Moyes needs silver for cash to flow in
It was the statement Everton have longed to read, and longed to publish, for almost a decade -- talks with an American consortium were under way. Another Merseyside club would soon be in foreign hands.
The club in question, though, was not Everton. It was Tranmere. That announcement from Prenton Park -- made on behalf of Tranmere's backer, the erstwhile Everton owner Peter Johnson -- would have sapped the spirits of even the most optimistic denizen of the Gwladys Street End.
Johnson's successor, Bill Kenwright, has spent years seeking foreign investment. The timing of the news was particularly soul-destroying. It came little more than a week after the scale of Everton's enduring penury was laid bare by the publication of the club's accounts: debt up to £44.9m, operating loss at £3.1m, a wage bill that accounts for a far-from-ideal 69pc of turnover.
And it emerged less than 48 hours before today's FA Cup fourth-round replay at Stamford Bridge which determines whether Everton, 13th in the Premier League, will have any further interest in this season. Their opponents, too, are particularly telling: whether Moyes' ninth year at Goodison Park will end prematurely rests in the hands of the team who afflicted the defeat which may come to define his entire reign.
"I think that silverware might have allowed the club to say we are back among the top clubs in the country for good," says the Scot of the defeat to Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup final. "It could have made a difference to how the club was seen. Winning it would have said we were back on the map."
As it is, goals from Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard denied Moyes the trophy he so craves; all the Scot has to remember from his trip to Wembley is a runners-up medal and the lingering sensation that the team he led out that day represented the high watermark of all his achievements at Goodison Park.
"That was probably the best side we have had," he admits. "We were in that period where we had bits of experience through the European games. That helped. That team and that group were as good as we have had, though the next season we played good stuff as well."
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Everton's near miss at Wembley was, like the Champions League defeat to Villarreal four years earlier, the moment a cycle ended, a glass ceiling hit. Steven Pienaar, Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott of that side have left; more will follow this summer, unless Moyes can find a way to convince them Everton can satiate their ambitions.
Manager, players, chairman and board are all being blamed for the stagnation which seems to be setting in. Kenwright stands accused of condemning Everton to spend only what they have raised for three years, watching not only Sunderland and Stoke develop deeper pockets, but, this season, Blackpool, too.
So dissatisfied are supporters at Kenwright's inability to find an investor -- "the billionaire is yet to knock on the front door," says chief executive Robert Elstone -- that a trust is planned to replace a board that appears locked in stalemate, caught between a refusal to invest and Kenwright's unwillingness to risk becoming a second David Moores, the former Liverpool owner made a pariah for selling to Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Lord Grantchester and Robert Earl, holders of a third of the club's shares, sit 14th and 32nd respectively on football's rich list, yet neither has invested any money to alleviate the financial pressure.
Today, they face a team who did hear the rattle of the billionaire's knock on the door, but, despite renewed investment from Roman Abramovich, Chelsea still find themselves struggling to retain their Premier League title.
Didier Drogba will start today in the absence of the cup-tied Fernando Torres -- the £50m striker who is Abramovich's latest splurge -- and manager Carlo Ancelotti desperately needs his stellar players to find the performances for which they have become renowned in the past few years.
Like Ancelotti, Moyes is a popular figure at his club, but to some, is not absolved from blame for their current problems. It is the Scot who has built the league's seventh-highest wage bill without ever winning away at the former 'Big Four'; it was he who spent £8.7m on Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, a high price for a substitute when money is tight.
And the players, too, are no innocents. "You either have the money or you don't," says Tim Cahill. "There are circumstances at the club, but nothing has changed. I look around the team and see superstars. There are a lot of players on new contracts with bright futures here, and we need to repay the manager, the chairman and the fans."
There remains the possibility, though, that the only way Cahill and his cohorts can do that is by allowing the club to realise their value.
If Kenwright cannot, will not, find money, Moyes must make it. It is an unpalatable option, but deconstructing the side he has built may be the only way to stop Everton falling away as they stand still.
Producing a statement such as that published by Tranmere may stave off that need, of course. So too winning today, if it leads to winning at Wembley Stadium in May. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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