Everton transfer state of play - Amadou Onana stance, potential Jack Harrison, Kalvin Phillips issues

TUBIZE, BELGIUM - MAY 31 : Onana Amadou midfielder of Belgium arrives prior to the friendly games against Montenegro, Luxemburg and Slovakia at the RBFA Headquarters at the Martin's Red Hotel on May 31, 2024 in Tubize, Belgium, 31/05/2024 ( Photo by Tomas Sisk / Photo News via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Tomas Sisk / Photo News via Getty Images)

A good summer for Kevin Thelwell and Everton remains a possibility despite the club’s ongoing financial and ownership issues.

The looming transfer window is likely to be a busy one for the club regardless of a lack of funds, with player sales expected to be set against the backdrop of the best opportunity Thelwell has had to reshape the patchwork squad he inherited in February 2022.

But in order to exploit this chance, the director of football and those around him will have to pull off a highwire juggling act with Everton’s ambitions at the mercy of other clubs.

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This is set to be another window in which the club will have to be savvy if it is to strengthen in a sustainable fashion. At the centre of any plan is creating a squad that is strong enough to ensure the final season at Goodison Park is one that paves the way for the new waterfront stadium to host Premier League football when it opens at the start of the 2025/26 campaign.

Confidence was boosted by the performance under Sean Dyche, who oversaw a season in which the Blues would have mounted a challenge for the top half of the table had it not been for two unprecedented points deductions. But there is an understanding there can be no room for complacency with little money to spare and, in Leicester City and Southampton, the arrival from the Championship of two clubs with Premier League infrastructures that are expected to provide sterner competition than the three promoted sides that went straight back down this season - and who would have been cut adrift weeks earlier had it not been for the points deductions that dragged Everton and Nottingham Forest into danger.

That requirement to be pragmatic underpinned the first moves of the summer. The option to extend the contract of Idrissa Gueye for a further year followed his displays across three games that confirmed the club's survival earlier than expected. The Senegal international was the unlikely hero as he popped up with goals in the home wins over Forest and Brentford and was central to the aggressive approach that allowed the team to overcome Liverpool at Goodison in the league for the first time since 2010.

Gueye is neither cheap nor, at 34, young. But he is a known quantity and securing his presence was key in an area that is undergoing upheaval.

The club is yet to confirm that Ashley Young and Seamus Coleman have signed their extensions but both players have repeatedly made positive noises in public since the end of the season. While neither can be deemed a long-term solution they are each vastly experienced, trusted by staff and team-mates and seen as key figures in a dressing room that could be tested again.

The Blues suffered from having a threadbare squad this season and with departures elsewhere, securing Gueye, Coleman and Young is a cost-effective way of maintaining a core of football intelligence without having to heap further pressure on the recruitment team to find replacements.

That is because outgoings are expected, and it is likely Everton will seek to move before the end of the month as part of efforts to strengthen the club’s profit and sustainability (PSR) position. The Blues have failed to comply with the three year, £105m loss threshold over the past two years, leading to respective deductions of six points and two points. Figures that formed part of the second of those cases revealed the club can only afford to lose just shy of £40m from a PSR perspective in order to be compliant at the end of the football financial year on June 30.

Last year, club losses of £89m led to a PSR loss of £62.7m once allowable deductions were made. While it is difficult to assess club finances from afar, and both an increase in merit payments due to this season’s higher league finish and the lack of pay-offs for departing coaching and boardroom staff will help reduce some of this year’s losses, the 2022/23 accounts did include the £40m sale of academy product Anthony Gordon. Sales have continued into this accounting period, including for Demarai Gray and Alex Iwobi, but an outgoing before the end of the month - as the club did with Richarlison two years ago - would strengthen Everton’s hopes of complying with the rules and avoiding another points deduction.

This process would be made harder should the club lose an outstanding hearing with the Premier League over the way it is has accounted for interest on loans it claims were for the new stadium development, which is why it is only fair the league acts within its power to resolve that dispute while the club still has an opportunity to react should it lose - though with the transfer window opening in 10 days such clarity is looking unlikely.

In a move to manage expectations heading into the summer, Thelwell pointed to the likelihood of selling players in his programme notes for the final home game of the season against Sheffield United, and pointed to regulatory issues as part of that context.

This is one key area that will define Everton’s summer. Amadou Onana, Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have attracted the most attention to date. All three hold value to the Blues but there is an acceptance that Onana is ambitious and recent comments while away with Belgium again hinted at a desire from the midfielder to test himself at a higher level. While the 22-year-old’s talent is not in dispute, of Everton’s biggest assets he is the one Dyche has turned to the least - indeed in that pivotal week in April he started in none of the three matches against Forest, Liverpool and Brentford. While former club Lille would benefit from a sell-on clause, should a market develop for Onana before the end of this month then his sale could allow the club to strengthen its PSR position without losing a player who is right at the heart of Dyche’s strategy.

Everton had previously benchmarked his value by the deal that took Moises Caicedo to Chelsea for more than £100m but the market has changed considerably since last summer. Arsenal have been long-term admirers but they may be unable to move before the end of the month due to its own proximity to PSR limits - which is why they signed David Raya on a loan now, pay later deal - while Mikel Arteta is also thought to be looking at other targets. Manchester United retain an interest in the player as well but reported attention from Barcelona and Bayern Munich, where Belgian legend Vincent Kompany has just taken over, could also prove helpful.

Should Onana be the early departure then it would give Everton a stronger hand in staving off interest in Jarrad Branthwaite, who has emerged as one of Europe’s top defensive prospects and made his senior England debut on Monday night, or at least ensuring he attracts bids that are of fair market value. Branthwaite has attracted attention from several clubs, with Manchester United among those interested, though Dyche would be happy for him to remain at the heart of one of the top flight’s best defences.

