Which Everton youngsters could feature for the first team before the season’s end?

Everton supporters could be forgiven for turning their attentions elsewhere as the 2015/16 season draws to a close.

Heartbreak in two cup semi-finals, a potential second bottom half Premier League finish in a row and a loss of faith in current manager Roberto Martinez have rendered the final four matches of this campaign irrelevant to many Toffees fans.

Despite gloomy skies engulfing Goodison Park, though, there is a chink of light for those of a Blue persuasion.

Sitting third in the Under-21 Premier League Division One table, Everton’s youth side have impressed under the watchful eye of former Toffees left back-turned coach David Unsworth.

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The club has a long tradition of handing youth players the opportunity to work their way through the ranks into the first team, with Michael Ball, Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, James Vaughan and Ross Barkley just a few of the talented young stars who have gone on to feature for Everton’s senior squad.

And, with a number of the current crop making their mark at under-21 level, here are five of the brightest talents who could feature for the Blues in the final weeks of this term.

Keiran Dowell

Kieran Dowell has been the name on the lips of many Evertonnians in recent weeks thanks to some sterling performances for the Under-21 side.

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The 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who has been with the Club since the age of seven, has netted a number of sensational strikes in recent victories over Norwich City, Manchester City and Leicester City – the latter of which saw Dowell bag a superb hat-trick.

Adept with the ball at his feet, with an eye for a pass and a box of tricks to boot, the Ormskirk-born teenager made his first-team debut in the 1-0 home defeat to FC Krasnodar in the Europa League in December 2014.

Dowell put in bright cameo appearances in two of the first team’s pre-season fixtures against Hearts and Dundee before an injury curtailed his chances of impressing further, but expect him to be in and around the senior squad for the Toffees’ final fixtures of 2015/16.

Matthew Pennington

Warrington-born Pennington is another of Everton’s youth players who has enjoyed first-team exposure during the current campaign.

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A centre-half by trade, with the ability to figure at right-back, the 21-year-old has started matches against Barnsley and Dagenham & Redbridge in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively.

Pennington had been earning rave reviews for his displays whilst on loan at Walsall but, due to the Blues’ injury crisis ahead of their recent FA Cup semi-final, the defender was recalled and took up a place on the substitutes’ bench at Wembley.

With Ramiro Funes Mori still suspended and Phil Jagielka’s season potentially over, Pennington could be in line for an appearance or two before the season’s end.

 

Callum Connolly

Accomplished in a variety of positions across the park, including centre midfield and full back, Connolly’s versatility has ensured his presence as a mainstay in the Under-21 side.

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The 19-year-old was part of the team that secured the 2013/14 Under-21 Premier League title, and has represented England at Under-17 level.

A member of the Everton youth ranks since the age of nine, Connolly enjoyed his first taste of senior football in the recent 1-1 draw with Southampton, receiving praise for his performance from fans and manager alike.

A likely contender for a place on the substitutes’ bench in the finals weeks of the season.

 

Tom Davies

Davies has been a member of the Toffees’ academy since the age of 11, and has rapidly risen through the ranks to become a regular at Under-21 level.

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The 18-year-old midfielder was on the scoresheet in the first mini Merseyside derby of 2015/16 – a match that ended 3-3.

Like Connolly, Davies made his first-team bow in the Goodison Park clash with Southampton, with his eight-minute cameo giving him a platform to show off his undoubted ball control and skills.

Feisty in the tackle despite his small demeanour, further appearances may lie in wait before the season’s end.

 

Mason Holgate

The only youth player on the list who hasn’t made his way through the Club’s academy, Holgate joined the Everton ranks from Barnsley for an undisclosed fee in August 2015.

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The 18-year-old defender has settled into life on Merseyside particularly well, and was handed a place on the substitutes’ bench during the Blues’ 5-3 Capital One Cup triumph over his former club back in September.

The former Tykes player has become a regular under Unsworth for the youth side, and recently bagged his first goal for the Under-21s in the 2-0 win over Chelsea.

With the ability to play at right-back and centre-back, Holgate could end up making his first senior appearance for the Toffees before the end of the campaign, with first-choice full back Seamus Coleman currently nursing a hamstring strain.

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Opinion: Martinez comments on Baines a step too far for beleaguered Everton manager

If you were to ask Evertonians for their opinion of Leighton Baines, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say a bad word about him.

