Everton must avoid repeat of double transfer mistake but biggest problem remains unsolved

Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton
Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton celebrates scoring his team's first goal with Abdoulaye Doucoure during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC at Goodison Park on April 24, 2024 in Liverpool, England. 

Another tumultuous campaign at Goodison Park has come to an end and members of the ECHO sportsdesk are offering their thoughts on proceedings with a review of Everton’s season.

A two-part special sees Joe Thomas, Chris Beesley and Matt Jones give their conclusions on the Blues’ offerings from 2023/24. Here’s the second instalment…

Who is your Everton player of the season?

CB: There are several honourable mentions and I’ve already said that tough as teak James Tarkowski has been my favourite Everton player this season given the fact that he never hides - either on or off the pitch, always fronting up and being prepared to explain a performance whether it was win, lose or draw - and demonstrating all the fighting spirit and desire required when wearing the royal blue jersey. Jordan Pickford - the club’s best goalkeeper since Neville Southall - has been magnificent again and has done more than any other individual player to keep Everton in the Premier League in recent seasons.

Vitalii Mykolenko was the most-improved player from last season with Dyche and his staff deserving great credit for getting the best out of him unlike the Lampard regime which is pretty damning considering he had Ashley Cole, the greatest left-back in Premier League history as his first team coach, while Calvert-Lewin is once again fit and firing after two years of injury hell, another feather in the cap for current set-up. In terms of sheer levels of performance though, it’s got to be the breakthrough star of the campaign, Jarrad Branthwaite.

When the season started he wasn’t even in the team and in truth, despite his impressive loan spell at PSV, we didn’t know whether he was going to cut it as an Everton player. Whether it’s his team-mates or those who watch him home and away like myself and those loyal match-going Evertonians, everyone can see what a world-class prospect he is.

Strong, tall and quick, he’s a magnificent physical specimen who regularly swats the Premier League’s biggest and baddest strikers aside but he also possesses a cool head and is comfortable on the ball with both feet and reads the game so well for such a young and inexperienced centre-back. Branthwaite really has got the lot and ‘The Carlisle Kaiser’ and has all the tools to become on of the all-time greats, I just hope that he’s still here for the Blues’ last season at Goodison Park - plus the first by the banks of the Mersey for that matter!

JT: It’s very difficult to look beyond Jarrad Branthwaite for this one, though James Tarkowski and Jordan Pickford deserve very honourable mentions.

That being said, I think Vitalii Mykolenko has been excellent under the radar. It’s easy to forget that Ashley Young started the season ahead of him, and I think at the time there was genuine doubt over whether he could be a long-term first choice left back for Everton. There is none of that now. He has been excellent and the relationship he formed with Branthwaite and McNeil was a big part of the form improvement leading into the first points deducted.

Defensively he is solid enough to compensate for his lack of adventure going forward, and his best work has been against Bukayo Saka and Mo Salah - two of the best opponents it is possible for him to face. But there have been glimpses of him offering more going forward too, those goals against Brighton and Palace two enjoyable moments.

MJ: Jarrad Branthwaite.

As much as the talent has always been there, I was concerned about him being chucked in as a regular starter in a struggling side. But since he received his first Premier League start against Wolves, he's not looked back.

I think it was West Ham United away when I realised what a special talent he was. Michail Antonio is a litmus test for any young defender and he dealt with the awkward challenge with such ease.

There are still moments when his inexperience shows, yet all the attributes are there for him to become a truly elite defender. Clearly, there are significant doubts as to whether that journey will continue on Merseyside beyond the summer transfer window.

Jordan Pickford has been magnificent again too, while Idrissa Gueye's exceptional end to the campaign also deserves recognition.

Who/what was the biggest disappointment for you?

CB: Football-wise it’s Arnaut Danjuma but he didn’t get much of a look in. Having been set to join Everton the previous January only to get as far as Crewe Station and head down to London and sign for Tottenham Hotspur instead, the Blues got their man at the second time of asking last summer but was it really worth all the fuss?

I’m told the Nigerian-born Dutch international charmed the Merseyside press pack when he was finally unveiled at Finch Farm and a couple of goals in a week at Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield United offered a promising start but other than those fleeting early season moments in South Yorkshire, what did we really see from him? Given Danjuma’s lack of minutes, it seems that Dyche wasn’t overly impressed from what the on-loan Villarreal man was offering in training.

In January there was even talk that Everton’s deal might be terminated and the player sent elsewhere and curiously his game time was boosted but at the end of the month he suffered an injury in the final moments of the goalless stalemate with Fulham at Craven Cottage - a night on which he had some inviting chances to score but didn’t - and he never kicked another ball for the club.

Off the field it has to be wantaway owner Farhad Moshiri. After a chaotic downwards spiral of eight managers in as many years we’ve seen transfer profligacy being replaced by potentially crippling PSR punishments and as ECHO columnist Michael Ball lamented: “Only Everton could have a billionaire account own them and get done on financial breaches!”