Calvert-Lewin is also seen as a figure who would be difficult to replace and the club has entered into talks over a new deal for the striker, whose current contract expires next summer - making the Blues vulnerable to offers for him over the coming months. Newcastle United are one of several clubs with an interest in Calvert-Lewin, who found fitness and, later in the campaign, form, under Dyche.

The other of the club’s most prized assets is Jordan Pickford. No player has done more to protect Everton’s top-flight status than the England number one, who the ECHO understands is content at Goodison with his family happy and settled in the north west. Any departure would depend on a market developing for him and, with loyalty important to the player, he would want any deal to be beneficial to the club that took a chance on him, as was a motive when he left Sunderland for Merseyside after his boyhood club’s relegation in 2017. While there is an understanding that there is a point where an offer may be so important it goes above his head, Dyche is adamant that he will be included in any discussions that impact the football side of the club, including player sales.

The exit of Andre Gomes was of little surprise, though the former Barcelona man played a greater role in this campaign than was expected. His exit frees up further wages and is another move in Thelwell’s long-term effort to make sense of the Frankenstein assortment of players from the different managers, directors of football and ill-thought spending that characterised the early years of Farhad Moshiri’s time as majority shareholder.

Arnaut Danjuma and Jack Harrison have returned to their parent clubs following their loan deals, leaving Everton with just one recognised senior wide midfielder on the books in Dwight McNeil, plus the academy product Lewis Dobbin. This makes wide attacking areas a priority for the club this summer and the return of Harrison is a key ambition.

Harrison was valued, enjoyed his time on Merseyside and has a clause in his deal with Leeds United that means he can now go on loan again following the Elland Road outfit's failure to gain immediate promotion from the Championship. Leeds will be looking to make sales this summer, however, and would likely prefer to sell him to alleviate their own financial demands.

It is a similar story with Kalvin Phillips, another player who is of interest to Everton. His availability is in little doubt - there is an acceptance his move to Manchester City has not worked out. But City would prefer a sale, whereas the Blues would only likely be able to afford a loan move - and even that could be expensive.

Harrison and Phillips represent another area in which Thelwell has to juggle the need to build a squad, preferably in time for players to undergo Dyche’s rigorous pre-season, with the lack of money available to him. Both parent clubs may seek to push any move for the players late into the summer in the hope of securing a transfer fee rather than further loan deals.

The matter of the loan market is also of note given Everton’s need to better exploit it this summer. Across the previous two of Thelwell’s reign the use of loan spots has been hit and miss. Conor Coady was a useful addition in the aftermath of serious injuries to Yerry Mina and Ben Godfrey in the first game of the 2022/23 campaign but Ruben Vinagre barely featured after his switch from Sporting. Last season, Harrison’s move was a success but Danjuma’s was not. The Blues' recruitment team believed they had pulled off a coup by securing the Villarreal winger but he was unable to find room in Dyche’s plans - at least until his season was essentially ended with an ankle injury at Fulham in January just as an opportunity appeared to open up to him.

In terms of outgoing loans, Mason Holgate and Neal Maupay will return from Sheffield United and Brentford respectively. Neither appear set to be central to the club’s plans with first-team football driving the desire for Holgate to move last season, initially to Southampton. While Brentford did not take up their option to sign Maupay on a permanent deal they may yet do so depending on what happens in the summer, with Ivan Toney likely to the subject of interest and the club waiting to assess the recovery of new signing Igor Thiago, who penned a five-year deal in January but picked up an injury while he remained with Club Brugge until the close of the campaign.

Everton accepted that teenage striker Youssef Chermiti would typically have been sent on a developmental loan this season but the small squad at Dyche’s disposal prevented this. He showed glimpses of real promise during a flurry of appearances late in the campaign and whether he will see greater exposure to the first team next year will depend on what unfolds this summer.

Godfrey is another of the Everton players whose future is at the centre of speculation. Rarely used in the first half of the season, the defenderwas the subject of interest from AC Milan in January but the club refused to sanction his departure. He later became a consistent feature at right-back but he will enter the final year of his deal this summer. AC Milan, who have had success with providing a home for English talent such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fikayo Tomori in recent years, are reportedly interested again. Godfrey has been a victim of his versatility at Everton and does see himself foremost as a centre-back, which could influence his personal approach to any interest.

Solving the long-term situation on the right of the defence also remains a key issue within the squad. Godfrey featured most prominently in that position in the second half of the campaign and, even if Coleman stays as is expected, he has had extended periods out with injury in recent seasons. This is a big summer, therefore, for Nathan Patterson. The 22-year-old is yet to cement himself in Dyche’s thoughts but has suffered misfortune with injury whenever he has had consistent exposure to the first team. The ECHO understands the Scotland international is recovering well from hamstring surgery after injury ended his season early and there is hope he will be in a position to make a case for greater inclusion during pre-season.

While this will be a busy summer for Everton, and another in which Dyche and Thelwell have to operate under continued instability above them, there remains the potential for improvement. And though PSR may lead to tough decisions being made before this month concludes, one real positive is that the club’s cashflow should stabilise even without the loans that have been provided by 777 Partners since September. As well as money from season-ticket sales, the Blues are due their final payment of this season from the Premier League in the coming weeks as their merit payment is finalised. The first tranche of next summer’s TV money is also on the horizon.

This might not change the transfer budget but will at least release some of the pressure behind the scenes as the club attempts to juggle regulatory compliance with building a competitive team for next season.