left, there will be a requirement for a long-term replacement for Leighton Baines but rather than paying out for a deputy, Everton would be better off addressing the curious cases of Luke Garbutt and Brendan Galloway, who both showed promise in past years, while remembering Cuco Martina has brought solidity as a stopgap. Allardyce spent an excessive £26 million on left-backs at Crystal Palace last January; Everton could do without a repeat.
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Likewise, in future years, Everton certainly want a centre-back as Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka near the end. In the immediacy, the promising Mason Holgate ought to be afforded more opportunities. Michael Keane should get the chances to regain the form and confidence he mislaid under Ronald Koeman.
Perhaps most pertinently, there is the midfield scenario. Allardyce has admitted he is unlikely to sign Steven Nzonzi, but pointedly referred to the Frenchman he wanted to call up for England as “one of the better buys in my lifetime.” Sevilla’s Nzonzi is playing well enough to reportedly attract Arsenal’s interest. He is also a 29-year-old defensive midfielder.
Everton are overloaded with younger alternatives. Idrissa Gueye has arguably been their best outfield player this season. Morgan Schneiderlin, decidedly mixed this term, excelled in the second half of last season. McCarthy’s forceful display against Manchester United was a reminder of his capabilities. Mo Besic should not be forgotten either. Even if one – McCarthy, presumably – is dispensed with to bring in Nzonzi, it scarcely makes sense. And it is hard to avoid the feeling that the knock-on effect would be fewer sightings of the more dynamic Tom Davies, the youngster who was first sidelined by summer signings.
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Because while Allardyce may see this is an opportunity to spend funds he has not always enjoyed elsewhere and to target a higher calibre of player, Everton have to think of their future, and that extends beyond the manager’s 18-month deal that many would rather was a six-month contract. There was a short-termism to the appointment of a 63-year-old who keeps teams up but who has not finished in the top eight for a decade. There should not be more in the transfer market.
Because while the former England manager is not as one-dimensional as the stereotype suggests or, indeed, as Tony Pulis, a manager with whom he is often compared, there tend to be common denominators among some of his signings: many are more physical than technical, many are ageing and many deliver more for him than successors, partly because they are better suited to his brand of football. His three Special K’s – Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri – were pivotal in keeping Sunderland up and, for different reasons, have been of negligible benefit to the Wearsiders since.
It is simplistic to say that the worst-case scenario is that Everton end up with old, expensive cloggers whose prime asset is heading. Allardyce can point to some very different recruits on his CV. His overall record in the market may contain more hits than misses, but the Merseysiders could do without their plans being complicated by an Andy Carroll-esque signing who can only play a certain way and whose presence provides Allardyce’s heirs with problems.
Especially when they have a group of youngsters – Calvert-Lewin, Holgate, Kenny, Davies and Ademola Lookman in particular – who could be a boon to the next manager. It is easiest to sacrifice youngsters for signings but if Everton have comparatively little to play for, this is a particularly good and rare chance to persist with them. Because, once he has found that prolific striker Everton need, perhaps the best thing Allardyce can do in the transfer market is to leave a bigger budget and a blanker canvas for his successor.