The Everton left back has been a devote servant of the club for almost nine years, and has received widespread praise for his performances during that time.

The England international has also always come across as an honest, intelligent, salt-of-the-Earth individual when giving an interview.

Earlier this week, Baines was questioned over whether Everton’s first team stars were finding it tough to motivate themselves in the Premier League after progressing to the FA Cup semi-finals a few weeks ago.

“It is yeah, but the motivation should be in trying to get your name there for it, shouldn’t it?” Baines replied.

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“It’s like (pause of several seconds), I just think, you know, I don’t know, I just don’t feel like the chemistry is quite there on the pitch within the team at the moment and it hasn’t been for a while.

“Obviously results have an impact on that because chemistry and confidence can go hand in hand in a way. You start winning games. I mean look at the teams who are having success this year. You would say they’ve got chemistry, you know?

“If I had to say one thing it would be, I don’t know if it’s there at the moment for whatever reason.”

A typically candid, forthright answer from Baines then.

Which makes manager Roberto Martinez’s comments on the 30-year-old defender today all the more unnecessary and, perhaps, insulting..

The Catalan was quizzed over this apparent lack of on-the-field chemsitry, and replied in less than glowing terms.

“I think there are two aspects of that,” he said.

“First, it’s very disappointing when you see a misinterpretation of certain words that a player says and really this has been taken out of context in the way that it’s come out.

“And the other aspect is that someone of the experience of Leighton Baines knows he has to take responsibility for those words – I have had a chat with him – those words have given the opportunity to be maybe attracting a meaning that is not right, not correct and obviously for that he has apologised and taken responsibility for that for leaving those words open.

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“Those quotes have been taken out of context and that’s disappointing on one side.

“But on the other side, obviously Leighton takes responsibility for putting himself in a position which has given the wrong words and allowed the wrong interpretation and for that, as I said, he has apologised and is ready to move forward.”

If Baines’ words were indeed misrepresented – they weren’t – then why has he been made to apologise?

And if Martinez was justifiably concerned with one of his senior players being frank and upfront, when he did not believe Baines should have been, then why not keep all of this in-house instead of publically deriding him?

It is a very dangerous game to try and leverage yourself against any individual who has given a truthful, honest answer to a genuine question.

It is even more perilous to do so against a senior member of your first team squad, and a player for whom Evertonians across the globe have a lot of time and affection for.

Of course, this is nothing new, providing you believe the rumours of discontent from both past and present Everton players who have allegedly had run-ins with Martinez.

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Samuel Eto’o, Sylvain Distin and Kevin Mirallas have all supposedly made it known that they have not agreed with the former Wigan Athletic manager’s tactics, opinions or management style – and all have paid the price to varying degrees.

But none of the above have been subjected to public embarrassment like Baines has, thanks to today’s comments.

Martinez was already walking a thin tightrope with Everton fans after another discouraging campaign; the upcoming FA Cup semi-final his only potential saving grace.

Now he has taken on a beloved servant and important first team member of his squad.

There is only one winner where Toffees supporters are concerned – and it certainly isn’t Martinez.

The Weekend Reflection: Fortress Goodison? Don’t Make Me Laugh!

Goodison Park used to be a bastion of hope for Evertonians.

It is a stadium filled with rich history that oozes charm and class, especially under the floodlights for an evening kick off.

And, when the opportunity arises, it bears witness to a vociferous, boisterous and unabating home crowd that has roared Everton to countless victories, struck fear into the hearts of opposing sides and bayed for blood when refereeing decisions have gone against the Toffees.

Of late, however, the Grand Old Lady is anything but a fortress.

It is merely a sandcastle, with the tide crashing ever closer, ready to sweep it out to sea.

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It is not the Goodison faithful that is to blame, however – for 78 minutes during yesterday’s infuriating 3-2 home defeat to West Ham United, a crescendo of noise swirled around all four corners of the ground as the Blues, despite disadvantaged by Kevin Mirallas’ first half red card, found themselves 2-0 up over the Hammers.

Instead, it is yet again the fault of a manager who is clearly out of his depth at one of the most successful British clubs in the history of the game.

True, Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge of Everton was a joy to behold.

A record-points haul during a Premier League campaign and European football back at Goodison were reason enough to celebrate.

