With the mediocre season that was 2011 consigned to the past, Everton will look for improvement in many quarters next season.
Sure there were stand-out performers, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman both shone for the Toffees last season, yet several players did not produce the consistency on the pitch that would been expected. Many will therefore be judged with greater scrutiny as next season's campaign begins.
David Moyes will look for improved displays on the field from several prominent squad members to catapult Everton to a higher points tally than the 54 amassed in 2011. But which three players are in most need of a standout season, to either prolong or resurrect their Everton careers?
When Victor Anichebe burst onto the scene, Everton supporters were rightly excited by the Nigerian’s oozing potential. A teenager bursting with raw pace, power, aggression, surely destined for the very pinnacle of the game?
Anichebe’s career began in decent fashion. In 2006 he scored his first goal for Everton. The following year he hit the net four times, making 12 starts, and in 2008 he appeared a revelation for Everton in Europe.
He often led the attack, terrorising foreign defences who struggled to adapt to his brute strength. He scored five times overall in 22 starts, four of the goals coming in the Europa League run (then the Uefa Cup). At the end of the year he picked up Everton’s Young Player of the Year award.
Onwards and upwards? Not quite. Since then, his career has been in a steady decline, punctuated by injury and inconsistent form. He was felled by a serious leg injury in 2009 and was consequentially absent for almost a year. Since 2008 he has only found the net twice in over 50 appearances.
His relationship with Everton supporters has become somewhat turbulent. He was unceremoniously booed during a match with Wigan last season after reports he had baulked at a contract offer, and demanded increased wages. Whether this was true or not, he eventually did sign a new contract in 2011 and whatever the figures, many Everton supporters feel the gesture of a four-and-a-half year deal was overly generous.
Further traits that rile spectators is how Anichebe will often end up on the turf after altercations, often writhing around, despite his imposing physique. He often goes to ground far too easily in the penalty area and many fans feel his general attitude is greatly lacking.
What is so frustrating for Everton supporters is how Anichebe should have it all. He ticks every category sought after when scouts seek a dominant front man. He has often shown glimpses, a dazzling run down the flank, taking on all comers, yet when it comes to finishing, he has been prolifically wayward. He will frequently drift out of games for long periods.
His inability to consistently find the net, especially in the Premier League, has become an alarming issue for Anichebe. He has only amassed seven goals in almost 100 appearances in the EPL, something that he must address in 2012.
Recently, possibly due to these feeble offerings up front, and also possibly to reduce the burden he must feel, David Moyes has deployed Anichebe on a flank to harness his major assets of strength and pace. This is despite Everton being so short of options when it comes to strikers. Where else at this level would Anichebe have had such a chance to impress?
Wherever he appears for Everton in 2012, he needs a consistent run of games, and he needs to find the net to create positive headlines. Even if he moves out on loan, a ploy that could benefit him, he must be a success. Another tepid year and he may well find Everton become less patient, and eventually offer his services elsewhere, contract or no contract.
True, this could initially seem harsh, but a reason for Rodwell being included here is simply because his career has been one meteoric rise thus far, apart from in 2011. This past season was possibly the only year in his career that he did not turn heads.
In truth he had an ordinary season, not awful, but beset by injury. Yet as several of his peers are now making that big step up to top teams and also the international arena (Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones, and Jack Wilshere), questions are being asked about why Rodwell appears a little left behind his peers.
Rodwell is another graduate from Everton’s prestigious academy. He bulldozed his way through Everton’s ranks in a similar manner to Wayne Rooney, appearing for the Under-18s at 14, the Reserves at 15 and in Europe for the senior side at 16, the youngest player to appear for Everton in Europe.
Originally a central defender at youth level, Rodwell was first deployed by David Moyes as a defensive midfielder. However, with Marouane Fellaini, Johnny Heitinga and Phil Neville all capable of plugging that defensive midfielder’s berth, Rodwell began featuring further forward for Everton.
His ability to score in this role also became apparent, thanks to two sumptuous strikes against Sigma Olomouc in the Europa League. In 2010 he finished the season with four goals, including a headline grabbing winner against Manchester United and was named Everton‘s Young Player of the Year .
However, as many looked on, expecting 2011 to be the year Rodwell fully flourished, and possibly even gained an England cap, he ended the season out of Everton’s team, and even out of recent England Under-21 lineups. He has been honest and open about his frustrating form this season and is eager to amend the situation.
