The views in these blogs are those held by the individual blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of Everton Football Club.
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It’s been a very long time since my last blog and my only, slightly lame excuse is the hurly-burly of day-to-day life inside a Premier League football club. I often quote one of our senior managers who joined us two or three years ago from a top position in an international restaurant chain, who said how amazed he was by the diversity and pace of our day-to-day challenges. There’s no routine, very little predictability and opportunities and issues land on our desks every day. Driven away from the world of accountancy by my dislike of routine, that variety is no bad thing, but it can be a challenge. It does give me this excuse, but for those of you interested, I promise I’ll pick up my pen more often.
Marathon not a sprint
Talking of unpredictability, no one saw our start to the season coming. I met umpteen Evertonians over the summer who told me about ‘bets for the top four,’ ‘bets to win the league’ and felt with more certainty than ever, ‘this was going to be our year’. At the time, that confidence was well-founded and I’m sure we’d all agree, it wasn’t misguided nor could it have evaporated inside six or seven weeks. Certainly the belief is as strong as ever at Finch Farm particularly in the knowledge that what we have built is founded on such solid and envied roots; there’s absolute confidence we’ll deliver another great season. And stating what so many have said, especially those of us who’ve been to the games, our start doesn’t reflect our performances. My own view is, probably Manchester United aside, that there isn’t a team we’ve played to date who I don’t feel confident we’ll finish above, in what is, the proverbial 38 game marathon.
The confidence we all felt, and still feel, was borne out of the genuine belief in our squad of players and whilst of course, it would have been nice in the summer to have been able to bring new, established talent into David’s first team, we couldn’t make that happen. Of course, we were successful in securing new contracts for a significant part of our core squad - Cahill, Arteta, Baines, Rodwell and Colema that will provide the Manager with a firm base to move the Club forwards. Equally, I’m sure we’d all agree that we’ve seen exciting glimpses from Magaye and Jermaine Beckford and, of course, a penalty save by Jan Mucha at Brentford but we will have to give them the time it will take for them to settle in; time I guess that we’d hope would have been provided in part by a Carling Cup run – a campaign which came to a hugely disappointing end at Griffin Park, despite the fantastic and much-appreciated support provided by almost 2,000 passionate Evertonians.
Our investment in long-term player contracts is substantial and economically we continue to fight our corner and commit to on-field success. However, it’s true that like almost all clubs we are feeling the squeeze from certain competitors and the recession. An interesting ‘economic’ development over the next few seasons will be the introduction of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules which will prevent clubs from playing in UEFA competitions unless they can prove broadly, they ‘live within their means’. Essentially, clubs will only be able to spend on wages and transfers what they earn from ‘normal’, football business activities – ticket sales, retail, sponsorship and TV rights fees. And by doing this, UEFA is shutting the door on the ‘original’ and still very common way to fund a football team, the support of a wealthy benefactor.
The new rules will present a monumental challenge for Manchester City (and many others), whose recent financial results show they are a million miles off squaring this circle but they may, in the long run assist Everton. Personally, I’m not a fan of red-tape, regulation and being told how to run our clubs - Premier League clubs have to comply will all sorts of tough rules anyway, but the UEFA rules will undoubtedly benefit clubs with big fan bases and modern stadia and whilst we continue to search for the latter, we do have the former. Many clubs in England and Europe will look enviously at our fan base as the new rules bite.
On the ‘flipside’, however, one of the downsides of ‘living within your means’ is ruling out the new billionaire investor who wants short-term success on the field, something the game has allowed for 130-odd years, but now something that will be much harder to deliver. I’m sure we all have our views on the introduction and impact of UEFA’s new rules.
What’s up next?
Next on the horizon off-the-field are a couple of vitally important planning decisions on our exciting new shop and hospitality development at Goodison and on the sale of our Bellefield training ground. The former is a substantial project which will improve our off-the-field operation as soon as it opens. It will also generate cash from day one with all of the costs of the development covered by our retail and catering partners; testimony, in my opinion, to the quality of our partners and the hard work that’s gone in to building a business relationship that works for both sides.
Both are important to me but I’m sure neither is on anybody else’s radar as all eyes focus on the first derby day of 2010/11. Almost everyone I speak to asks for my opinion on Liverpool’s future and watching the trials and tribulations has certainly been interesting. My opinions should remain private but as is so often the case, so much public opinion is formed with so little knowledge and so few hard facts - the wall-to-wall phone-ins lost my interest many months ago. Of course, in these circumstances, it can be dangerous to draw conclusions.
Of course, what’s dominated the debate has been the subject of ownership. Quite rightly, football club ownership is an important and emotive subject. It’s a subject we’re very aware of here, not just in a legal sense but as much, in a ‘moral’ sense. We can debate the merits of supporters’ trusts and fan-generated funds to take ownership stakes but what I’d argue is it’s substance that really matters. And what I mean by that is the provision of the platforms and forums for you to speak, and for us to listen and respond. If we do that effectively, then that’s tangible ownership that can be every bit as powerful as a piece of paper.
As for my final comment, don’t listen to the misguided media pigeon-holing next Sunday as a relegation battle. It’s the marathon race we’ve entered, and befitting the best derby in the world, what it really is, is a key milestone in the battle for European football next season.
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