But a record of 13 wins, three draws and three defeats from 19 home matches was even sweeter.

It seemed Goodison Park would  become one of the toughest grounds for any side to travel to, thanks to a blend of defensive resilience and artistic, free-flowing attacking flair.

And yet, it is anything but.

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Since the start of the 2014/15 season, Goodison has beared witness to just 11 wins from 34 home matches in the Premier League.

Perhaps more striking is that only four of those victories have come this season – even then they were routine triumphs over struggling Sunderland, Newcastle United, Aston Villa and, at the time, Chelsea.

Coupled with four home draws, Everton have amassed a paltry 16 points from 15 home clashes on home turf this campaign.

To make matters even worse, the Blues have been defeated on seven occasions on home soil – five of which have come since December 19th.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United have all left L4 with three points to leave Everton supporters bewildered, angry and forlorn.

It is, frankly, unforgivable that teams will travel to Goodison Park knowing that they can, and will, depart with a victory.

And Martinez is to blame for this slide in home fortunes.

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Too open, too lax at the back, too gung-ho, no game management, conceding from set pieces, conceding from crosses, unable to hold a lead – these have all been levelled at the Spaniard in the past 18 months, and not one problem has been rectified.

It is simply not good enough from a man who has Everton’s best first team squad since the last time the Blues won a league title, back in 1987, at his disposal.

To add further insult to injury, the Toffees have now conceded more goals at home (26) than Aston Villa – a side who currently prop up the league standings and suffered a 6-0 home thrashing at the hands of Merseyside rivals Liverpool just a few weeks ago.

It is a sign of just how abject Everton have become at home, and the sense of apathy and despair that greeted Martinez and his players at full time yesterday was indicative of such facts.

With just four more home league encounters to come, in the shape of Arsenal, Southampton, Bournemouth and Norwich City, the Toffees are on course to register their worst ever points tally at home in a single league campaign.

Even if the Blues win those four remaining matches, they will only be three points better off than their all-time lowest haul of 25 points at home garnered during the 1996/97 season.

There was a time when Goodison Park was the last venue that teams loved to visit – now they lick their lips in anticipation.

Fortress Goodison? Don’t make me laugh.

‘Imminent’ Everton takeover could prove to have been worth the wait

In November 2007, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright was asked if he would be willing to step aside and sell his beloved Blues after eight years of ownership.

“If the right person stands in front of me and wants to take this club forward then I will sell.”

Nine years on, it appears that that quote will, finally, come to fruition.

And, despite the publicity surrounding American duo John Jay Moores and Charles Noell, it is not set to be them.

Takeover talks went into overdrive late Friday night after a mystery buyer was said to be set to acquire the Toffees for £200m in the coming days.

Other supposedly interested parties linked to buying Everton have included a wealthy Jordanian, as well as two Chinese groups.

But it is the name of Farhad Moshiri that is now front and centre of every Evertonian’s mind.

evertoncrest

The 60 year old is said to be looking to buy a majority stake of 75% in the Blues – a deal that all of Everton’s major shareholders are said to agree on.

But just who is Mr Moshiri, and what could the self-made billionaire do to quickly win over the Everton support?

According to Forbes, the dual Iranian-British national has a net worth of $1.79bn – a figure that made him the 26th wealthiest man in the UK in 2015.

That total was recently boosted by the sale of Moshiri’s shares in Red and White Holdings – Arsenal’s second largest shareholding – to business partner Alisher Usmanov after apparently becoming frustrated at a lack of influence at the Emirates Stadium.

A tidy sum of money, then.

And one which would certainly increase Everton’s standing within the British game.

The Toffees arguably boast their best first team squad since the glory days of the 1980s.

Bbut an underwhelming 18 months on the pitch has left sections of the Goodison faithful fearing that their starlets in Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and John Stones could soon look for pastures new in their pursuit of silverware.

A takeover of this magnitude, coupled with the potential arrival of other star players and progress on the field over the course of the next few seasons, would likely see those players sticking around.

It is no surprise, either, that Everton are in dire need of a new stadium.

goodisonpark

Goodison Park is still a magnificent, almost-magical venue, especially under the flood lights for an evening kick off.

But its position in L4 is well documented – landlocked by surrounding residential areas, it is nigh-on impossible for the ground to be expanded in any direction.

