The 90 minutes had nearly elapsed. As last season drew to a close, an exceptional Everton performance had sent an over-confident Newcastle United back to school whilst plastering a long lasting smile upon every Evertonian’s face, whether they were packed into Goodison Park or not. I left my spot in the Main Stand after the lap of appreciation, and the small wooden seat pinged back in to place. In the congested maze of white brick walls, numerous stewards, steep steps and various voiced opinions that lead back to the normal world, the new season seemed an unimaginable length of time away.
There were too many things to think about beforehand, anyway: will Pienaar sign? Will we lose any of our star players? Will Moyes even bring anyone in? Oh and how early will England be eliminated from the Euros?
Due to previous, painful pre-season experiences of late, Evertonians have the right to fear the long break (in fact, none of us will stop sweating until the transfer window mercifully closes). It was only less than a year ago that I sat staring unhappily at the ceiling as Mikel Arteta moved South and two unheard loan signings were drafted in by Moyes, feeling like the world was against Everton Football Club ever progressing.
It didn’t end there; as negativity encircled the club both off the field as well as on it, I witnessed an image that still sends shivers down my spine. Sat in Upper Bullens twice during last winter as Leon Osman’s tap-in helped to scrape a point against Norwich and Tim Howard’s spectacular goal eventually came to nothing as Bolton inflicted further damage upon a depressed squad, I looked to my right to see sections of an angered Gwladys Street on their feet, littered with frowns and loudly vocalising their mounting frustration. A dark cloud had descended upon Goodison Park; the football was dire, the atmosphere was chilling and the general mood even worse.
And then, somewhat unexpectedly, the light at the end of the tunnel arrived. In mid-January, Darron Gibson joined Moyes’ squad. It seemed Sir Alex Ferguson was doing his fellow Scotsman another favour, and moving on a generally unused player who, when Manchester City visited on the same night Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic travelled to Liverpool to transform the gloom into optimism, proved invaluable.
Incredibly, the turnaround included a semi-final at Wembley (I won’t go any further), that 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, 10 goals from the inspirational, instant fan’s favourite Nikica Jelavic, much-needed creativity from Steven Pienaar and a style of football that only some clubs can dream of.
Even after all of that, as I left Goodison for the final time of the 2011/2012 campaign, neither many other Evertonians or myself could have imagined how not only would Hibbert score and we would ‘riot’, that Pienaar would sign for David Moyes for a fourth time (this time on a permanent basis) as would the speedy Steven Naismith. Additionally, Jack Rodwell, the injury-plagued, once promising player who had appeared to forget how to pass a ball forwards generated upwards of £12m when sold to Manchester City. Approximately £5.3m of that fee appears to be immediately used on Kevin Mirallas, the Belgian forward from Olympiakos. As I write this, Sky sources believe the 24 year-old is undergoing a medical ahead of the move while 17 year-old striker M’Baye Niang of Caen is on trial. The accumulation of such events has lead to an unusual air of optimism.
Not even the sale of club legend Tim Cahill could dampen spirits for too long. The ‘Blue Kangaroo’s’ iconic status and inspiring presence among the world of football will be sorely missed in the Premier League; however, and it pains me to say it, his declining football skills will not.
Therefore, with the positives appearing to outweigh the negatives before Everton’s season even kicks off against an uplifted Manchester United side about to boast their new striker Robin van Persie (nothing Johnny Heitinga will be unable to deal with), the majority of Evertonians will be foreseeing a rewarding, exciting campaign ahead. Leaving the off-field buzz to one side, a number of reasons suggest we are in for a thrilling ride…
Nikica Jelavic’s genuine class and intimidating ability should equate to a valuable, large portion of goals for Moyes’ men. His presence was one we had been crying – no, screaming – out for due to the previous absence of a spearhead to the attack. Reunited with Steven Naismith, a potentially devastating partnership will hopefully hit the ground running. At Hibbert’s testimonial, the two ex-Rangers front men were telepathic at times. The Scot can also play on the right wing when needed, however it would be unnecessary to disrupt such partnership. The arrival of another striker or winger (in the form of Mirallas) seems assured; although for now, we will have to wait to see exactly how that turns out.
