Everton transfer window state of play with Amadou Onana decision and several players departing

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Sean Dyche the head coach / manager of Everton and Kevin Thelwell, Director Of Football at Everton during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton FC at Etihad Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Everton’s squad will undergo its most significant overhaul in recent years this summer, regardless of the budget given to Sean Dyche and Kevin Thelwell.

Uncertainty reigns at Finch Farm amid a flailing takeover that looks set to end in further instability and with the club braced for challenges as it tries to comply with Premier League spending rules for the first time in three years.

But the coming transfer window represents an opportunity to build a squad in a sensible and sustainable manner - a key requirement if the club is to have any chance of laying the foundations for longer term progress.

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Dyche and Thelwell are well into their preparations for next season. With Everton having secured Premier League survival weeks ago, they have had a headstart on their plans and, for the first time since his appointment in February 2022, Thelwell has been able to plot while safe in the knowledge he can offer Premier League football to his targets.

The benefits have only been limited, however, with the lack of boardroom certainty undermining his efforts. Dyche recently said the pair were effectively having to “juggle with sand” as a result. At this stage of the last two seasons discussions included contingency plans for a drop to the Championship. This time the Plan B, C and so on centre on who might leave the club, when, and on what terms.

Everton expect to sell players this summer, Thelwell acknowledged before the final home game of the season against Sheffield United, a reality Dyche echoed after the final whistle of the win. Those departures will colour what is possible when it comes to incomings.

Player sales may be needed to give Everton a chance of reducing its three year profit and sustainability (PSR) losses below the £105m threshold by June 30, the end of the football financial year. The club’s PSR losses for the last two years mean there is just over £38m of wriggle room in this current year - a concern given last year’s PSR loss was £62.7m. The lack of boardroom and coaching pay-offs, which totalled around £10m, and the increased merit payments from the higher league finish could help reduce losses compared to last season, but concern remains.

Such worry would only increase should Everton lose an argument with the Premier League over millions of pounds in interest payments on loans the club believes should be excluded from PSR calculations. Defeat in that battle, deferred by an independent commission until after the season, could lead to another points deduction next season and would also have an impact on the club’s financial calculations that would make compliance with PSR even harder - making sales in the first fortnight of the transfer window crucial to staving off the threat of more sanctions. It is lost on no-one at the club that the eight points deducted from Everton will cost the club millions in lost merit payments from what would have been close to top half finish, a cruel side effect of PSR sanctions that will hurt Everton's efforts to become more sustainable this summer. It is with those future battles in mind that the club’s recent withdrawal of its appeal against the two point punishment handed down for its second PSR breach should be set against. Showing a willingness to co-operate over such matters has already been shown to have its benefits.

Player sales may therefore be needed to avoid another PSR breach as well as to provide the club with additional funds should they be needed to help cover costs within the wider operation in the absence of the monthly funding from 777 Partners that has kept Everton going since September but which will likely soon stop with the US group engulfed in trouble that is expected to end its hopes of completing a takeover of the club.

Everton do have players who could command high fees and who are attracting serious interest - Jarrad Branthwaite and Amadou Onana among them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is also on the radar of several clubs after a season in which he appears to have overcome his fitness problems and which he is finishing with a flourish. Manchester United have tracked Branthwaite while several clubs, including Arsenal and Newcastle United, have had an interest in Onana. Calvert-Lewin, alongside fellow senior players Ben Godfrey, Michael Keane and Abdoulaye Doucoure, will enter the final 12 months of his contract this summer unless new terms are agreed, meaning the club will have a decision to make should a bid come in for any of those players - though there is the opportunity to extend the contract of Doucoure, who this week re-iterated his happiness on Merseyside.

Every player is likely to have a price this summer but two issues will hinder the club’s ability to raise funds on its own terms. Should the club need to sell in advance of June 30 then Everton’s bargaining position is reduced. The club found itself in this position with Richarlison two summers ago and believed they were strong-armed into accepting a fee £20m below market valuation as a result. The other issue is that other teams in the Premier League are also concerned about their proximity to the PSR threshold, which might make them reluctant to spend before the beginning of the new financial year on July 1. The two unprecedented deductions handed to Everton this season have had a chilling impact on the transfer ambitions of some. This includes Newcastle and Arsenal, who signed David Raya - the only goalkeeper with more league clean sheets than Jordan Pickford this season - on an initial loan deal and deferred the payment to make the move permanent as a precaution. The picture does change after June 30, and Arsenal’s spending power could be further boosted by the sales of several squad players expected to be made available, though whether Onana, or even a central midfielder, is a priority is questionable.

Whatever happens with player sales, the wage bill is likely to be reduced. Seamus Coleman has been offered a new deal and the club has an option to extend the contract of Idrissa Gueye, while Dyche has heaped praise on Ashley Young recently. Decisions on Gueye and Young will revolve around the importance of their experience and the trust Dyche has in them, and whether that can be replaced in a summer of limited funds. But the futures of Andre Gomes and Dele may be away from Merseyside. Arnaut Danjuma’s loan deal has not been a success but Dyche is keen to explore a return for Jack Harrison, who is popular with the manager and dressing room. The nature of any talks will be heavily influenced by whether his parent club Leeds United secure a return to the top flight through the Championship play-offs.

One key question for Everton’s squad building exercise is whether, should the club bring in significant sums from the sales of high-profile players, any of those funds will be made available to Dyche and Thelwell. Just a small percentage could be vital to raising the quality of the squad that remains. Another question is whether the club will have the freedom to move early enough in the window to exploit the free transfer market for replacements for the players expected to depart over the weeks that follows. There is little doubt Thelwell will look to take advantage of the loan market this summer. This is something he has done with varying success in his two summer windows so far. In his first, Conor Coady offered a crucial boost to the dressing room that was desperately needed after both Yerry Mina and Ben Godfrey started the first game of the season at centre back only to suffer long term injuries in the first 90 minutes of the campaign. Ruben Vinagre was rarely used, however. Last season, there was a belief Everton secured two of the best temporary switches available in Danjuma and Harrison. While Harrison has made an impression, Danjuma's lack of gametime, even from the bench, hinted at a possible disconnect in the thought process behind the deal. It is likely the loan market will once again be used to boost attacking options with money for permanent deals scarce. One source of optimism at Everton has been the impact of Youssef Chermiti in recent weeks. Bought as a development signing who would typically have gone on loan this season, he has shown glimpses of real promise that suggest he could have an impact in the first team next year.

The club may be able to stretch to small transfer payments but any incomings will be dependent on the financial outlook, which will be influenced by ownership, PSR and sales developments. Dyche prefers to work with smaller squads but his options have been stretched throughout this campaign. A key ambition this summer will be to create a bigger pool of players whose attributes align with his tactics and who he can trust, with it being clear this season that he has been operating with a threadbare inner-circle. The hope will be that even with stretched resources it may be possible to at least move from the Frankenstein squad built by managers and directors of football with contrasting ambitions to a core group of players who provide greater depth and a more consistent playing identity for Dyche.