Unable to increase capacity and remove the obstructed views, Goodison’s attendance cannot be grown.

A possible solution? Buying up those houses around Goodison for a decent sum of money, and renovating the Old Lady that way.

Another would be to build a new ground elsewhere within the boundaries of Liverpool – with Moshiri’s wealth, this might not prove to be such a sticking point in terms of having to drum up sponsorship through naming rights, or moseying into a deal with another company.

The club has also seen its fair share of sizeable debt – reduced to a fraction of what it was in the past, but still saddled with a net debt of £31.3m as of the 2014/15 campaign, wiping away this negative equity would go some way to giving Everton a platform on which to build.

And, with Mr Moshiri’s background in chartered accounting, he would certainly have a sound understanding of every financial endeavour taken in L4.

Furthermore, a report in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph points out that Mr Moshiri would be willing to allow current chairman Kenwright to remain involved in the executive decision-making process within the club, perhaps temporarily,  which would aid the handing over the proverbial reins.

billkenwright

It would prove to be a shrewd move that would get current manager Roberto Martinez on side too, with the Spaniard recently saying: “I’ve always said what the chairman is for Everton and I wouldn’t want Bill Kenwright to lose his association with Everton, ever.

“I think it would be a loss if we do that. Whatever the investment or whatever the situation is in the future, in 10 or 15 years I would love to see Everton benefit from our chairman for the rest of his life.”

All of which makes the rumour surrounding Farhad Moshiri’s interest in purchasing the club all the more salivating.

Of course, it may be merely coincidental that Everton’s supposed new buyer is Mr Moshiri, given that he has just sold his shares in another Premier League club.

But the prospect of a wealthy individual, with business acumen that has seen him work for Deloitte Touch and Ernest & Young, as well as holding shares in Russian-based giants Metalloinvest and Megafon, would be seen as a huge coup for Everton Football Club.

If the rumours prove to be true, a new exciting era could be about to begin.

For Evertonians, it may well prove to have been worth the wait.

Monday Musings: Everton can progress to FA Cup semi-finals

Cup match against Chelsea will be tough – but it is winnable

Yesterday evening’s Emirates FA Cup quarter-final draw was not exactly kind to Everton.

On any other occasion, a home tie against Chelsea could be viewed as one that the Toffees can win.

But, under Guus Hiddink, the Londoners are showing their quality in much the same vein as when the Dutchman was in charge in 2009.

It was Hiddink’s Chelsea that broke Evertonian hearts in that year’s FA Cup final, albeit with almost entirely different personnel.

Add in the fact that Everton are notably struggling at home – six home defeats in the league will attest to that – and you would be forgiven for thinking that the tie sees the reigning Premier League Champions as favourites to progress.

However, despite what was said on Match of the Day last night, Hiddink might not want to get his Wembley suit measured just yet.

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Both league encounters this season have proved that Everton can match their opponents.

Scoring six times in those two meetings shows that Chelsea’s rearguard is not the sturdy force it once was, and the Toffees’ lightning quick attack can make easy work of a ponderous looking backline.

Add in being backed by a no doubt vociferous Goodison crowd, as well as the opportunity of being just 90 minutes away from another Wembley trip, Everton are more than capable of overcoming Chelsea.

There is no denying the clash with be a tough test – but it is one that Everton can pass.

Potential Howard departure should not detract from decade-long service

“I will always be very, very grateful and every fan should know what Tim Howard has been doing behind the scenes and when he is on the pitch.”

Manager Roberto Martinez’s choice of words after Everton’s 2-0 victory over Bournemouth could be viewed as more positive spin for a player who has been largely out of form all season.

There’s no denying, however that the Spaniard’s answer was tinged with a certain inevitability about it.

Howard, who has been on Everton’s permanent books for almost a decade, has been rumoured to be departing Merseyside to head back stateside at the end of the season.

But, despite a remarkably quick souring of his relationship with Evertonians alongside a notable dip in form, the American should still be given a rousing send off come the season’s end if his future lies away from Goodison Park.

timhoward

The 36-year-old goalkeeper has never been viewed as world class – there have been mistakes during matches that will put paid to that.

Howard, though, has remained loyal to the Club who gave him a way out of Manchester United, and his affection for Everton is evident in the way he speaks about his second home.

