Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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I was scheduled to write this piece a week ago. As the timeless cliché tells us, 'a week is a long time in football'. Back then, the prospect of Lukaku joining Everton on a permanent deal seemed, at best, a long shot. When Lukaku joined Everton on loan on a frenetic transfer deadline day back in January, most Evertonians were under no illusions in regards to what the deal meant. While they were justifiably excited by the prospect of an exciting young striker with a good record, they understood that this was a short-term thing. The common perception of Robert Martinez's loan dealings was that they were a shortcut to immediate success. There are no guarantees that loan players will succeed, but the loan system offers clubs potentially excellent players who would otherwise not be attainable. While many Chelsea supporters lamented the move, particularly with their existing strike force struggling to muster goals, Mourinho for reasons best known to Mourinho, didn't fancy Lukaku.

As many predicted, Lukaku had a strong season at Everton, scoring 15 league goals from 30 appearances. With the season ending, most Everton fans conceded that Lukaku would likely join a team such as Arsenal or the dreaded red half of Merseyside; particularly if he fired in the World Cup as he did in the Premier League. Understandably, Lukaku was unwilling to make any decisions about his future until the conclusion of the tournament in Brazil. When his moment came, Lukaku fell short. He looked lethargic, his runs were poorly timed or non-existent and he displayed uncharacteristic petulance. It wasn't until faced with USA goalkeeper and teammate from last season, Tim Howard, that Lukaku finally produced with a well-timed run and confident finish. At this point, the Everton faithful had begun to turn their attentions to Wilfried Bony as a potential marquee striker.
However, despite an excellent scoring record, each week saw a Champions League club look elsewhere for their striker, with Juventus hedging their bets on Alvaro Morata and Athelico Madrid opting for the experience of Mario Mandzukic. Suddenly, something leaked and a section of the Everton fan-base begun to sound more and more confident that behind-the-scenes, something was afoot. What immediately followed was a flood of articles offering alternative versions and basically listing all the reasons Everton wouldn't land their man (most of these emanating from the Daily Mirror).
When the news that Everton had signed Lukaku and in the process eviscerated their transfer fee record, the scenes on Twitter were comparable to Arsenal's confirmation of Mesut Ozil's arrival. On paper, all Everton have done is secure two out of three loan deals permanently, but that would undersell the meaning behind Lukaku's arrival. For years, Evertonians have witnessed many near misses when it comes to bringing in top players. The drawn out sagas of Joao Moutinho and, to a lesser degree, Alvaro Negredo lingered in many Evertonian's minds as they waited with baited breath to see Lukaku holding the shirt. In typical Everton fashion, the live feed to the press conference was over an hour late and despite overwhelming confidence that the deal was done, a combination of nervous fear and excitement rumbled.

Of course, to any Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Liverpool fan, the value of the deal would be significant, but not earth shattering as it may have been to many Everton supporters. However, you have to remember that this deal came around 24 hours after Everton secured the sought-after youngster Ross Barkley on a new deal, and Evertonians just aren't used to maintaining their top players and spending close to £30mil on one player. With the prior arrivals of Muhammed Besic and Gareth Barry, as well as the seemingly impending arrival of Christian Atsu, Everton fans are actually looking forward to the coming season. By completing their highest transfer in recent history before a ball has even been kicked, supporters will go into the deadline secure in the knowledge that the largest piece in the squad's jigsaw has been filled. Next week, Atsu is likely to be confirmed, as well as Belgian youngster David Henen and highly rated MK Dons youngster Brenden Galloway. Galloway and Henen are unlikely to see a great deal of football this season, so it's a good bet that Martinez will further look to strengthen; another loan spell for Lacina Traore and another winger could certainly be on the cards.
While Evertonians have good cause to be optimistic going into the 14/15 season, the sheer volume of games they will play with the additional challenge of Europa will push the still-relatively small squad to its limits. With Everton's ambitions of making the top four, the show of force that comes with the signing of Lukaku was a necessity. Everton may not be able to compete with the top Premier League sides financially, but if there is a team that can consistently surprise and upset the balance at the top, it's Everton.

 

       

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