Ever­ton gain­ing mo­men­tum on field, in board­room

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Wayne Rooney’s sen­ti­men­tal re­turn to Ever­ton af­ter 13 years away fits the image of a club of­ten crit­i­cized for liv­ing in the past amid the fast-evolv­ing world of English soc­cer. The past 18 months have shown, how­ever, that some­thing ex­cit­ing is brew­ing in the blue half of Mersey­side: A new­found am­bi­tion and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to make up for lost time af­ter fall­ing be­hind the Premier League’s elite.

There’s a new 300-mil­lion-pound ($385mil­lion) sta­dium on the hori­zon on the Mersey wa­ter­front, re­plac­ing the at­mo­spheric but cramped Good­i­son Park. There’s a wealthy ma­jor­ity share­holder in place in Farhad Moshiri, an Ira­nian-Bri­tish busi­ness­man who sold his share in Ar­se­nal to get a stake in Ever­ton in early 2016.

There’s a highly re­garded man­ager in Ron­ald Koe­man, who holds a fine global rep­u­ta­tion from his time as a player with Barcelona and the Nether­lands, and a di­rec­tor of foot­ball in Steve Walsh, a su­per scout who was one of the un­her­alded ar­chi­tects be­hind Le­ices­ter’s im­prob­a­ble Premier League ti­tle tri­umph in 2015-16.

And - ar­guably most im­por­tant to Ever­ton’s suc­cess-starved fans - there’s a team filled with a grow­ing num­ber of bright, bold and tal­ented young­sters from Eng­land and abroad. The ar­rival of Rooney is the sig­na­ture mo­ment of a busy sum­mer at Ever­ton, a fact un­der­scored by the lines out­side the gates of Good­i­son Park on Mon­day to wel­come home the club’s so-called “prodi­gal son.” But he’s a blast from the past at a club look­ing for­ward, with mo­men­tum on the field and in the board­room.

GO­ING PLACES

“We hit a level, and now we’re go­ing places,” said Michael Gra­ham, a 52-year-old Ever­ton sup­porter who was out­side the sta­dium wait­ing for a glimpse of Rooney. Ever­ton’s fans have been starved of suc­cess since the club’s hey­day in the mid-1980s, when it ri­valed Mersey­side rival Liver­pool as Eng­land’s most suc­cess­ful team. The last of Ever­ton’s nine top-flight ti­tles came in 1987, its high­est fin­ish since the Premier League’s in­cep­tion in 1992 is fourth, and its last ma­jor tro­phy was the 1995 FA Cup.

A nine-year-old Rooney was at the old Wem­b­ley Sta­dium for that cup fi­nal against Manch­ester United, a big Ever­ton fol­lower just like his fa­ther and now his kids. They were the most pleased to see Rooney re­turn to Ever­ton af­ter 13 tro­phy-laden years at United.

Rooney, a free trans­fer, is one of six play­ers signed for a to­tal of around 90 mil­lion pounds ($115 mil­lion) this off­sea­son. There are sure to be more, although Ever­ton has re­couped 75 mil­lion ($97 mil­lion) in sell­ing striker Romelu Lukaku to United. Koe­man also over­saw the spend­ing of 70 mil­lion pounds last sea­son.

Fans are thrilled Ever­ton is mak­ing its trans­fer moves early in the sum­mer, in­stead of in the last days of the win­dow as usual. Credit for that must go to Walsh for iden­ti­fy­ing the play­ers and act­ing quickly, and also to Moshiri. Ever­ton fi­nally has a fi­nan­cial backer will­ing to spend big.

“I know from speak­ing to fans, my fam­ily, how ex­cited they are,” Rooney said about Ever­ton’s am­bi­tion on Mon­day. “It is great for every­one when a club makes new sign­ings. There is a good feel­ing around Ever­ton Foot­ball Club at the mo­ment.

“We don’t just want to limp around this sea­son.” Sit­ting along­side Rooney at his pre­sen­ta­tion on Mon­day, Koe­man ac­knowl­edged the pres­sure was on Ever­ton in his sec­ond sea­son at Good­i­son. “The first sea­son was to play good foot­ball and get good re­sults,” he said, “but now you need to make the next step.”

The re­cent spend­ing spree will not guar­an­tee that im­prove­ment, though, as Liver­pool and Tot­ten­ham know. Both clubs used money gained from a high-price player move (Luis Suarez at Liver­pool in 2014 and Gareth Bale at Spurs in 2013) to strengthen the rest of the squad, but ini­tially strug­gled to man­age with­out their for­mer star player.

Koe­man has to de­cide where Rooney fits into his team and also how many of the club’s young­sters, such as Ade­mola Look­man, Tom Davies, Do­minic CalvertLewin and Ma­son Hol­gate, to start.

Still, there’s op­ti­mism that Ever­ton will bridge the gap to the top six by the end of the com­ing sea­son, with Rooney pro­vid­ing the kind of lead­er­ship and ex­pe­ri­ence - if not nec­es­sar­ily the goals - that Koe­man’s young team re­quires.—AP

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