And so the £50 million John Stones saga is at an end – well £47.5 million if we’re being pedantic but Everton shouldn’t be feeling too bitter or upset. In fact, I gather they might feel quite the opposite.
Everton have done really well here. Make no mistake Stones is a terrific prospect, potentially one of Europe’s best but he is exactly that – a prospect with potential. There were times last season his defending was horrendous and in pre-season he wasn’t overly convincing (although transfer speculation may have played a part here).
Replacing him with Ashley Williams is a shrewd move by the Toffees. They’re getting a commanding leader at the back which was often absent last season under Roberto Martinez, with Phil Jagielka on the sidelines. Directly at fault for one Premier League goal compared to Stones’ three, with 98 interceptions compared to Stones’ 56 and 52 tackles won to Stones’ 36, Williams comes out as the much more accomplished player. Of course he will do you shout, he’s far older and more mature. This is very true but for the next season at least, his inclusion will mean more clean sheets and that the young, talented Stones’ name can be forgotten, at least in the short-term. In today’s market, £12 million for the Swansea captain is a massive bargain and it leaves them with £35 million of the Stones fee to splash around.
There has been quite a bit of displeasure regarding Everton’s lack of transfer activity this summer but I struggle to understand why. That squad is a squad that could be pushing for the Champions League if coached to their maximum and having worked wonders at Southampton, Ronald Koeman is certainly capable of orchestrating that march. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and even speedster Gerard Deulofeu can provide a frightening prospect for opposing defenders if the team plays to their strengths.
The man with the gloves could be better though. Tim Howard and Joel Robles were at times hapless last season. The fact that Howard, so often a figure of consistency, was axed for the distinctly average Spaniard was testament to how far his performances had declined. Maarten Stekelenburg on a free transfer was decent business but he’s not really number one material. At a save-per-goal ratio of 1.42, compared to Fraser Forster’s 2.76, he wasn’t really providing too much protection if his defence was breached. Marwin Hitz of Ausburg is a potential option. The Swiss international really does fill the goal and kept a respectable 11 clean sheets, making 86 saves over the campaign. There are also some excellent bench warming stoppers in the league such as David Ospina and Asmir Begovic that would love regular game time and a club of Everton’s stature and then of course, there are some talented youngsters lower down the pyramid.
Provided that Koeman retains the remainder of his star names, things are looking bright for the season ahead. Hopefully, for the supporting faithful, the good times return to Goodison.