Like a breath (or a tornado) of fresh air, Steven Pienaar’s creativity on the left side of midfield is vital to assaults upon opposition’s defences; the South African’s ability to see an inch perfect pass, improvise whilst charging forward or make space for his own use others’ is unlike anything any other present Everton player owns. For every perfect pass or admirable assist Pienaar pulls off, there will inevitably be one mistake or one misjudged pass. However, never mind the £4.5m, ‘Peanuts’ holds a priceless sentimental value to the Toffees, something that thankfully, along with his talent, was not exploited at Tottenham Hotspur.
Despite the sale of Jack Rodwell, whose proposed potential was never unearthed (and we all know Moyes gets the best out of his players) due to injuries and therefore lack of overall playing time, the midfield remains strong, mainly as long as Phil Neville does not play there. Anybody else remember him being wound up by non-league Tamworth? When fit, Marouane Fellaini, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman are unstoppable at times in the midfield, as is the previously mentioned Steven Pienaar. The type of play we have been used to seeing at the latter stages of seasons gone by should be exhibited as soon as Manchester United’s arrival. Plus, Ross Barkley’s emergence excites many, however we may only get rare glimpses of the youngster again, maybe not; rumours indicate the 18 year-old will be signing on loan for Sheffield Wednesday. Francisco Junior, the Portuguese prodigy brought in on a free, impressed in pre-season and could be battling for a first team place pretty soon. All we know for now is that Moyes’ plans will begin to be revealed very soon.
The resilient defenders whose success and failings we live with week in, week out, are looking as strong as ever, despite being hardly as young as they used to be. The redeemed Sylvain Distin, the irreplaceable Leighton Baines, the consistent Tony Hibbert, the man-mountain Johnny Heitinga and the characteristic Phil Jagielka prevent the opposition taking advantage of Tim Howard’s goal. Not only do they just do it; they do it well. Plus, the maturing Irishman Shane Duffy is slowly but surely integrating himself in to the first team with outstanding ability. Whilst Hibbert, hardly the ‘modern full-back’, tackles like there is no tomorrow and gives one hundred per cent in every match, it is the left side from which the attacking element of the team benefits. Baines’ link-up with Pienaar is unrivalled; his expeditious overlapping and delicious crossing is exactly why the left-back is endlessly linked to the top clubs.
A pre-season which felt thorough and beneficial from both fan and player’s point of view despite the Java Cup incident has helped to multiply the air of confidence. The only thing that questioningly knocks at the door of the expectant season ahead is the sustainability of our near future. Personally, I have given up being pro or anti-Kenwright; however, despite the lack of investment, what the controversial owner is doing is assuring Everton Football Club still has a future. The debt does linger around the club like a serious illness and the situation we find ourselves in is far from ideal, and yet we are still hanging in there and will remain to do so. What remains certain is that Kenwright will not abandon Everton. Imagine if Roman Abramovich walked out on Chelsea: they would be dismembered in a matter of days. Something awaits Everton on the horizon, and it is certainly not that.
I could describe each and every player’s talents and likeability (except maybe Victor Anichebe) and therefore why, if all goes to plan, the top six or above awaits Everton this forthcoming season for another thousand, or even two thousand words, inducing hope and optimism when nescassary. And that, simply, is because so much exists in side of me. Whoever you speak to, face to face or on social media, is similarly upbeat. Everton Football Club deserves to be in Europe once more, whilst Moyes deserves his trophy, as do the fans. As an Evertonian who is not old enough to have witnessed the lifting of a trophy by an Everton team before, those precious few years in Europe are points on my timeline I wish to experience again as soon as possible, as is the 2009 F.A Cup final.
No such instant has felt so appropriate for a very long while: our time is now.