As well as injury, his role in Everton’s team may be a reason for this stuttering season. Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini are two players capable of filling most team’s central midfield positions, it is one of the few areas Everton have a glut of options. Occasionally Rodwell has even ventured out to the flanks, loyally doing a job for David Moyes, but has certainly not seemed natural in this position. In 2012 he needs to find more of an identity with the team and own a position.
Rodwell has been a constant feature in transfer gossip columns since his emergence. However, whilst a couple of years ago, teams were quoting £30 million to ply him away, some newspapers now link him away for measly sub £20 million fees. A sign of how his year was indeed a tad idle.
This may all prove a blessing in disguise for Everton fans, many of whom may be pleased at this dip in form. Premier League teams are currently bidding for other players instead. Although his departure is always an extorted bid away, clubs would surely want to see another prosperous season before committing financially to the youngster.
Rodwell needs an impressive 2012 to confirm his status as one of the brightest young talents in the English game. So much has been talked of his potential that next season he must begin to realise it. If Rodwell does stay at Everton this summer, predict 2012 to be a stellar year for him. Based on averages, last year was arguably the only year he has ever stagnated. Expect a huge backlash.
When one thinks of Everton, Mikel Arteta, along with possibly Tim Cahill, are the current names that first enter your head. Arteta has been pulling the creative strings at Everton since 2005 and embodies a lot of what Everton are about.
The Spaniard has been one of the Premier League’s best signings and is loyal servant to Everton and David Moyes. On numerous occasions he has been targeted by other teams, but has barely ever rocked the boat or tried to manipulate a move away in the manner of many, such as Joleon Lescott.
In this past summer, again surrounded by various rumours about his departure from Everton, Arteta signed a new bumper contract at Everton, assumed by many to be the biggest in Everton’s history. What has been the problem since is Arteta’s below par performances. At a time when many feel he should be justifying the wages he takes home, he has had one of his leanest years for Everton, both creatively and in terms of goals.
A possible venture to rectify this current situation may be to see the Spaniard adopt a wider role, a scenario voiced before on B/R. It was predominantly out wide that Arteta carved a name for himself in the Premier League. He created ample chances for Everton, playing in a similar way to David Beckham, sending many a plush delivery in from the wing.
It was in this position that he twice picked up Everton Supporters Player of the Year award. In 2006 he was tenth equal in the Premier League assists chart, whilst in 2007, he was third overall. Far enough, injuries curtailed his efforts in 2010, where he was 135th equal in this category, but he was 60th this this past season despite playing a vast portion of the year and he only scored three times.
Despite his early success out wide, Arteta has always preferred to orchestrate Everton’s attacks from central midfield and he eventually drifted over to a central position. It cannot be argued that he has not achieved high levels of success in this position, yet this past season he has often seemed rushed in possession, too eager to thread through that killer ball.
Playing as a wide midfielder for the rest of his Everton career would not have to be a resolution, but it may be what is needed to aid a return to form. Arteta developed the confidence and composure on the ball in the EPL by succeeding out wide, before then furthering his game in a central role. His long time on the treatment table over the past years may have done more to affect his game than he would care to admit.
David Moyes did latterly thrust Arteta onto a flank in the final games of last season and he certainly enjoyed far more time on the ball and was far more threatening to the opposition. Playing out wide may well be a temporary solution Everton should consider for help Mikel Arteta return to prime form.
Wherever he plays, Mikel Arteta needs a big season in 2012 to re-establish himself as one of the Premier League’s most creative assets. By doing this he would confirm himself as one of Everton’s best players since the 1980s, and eradicate any murmurs lingering about how much he is now paid. Incidentally, it is still a fee miniature in stature compared to several adversaries on other sides who have given far less to English football.
It would have been feasible to include both of Johnny Heitinga and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov on this list. Both have had faltering Everton careers, and have not convincingly adapted to the pace of the Premier League thus far.
The mercurial Bilyaletdinov has a false reputation with many football fans that do not see him play each week. They see his stunning goals on television and cannot fathom his frequent omission from Everton sides. He does possess a more than useful knack of scoring memorable goals, yet his play is often hampered by a weak first touch, poor vision and an inability to take on and run at fullbacks.
Johnny Heitinga has failed to force his way into the Everton side in his preferred defensive position and has had to make do with roles in midfield or on the bench. He has a catalogue of quotes linking himself to other clubs that has begun to test Everton supporters' patience.
A reason for not including them formally in this list is due to the likelihood that their efforts this past season may have done enough to convince David Moyes they are not worthy of having any further chances to impress. Both could quite easily be on their way out this summer for much needed income.
If they do remain, then both of them will need big seasons to revive their Everton careers and justify sizable transfer fees paid on them.