It’s two years to the day since Farhad Moshiri bought a 49.99% stake in Everton Football Club, and while palpable progress has been made in some areas, there remains a legitimate question mark over the direction of the club on the pitch under the wealthy Iranian.
After years of penny-pinching under Bill Kenwright, the arrival of Moshiri had been expected to be the catalyst for a new era at Everton; one that had more in common with the days of John Moores’ ‘Mersey Millionaires’ than the relative mediocrity of the majority of the last three decades.
Particularly under David Moyes, a narrative started to take hold that placed money as the one impediment to a challenge for the Champions League. Everton, however, well they were run – and even that was up for debate – were simply unable to compete at the very top because of their lack of resources – or so it was said.
Moshiri’s investment offered hope that the glass ceiling in place during the Premier League years could either be significantly raised or removed altogether. Instead of the ‘knife to a gunfight’ metaphor coined by Moyes, the Iranian preferred to speak about “a window of opportunity” with regards to crashing the top six and of the need to stop Everton becoming ‘a museum’. These were not meant as meaningless platitudes.
The promised cash injection materialised as expected. Everton’s debts of around £150m have been totally wiped by an interest-free loan from Moshiri himself, while the 62-year-old’s standing in the financial world has also helped the Blues to secure a mutually-beneficial loan from Liverpool City Council for a new stadium close to the River Mersey. Progress, too, has been made commercially thanks in large part to a sponsorship deal with business partner Alisher Usmanov. Three important steps in safeguarding the long-term future of the club that arguably would not have been possible without the Iranian.
It’s here, though, that the record starts to become more chequered. A substantial figure of close to £250 million has been ploughed into the playing staff in an attempt to bridge the gap between Everton and the top six. Yet instead of helping the Blues to kick on, remarkably, it has had the adverse effect. If anything, the last six months in particular have shown that heavy funding of this matters little if no coherent strategy in place.
Everton’s transfer policy has been muddled, and at times fundamentally flawed, with the resultant pressure on director of football Steve Walsh’s job suggests that all the right pieces may still not be in place. Here, it would be manifestly unfair to apportion all of the blame on Moshiri for the Blues’ stagnation on the pitch, but there comes a time – particularly during moments of crisis – when direction is needed from the top. The type of direction that has, for long spells, been missing during this most disappointing of campaign.
There has also reportedly been friction over managerial appointments. With the old guard of Bill Kenwright and Jon Woods still on the board, opposing ideologies came into play during the recent search for Ronald Koeman’s replacement. All parties eventually settled on Marco Silva, but once Watford blocked a move for the Portuguese, it seems the Moshiri and Kenwright clashed over the potential arrival of Sam Allardyce.
Given the money at stake on Moshiri’s side and Everton’s precarious position in the league, the Iranian eventually got his way in appointing the self-proclaimed relegation specialist to protect his investment. Quite simply, the fear must have been that Everton’s new stadium at Bramley-Moore dock would be compromised if the Blues were relegated to the Championship.
Yet what Moshiri has now, especially in terms of the reaction towards the unpopular Allardyce from an increasingly frustrated fanbase, is a club at odds with itself – short of identity and drifting aimlessly as a result. Merely escaping relegation will not be enough to justify an appointment that was seen as retrograde and damaging to the fabric of one of England’s footballing institutions.
Rather than pushing on with the new funds, the direction of travel appears to be towards mid-table and the likes of Burnley and Watford.
And herein lies the crux of the issue. Evertonians of a certain persuasion have long argued that there needs to be more clarity in decision-making at the club. That the old guard must be totally replaced with the new. In the interests of consistency, such calls do make sense – but there remains scant evidence that, away from the business side, Moshiri has developed the footballing nous to lead the club on his own. This is, of course, someone who has up to now only had a small stake in Arsenal, and never had the requisite power to steer policy or make decisions of his own. The chequered decisions made at Goodison since then paint the picture of a man cutting his teeth in football.
Well-intentioned, but still learning on job, Moshiri has built the current incarnation of Everton in his own image. Yet as this season has proven, the Blues need much more clarity from the top if they are to ever come good on the Iranian’s vision of a bright new dawn.