By Steve Cochrane & @matt_writer
It could be argued that Everton, much like Manchester United, did their very best transfer business of the season by dint of offering a resounding ‘No’ to another club determined to tempt away one of their defensive stalwarts.
For David De Gea read John Stones, the 21 year old central defender whom Jose Mourinho seemed to assume would be able to tempt to Chelsea to play the role of long term replacement for John Terry.
The fact that Everton were able to turn down what was doubtless a very large wheelbarrow full of cash from the vaults of one R. Abramovich (£37 million being the fourth and final offer) is interesting in two ways.
Firstly, it demonstrates the effect which the latest injection of TV money looks set to have upon the Premiership, creating a situation in which the teams which have perennially been ‘almost there but not quite’ feel emboldened to build on their best players and push the contenders for the top four.
Secondly, because it conjures forth the undeniably delightful (as long as you’re not a Chelsea fan) image of Mourinho entering a sulk of such epic proportions that it’s managed to blight the club’s entire season.
Having retained the services of Stones, Everton have started to build some momentum, and built on a mixed start to suggest that this might be the season in which they break into the European places and even (whisper it quietly, superstitious toffees), get their hands on some silverware.
They remain unbeaten in all competitions since losing to Arsenal on October 24th and a 2-0 defeat of Middlesbrough has seen them make it through to the semi-final of the league Cup (albeit with a tough tie against holders Manchester City).
In the person of Romelu Lukaku they have officially the country’s most dangerous forward player, with the Belgian striker having been involved in 17 goals so far this season, scoring 13 and creating 4.
Other star names include the newest ‘New Gazza’ Ross Barkley, enjoying his most consistent season yet, the mercurial Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu and, of course, left back Leighton Baines. What’s that, I hear you say? Baines has been injured? Precisely, and yet Everton have coped with his absence and now look set to profit from a return which can be handled at a pace designed to suit both player and team, beginning with a 17 minute cameo at the Riverside in the League Cup Quarter Final.
The question is – can Everton build on their success so far, and will that building include any activity in the January transfer window?
In the past, the window was a time when Everton fans fretted about their best players being whisked away yet again, but the Stones/Mourinho Face Off (as the movie will doubtless be called) indicated that this is no longer the case.
Although manager Martinez has been disparaging about the value on offer in January in the past, describing such purchases as ‘a big gamble’, we can’t help but wonder if, this season, he’ll take that gamble and strengthen in order to push for glory. These are a few of the players who’ve been linked to Everton:
Everton pursued the 26 year old Dynamo Kiev playmaker pre-season to no avail, but noises from the Ukraine, not least from the player’s agent, suggest that the situation may have changed.
Vadim Shabliy, the agent in question, is quoted thus: “I talked to Roberto Martinez. He’s a great man,” going on to confirm that negotiations had been taking place. And if you can’t take the word of a player’s agent, then who can you trust?
The injury sustained by Phil Jagielka has underlined the need for cover in defence, with the 22 year old ex Manchester United defender being one of the names mentioned. Having been loaned to and then signed by Burnley, Keane has been putting in impressive performances.
An 18 year old playing for Anderlecht, Tielemans has been watched by Everton scouts since impressing after making his champions league debut at the tender age of 16, but would surely be one for the future rather than for the rest of this season.
The 26 year old Queen’s Park Rangers forward has the Premiership experience to suggest that he would adapt quickly to the second half of the season, and recently said “If something comes up in January that’s right for myself and my family then I’ll assess the situation with my agent then.” Not quite a classic ‘come and get me plea’ but pretty close.
A bit left field, admittedly, but he’s not getting many matches at Arsenal (although, if their injury crisis gets much worse, we can all expect a call up from Arsene), and would be warmly welcomed back at Goodison, as offering a calm head and cultured approach as the pressure mounts in the new year.