Last year, we were told for months that Moshiri was going to bring in fresh investment from MSP Sports Capital, only for that deal to fall through and for him to decide to sell his entire stake to the hugely-controversial 777 Partners instead. That proposed takeover rumbled on for the best part of the entire 2023/24 season but now looks dead in the water as loyal but long-suffering Evertonians wait with bated breath in the hope that the final decision of Moshiri’s disastrous reign is actually a good one in terms of who actually becomes the privileged custodians of this venerable and unique football institution.

JT: Losing to Fulham in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. That was such a frustrating night and the performance wasn’t the best, but such was the momentum at the time, powered by those four league wins in a row, the side still managed to get back into the game and take it to a penalty shootout they probably should have won.

The deflation inside Goodison at the end was possibly an indication of how positive things were at the time. But it felt like a huge missed opportunity and while the performances didn’t immediately drop off, the results did. The game wasn’t lost on Amadou Onana’s missed penalty but that felt like the moment that started that horrendous four months of form.

MJ: Beto, sadly.

It feels as though his season has been a slow transition from potential cult hero with supporters into third-choice centre-forward.

Although Everton were able to strike a buy-now-pay-later deal with Udinese for the forward, a committment to £26m is a massive amount for a team so up against it financially.

There have been rare moments of promise from the Portuguese and it has been a challenge for him getting minutes off the bench. But he's done little to impact games and already there are surely huge doubts about his suitability to English football. The endeavour and energy is there, the finesse and composure is not.

Late this season, Dyche has turned to Youssef Chermiti more frequently and while the youngster is still looking for his first Everton goal, there have been some promising moments in his cameos. Beto, by contrast, has continued to toil.

What’s your verdict on Sean Dyche?

CB: Sean Dyche is, in his own words when first taking the Everton job, a ‘Marmite’ manager in that he divides opinion. Unlike the savoury food spread made from yeast extract which I must confess I’ve never tried, I don’t think you either have to love him or hate him though, but rather just appreciate what he brings to the Blues at what has been and what remains a time of crisis and weakness - the taste is unpalatable to some but it’s the medicine that is required to nurse the club back to health.

Whatever we think of them as individuals or as football talents, Everton’s squad have been placed in an unprecedented position this season with the two separate points deductions. Yet for all the torment that must have caused - Dyche who has been the de facto spokesman for the club throughout the traumatic period, admitting that those of lesser character might have “gone under” when facing such strain - has remained the strong, stoic and unwavering steady hand on the tiller while negotiating the stormiest of rough seas, not just keeping heads above water on the good ship Everton, but safely steering her into the harbour of Premier League safety before the final month of the season.

Some lost their nerve after Stamford Bridge but I stuck my neck on the line and all of us who have Everton’s best interests at heart have been rewarded. I believed then, like I do now that this is a really serious issue at the club, far more serious than other debates we might have over whether Amadou Onana should be doing more or if Dwight McNeil should move inside to a central position given that a manager is the most-important individual at any club but especially Dyche right now with the Blues where he is the figurehead and the glue that binds everything together.

The fans might not have sung his name yet like they did for Carlo Ancelotti and Lampard - a pair of predecessors who both ended up letting Everton down in very different ways - and nobody has lasted two years in the role under Moshiri but I’ve said it before, I believe Dyche is the best fit for the club since David Moyes and having been the man responsible for ensuring the Blues go into their final season at Goodison Park as a Premier League outfit, he also deserves the chance to still be there and lead them out at their new stadium because after years of damaging managerial churn, he’s just what the doctor ordered with this year’s performances accumulating as many on-field points as 11th-placed Brighton & Hove Albion.

JT: In my first column of the campaign, published on the morning of the first game of the season, I wrote Everton started this season in a better position than either of the last two because Sean Dyche was in charge.

My belief was Everton would benefit by having a pragmatist who would focus on the basics and not try to get this squad to run before it could walk. I think that view has been vindicated. It hasn’t always been easy to back him - there have been some terrible moments this season and I think he has to take responsibility for parts of them, including four months without a league win and the hammering at Chelsea.

But I genuinely don’t think it is possible to have done a better job than he has since he took over Everton. This squad is weaker than the ones that needed to go to the final week of the past two campaigns to secure safety and yet he essentially got Everton there before Christmas. To have achieved what he has done with the adversity he has faced has been phenomenal.

MJ: It's been a journey, hasn't it?

After Chelsea and the 6-0 loss I didn't see a future beyond this season. But he has earned the right to keep building with the Blues.

Crucially, he has now on a number of occasions pulled this team back from the abyss. In the past, Everton's route back to decent results has been to bin managers and look for a short-term bounce, because those coaches have often been incapable of facilitating a turnaround.

With Dyche that has not been the case. Late last season, early in this season and after Christmas this year the team have looked down and out. Yet they've scrapped their way back into form.

That's crucial for a manager. It gives fans some level of comfort if a turbulent summer gives way to a challenging start next season. There is credit in the bank now for Dyche and while his job will no doubt be tougher again next term, he has consistently showed he's a man up for the battle.

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