Last season, Everton were in transition. With a new manager at the helm for the first time in twelve years, many expected this change to capsize the tight ship David Moyes had built. However, it seemed as buoyant as ever with Martinez surpassing the points tally set by his predecessor. The stalwart players that served Moyes over his tenure excelled, adapting to the ideology of the Catalonian that attacking football was key for Everton to succeed. Additions were brought in, players that shared these values and had worked with the manager beforehand, though the main bulk of the squad remained the same and that was where the problems lay. The change-up that reinvigorated the side was a short-term solution to the ageing players in the squad.
Fast forward a year and time has caught up with the senior players at an alarming pace. Tim Howard, a man who has risen to stardom back in his homeland after his heroics against Belgium for the United States, has dropped in form, as well as the odd ball. Leighton Baines’ crosses and set-pieces leave much to be desired, failing to beat the first man on most corners. The form Gareth Barry produced to earn himself a permanent move has dispersed, leaving a tired yard dog who struggles to time a tackle, and Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman have spent longer in the treatment room than on the pitch. They have all faltered from the standards they have set for themselves and the club.
America’s Tim Howard is continents away from Everton’s Tim Howard. Titled ‘the Secretary of Defense’, he has returned a calamity for Everton. Last season he boasted the 3rd highest number of clean sheet (15), only being one behind joint first, whereas in twenty-seven games this season, he has only kept five. At such a catastrophic decline, a call for change is required, and although he may not be the solution, there was a greater assurance with Joel Robles in goal. Deputizing for the injured American, he amassed three clean sheets in seven appearances, the same number as Howard managed after twenty-two games. It was clear there was stability restored in the back line – that which had not been seen of at all this campaign – though, Howard was reinstated promptly when fit. It took five league games for the keeper to claim a clean sheet, and although there is been an improvement in his displays, there remains an anxiety for his next impending error.
This again is the case with Gareth Barry. The England veteran signed permanently last summer on a two year contract, and despite there initially being questions raised regarding his age, these worries were quelled after a debut season in which he marshalled Everton’s midfield superbly, showcasing his much required experience. However, his legs have given way this season, falling from the linchpin to a hindrance in the Everton side. He is off the pace, resulting in ill-timed lunges, exposure when pushing forward and no engine to track back. All the assets he brought to the side has become non-apparent and there is a collective moan when he is selected in the team, which is every game. For a player at 33-years-old, Roberto Martinez remains adamant that he can perform week in, week out, which is not the case. On the bench Everton have a young player chomping at the bit to play for the side in Muhamed Besic, whereas Barry looks apathetic when selected.
Everton are in fear of looking like a retirement home. They have ten players out of the twenty-five who are in their 30’s within the squad. The average age will undoubtedly drop next season with the contracts of Antolin Alcaraz (32) and Sylvain Distin (37) expiring this summer, but other deadwood need to be flogged for the squad to prosper. Everton need to invest in a new crop of youngsters, by signing a new generation of players as well as promoting from within, and Roberto Martinez has the players at his disposal. The Blues have a collection of talented youngsters that can provide the bedrock for progression in: John Stones (20), Luke Garbutt (21), Muhamed Besic (22), Ross Barkley (21) and Romelu Lukaku (21). Only Stones and Lukaku have forced their way into the first team consecutively and, with the season petering out into irrelevance, the younger players should be given a chance. These players coupled with James McCarthy (24), Seamus Coleman (26) and Joel Robles (24) can give a real freshness to the side.
Much was made of the Everton side that put up little challenge away at Man City back in December as the starting line-up featured seven players in their 30’s – one of which was Samuel Eto’o who has since left – but the younger players in the squad are, or have the potential to be, the best players in their position in the league. With the likes of John Stones quickly establishing himself as a future England international for seasons to come, Ross Barkley showing glimpses of his undoubtable talent, and Romelu Lukaku’s powerful, assuring displays that defy his age, these player can become world class.
Due to the horrendous season Everton and their fans have suffered through, there is nothing at stake not playing the younger players. Preparations need to be put in place to ensure there is never a repeat of this season again, and it could be detriment to the player’s careers and the club’s future if they are not introduced as the new faces of Everton, the future of Everton.