As the January transfer window carries on, rumors continue to swirl surrounding the futures of Merseyside stars Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini.
The former survived a summer of constant speculation surrounding a purported move to Manchester United and may be relieved that there has been somewhat less discussion about his potential departure, despite a brilliant start to the 2012-13 season.
Fellaini has not been as fortunate, with rumors of a switch to Champions League rivals Chelsea heating up in the past week after news was released that a buyout clause has been installed into his latest Everton contract. The Belgian leads Everton with eight league goals and would be a devastating loss at a point in the season when the Toffees sit in fifth place and are due their annual midseason surge.
However, while it is certainly not in manager David Moyes’ plans to cash in on either of his stars, anything can happen with a club in as dire financial straits as Everton.
After announcing 9.1 million pounds in losses last week, the club came out stating the debt would not require the sale of players in January, with the manager reiterating that he would like to add a few loans or cheaper signings to supplement his already thin squad.
Still, Everton have shown a propensity to sell players at key moments in earlier seasons.
In addition to the £20 million-plus sales of Wayne Rooney in 2004 and Joleon Lescott in 2009, in the past two seasons the club has let go of a swarm of players when apparently turning the corner and forcing their way back among England’s top sides.
In 2010-11, Everton managed to hold onto most of the team that fought back from struggling in the bottom half of the table during the prior season to finish in eighth place, with only two losses in 24 matches.
However, after losing a handful of squad players, loaning out Joseph Yobo to Fenerbahce and losing Dan Gosling on a free transfer to Newcastle United, the side started terribly.
In the winter, Everton wound up selling Steven Pienaar for three million pounds to rivals Tottenham Hotspur and then sent out Yakubu on a season-long loan. To make up for the losses, they added Apostolos Vellios on deadline day and attempted to coax the best out of under-performing summer arrivals Jermaine Beckford and Magaye Gueye.
The club somehow clawed its way out of the mud and finished just behind derby rivals Liverpool in seventh place at season’s end.
Yet they could not stop the same situation from occurring in 2011-12—they sold Jermaine Beckford, Yakubu (permanently), vice-captain Mikel Arteta, James Vaughan, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and a number of reserve players and loaned Yobo out once again.
While only Pienaar, Arteta and Bilyaletdinov (who struggled for form in his final season at the club) were recognizable and important first-team figures in those two seasons, there was still an all-too common exodus of players with no new arrivals—until last January.
Then, finally, Moyes was able to bring in Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson, and Pienaar (on loan) to revitalize a fledgling squad and reach the FA Cup semifinal stage, as well as finish above Liverpool for the first time in seven seasons.
The transfer-window hope for supporters carried over into the summer, when the sale of injury-ridden Jack Rodwell allowed the club to bring in Kevin Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo, Pienaar had re-signed permanently and Steven Naismith arrived on a free transfer.
However, it now seems that things have returned to what was customary at Everton.
With the club making a Champions League push, there is pressure to sign new players and keep hold of Baines, Fellaini and Moyes, who is out of contract in May and has still not held talks with the club hierarchy.
The manager has made it known that he would not abandon the club as long as it remains ambitious and competitive.
But it is hard to see how Everton can take the next step up—like traditionally less successful clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in recent seasons—without a huge influx of money or a sell-to-buy mentality that would mimic what happened when Lescott was sold and John Heitinga, Sylvain Distin, and Bilyaletdinov arrived as a result.
For now, it is crucial that both Baines and Fellaini remain.
While the latter has struggled with slips of the tongue and injury in past seasons, he is easily one of the most dominant aerial targets in English football and has the strength, composure and ability to control play and disconcert defenses.
Baines has proven, via his chance creation, free-kick ability and vision, to be one of, if not the best attacking left-backs in European football.
Although selling them could bring in vital cash to purchase a host of new players, it may not be worth the risk of taking a step backward for another two or three seasons as those arrivals adjust to the Everton way.
If either leaves this January, expect the slippery slope to continue with Moyes' exit in the summer.
If not, and Everton still do not qualify for the Champions League, it could be a very interesting summer in terms of transfers for the club.