While things are still financially grim at Everton Football Club, there’s reason to be optimistic about their immediate future, both on the pitch and off.
The Toffees are in the midst of their best run of form in 2012. After handing impressive defeats to the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, Everton made short work of Blackpool in the FA Cup. With a beatable Sunderland squad next up on the cup docket, there’s every reason to believe that The People’s Club will make an appearance at Wembley.
David Moyes has once again displayed a touch of transfer window genius, having enough faith in little-used Denis Stracqualursi to deal away Louis Saha in favor of the Argentine. Knowing Landon Donovan would be fast returning to America no matter how the fans pleaded with him to stay, Moyes brought Steven Pienaar back into the fold to shore up midfield.
Despite Everton’s probable mid-table finish, things are looking up at Goodison Park, but what of the club’s future? There will no doubt be summer overtures from the bigger clubs for Everton’s big names (Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Jack Rodwell etc) as there were in the past. With currently no entity in the wings brave enough to buy the club, Moyes’ summer spending will again be on a shoestring budget.
So come the summer of 2012, the club should be scouring the globe for bargain players. They’ve already tipped their hand on a few prospects that would fortify all areas on the pitch. Consider these six foreign players as possible summer additions to the squad, be it by season-long loan or outright purchase.
Not much is known about the mysterious Israeli midfielder Nir Biton, but word of his stellar play for MS Ashdod has reached English shores.
At only 20 years of age, Biton attracted the attention of Manchester City, Aston Villa and Everton this past January. City seemed primed to make a £2 million move for the youngster towards the transfer deadline, but after a one-week trial with the club, no final deal materialized.
Compared to the likes of Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas, Biton’s upside would be an asset to an Everton club that could always use more creativity in the midfield. That City could not complete the deal leaves Biton open for other suitors, an opportunity the Toffees should not miss.
Still, £2 million for a largely untested youngster seems to me a little high. A loan deal seems more appropriate for the short term.
Out-of-favor Ajax striker Mounir El Hamdaoui was on the market in January, but no deal with any of the many interested clubs was finalized. Among the possible suitors were Everton, but the club settled on Nikica Jelavic instead.
Still, the Toffees could use striking depth, giving them flexibility in their formation choices. El Hamdaoui is a solid prospect, once named Dutch Footballer of the Year after his 2008-2009 season with AZ. In arguably the best campaign of his career, El Hamdaoui finished with 23 goals in 31 matches, one more than Ajax’s talented Luis Suarez.
Nicknamed The Wizard of Kralingen, El Hamdaoui moved to Ajax in 2010 and was reunited with his old Tottenham coach Mortin Jol. However, a mediocre season led Jol to resign, ushering in Frank de Boer as his replacement. El Hamdaoui and de Boer have since rarely seen eye to eye, and now the striker can’t get a game.
Due to his history and skill, El Hamdaoui wouldn’t ordinarily come cheap, but his desperation for regular football and his need to leave Ajax might lower his asking price. He’s a proven goal-scorer that Everton should keep their eyes on.
The Maltese Bjorn Kristensen has been on Everton’s radar for some months now, and there are signs that he could join the club in the near future.
Currently plying his trade in Malta for Hibernians FC, the 18-year-old Kristensen came to Goodison Park for a one-week trial recently. The youngster trained primarily with the reserves side, probably the spot where he’ll first be introduced such a signing take place.
Usually deployed as a holding midfielder for Hibs, Kristensen could provide depth behind Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson. Obviously a little too young to immediately crack the first team, the Malta man would still gain valuable top-flight experience and be one to watch for the future.
A lone deal or a purchase at a relatively cheap price this summer should be on the table as the Everton front office moves forward.
Already having plumbed the depths of Greece for tasty striker Apostolos Vellios, Everton might return to the cash-strapped nation for another prospect.
Everton officials have scouted Kostas Manolas, a 20-year-old central defender for AEK Athens for some time now. Most of the talk occurred around early January, but nothing came of it this time around.
Still, the idea of installing more help in the center of defense might be a wise move. Other clubs might go in for players like Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga over the summer, making depth in that area essential.
Again, we’re talking about another young player with little experience at the top level, but Manolas isn’t too green. The young man has been getting solid time in Athens and has even been called up to the national team.
Still, the all-important money question must be asked. Manolas makes about €300K each year out of his just-renewed three-year deal, so as a loan prospect he’s in Everton’s price range. An outright purchase might not be the best option unless the club is sold on the Greek, and since he didn’t make the cut in January, some issues still need to be worked out.
David Moyes has been following the fortunes of Mexican center back Hector Moreno since his days at AZ, but the now Espanyol-crested 23-year-old has recently attracted high-profile attention.
With clubs like Real Madrid, Juventus and Palermo also expressing interest, it’s hard to imagine that the Toffees could enter a winning bid. Still, their past interest might signal that Moreno is in their price range.
The Mexican international has starting potential for Everton should their current lineup change over the summer. He was decent in South Africa and was a large part of Mexico’s Gold Cup win last year.
If equitable terms could be agreed upon, Moreno seems to be a good option in the back. The only question is if Everton can splash the cash.
Still playing for Bayern Munich after publicly showing interest in moving to England over the January transfer window, Danijel Pranjic could be another defender Everton might pick up in the summer.
Since falling out of favor with the Bavarian coaching staff, Pranjic has struggled to get time in the first team. He’s since played stints with the second team in lieu of any other options.
At 30-years-old, Pranjic doesn’t have much football left in him, which would lower his cost for prospective Premiership buyers. As for Everton, they might see him as a backup to Leighton Baines on the left, but surely nothing more. His role could change, however, should Baines be wooed away from Goodison by a larger club.
Pranjic's versatility also allows midfield deployment, a solution that could better his chances of making it into the first team.
Unless Pranjic comes at a bargain, he might not be destined for Everton. Still, he’s one from abroad to keep an eye on should things change.