Understudy Joel Robles, who has conceded just one goal in five matches during Howard’s time of the sidelines with a knee injury, deserves to continue his run in goal for the Toffees, that much is certain.

What has gone before, too, does not matter to many – it is the here and now that people, not just football fans, remember more often than not.

But, after over 400 appearances for Everton and 132 clean sheets, it is Howard’s service and dedication that ought to be remembered.

Big Game Naismith Invaluable to Everton

As the 2015/16 summer transfer window reached its climax almost two weeks ago, much of the talk for Evertonians, and the British press, still centred around the future of John Stones thanks to Chelsea’s unrelenting pursuit of the young defender.

And, with attentions predominantly turned towards the conclusion of the two month saga, a rejected £8m bid from Norwich City for Toffees forward Steven Naismith seemingly slipped by without too much fanfare from much of the national press.

Amongst Everton supporters, however, debate raged as to whether it was the right or wrong decision to decline what appeared to be a ‘too-good-to-turn-down’ offer for a player who had divided opinion ever since he joined the Goodison Park based club on a free transfer in the summer of 2012.

The 28 year old’s industrious performances, never-say-die attitude and occasional knack to bag the odd goal have always been viewed as positives by the Goodison faithful, but plenty still believe that Everton’s tempo and play is stifled whenever Naismith turns out in the Royal Blue shirt, and believe that he does not possess the footballing nous to play the way that the Toffees are instructed to do so.

All of which left many fans wondering where Naismith would fit into Blues manager Roberto Martinez’s plans for the coming campaign. After all, the Scotland international would struggle to dislodge first choice pairing Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley from his two favoured positions in the striking and number ten roles in Martinez’s starting eleven and, with increased competition for places across the forward line due to the summer acquisitions of Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon, and the improving form of Arouna Kone in the early weeks of the season.

There is one trump card, though, that Naismith possesses that is vital to Everton’s cause – his ability to notch goals against the best teams in the Premier League is second to none within the current Everton first team squad.

naismith

Since making his debut in August 2012, in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United, Naismith has accrued an impressive eleven strikes in eighteen matches against the so-called Top Five clubs in England’s highest tier.

A goal each against Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, two against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and a mightily impressive six – including Saturday’s perfect hat trick – against reigning league champions Chelsea has seen Naismith become Everton’s Mr Reliable when it comes to the big games, and pours scorn on the notion that he offers nothing more than good old hard work when on the pitch.

Naismith’s movement, particularly in the build up to his first goal at the weekend, may have appeared simplistic but it was effective, as he ghosted inbetween John Terry and Kurt Zouma to power a header past Asmir Begovic.

So too was his off the ball work for his second – peeling off marker Branislav Ivanovic to create enough space to drive home from the edge of the box.

And, finally, his link up play and deft touches before darting into the area to apply the finishing touches to his, and Everton’s third of the afternoon to once more showcase just how intelligent a footballer Naismith really is.

Naismith’s record against the wealthier clubs is all the more important, too, considering the inconsistent nature of Messrs Lukaku and Barkley who, at just 22 and 21 years of age respectively, can and will perform below their best on occasions whilst still learning their trade.

In the build up to Saturday’s encounter with Chelsea, much of the focus will have been on Stones. In the aftermath, attentions turned to Jose Mourinho and whether the mounting pressure on his Portuguese shoulders is already becoming too much to bear, just five matches into the new campaign.

Much like the rejected bid from Norwich, Naismith will continue to fly under the radar at Everton and crop up with important goals against England’s finest.

And that’s the way he will like it.

Has Stones saga outcome rekindled slight faith in Martinez?

‘Money cannot buy you everything’.

Evertonians have become accustomed to sound bites from players, managers and their football club itself throughout its 137 history, with Alan Ball, Dave Hickson, Brian Labone, William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean, Neville Southall and David Moyes having all had quotes about Everton Football Club go down in history to varying degrees.

Current Toffees boss Roberto Martinez can add himself to that list.

Following the Blues’ 5-3 victory over Barnsley in the second round of the Capital One Cup two weeks ago, Martinez defiantly stood up to Chelsea’s tireless pursuit of Everton defender John Stones with an honest, open post-match interview that included the quote mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

It is a move that could end up paying dividends in rekindling Everton fans’ faith in him.

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The support from the Goodison faithful was unwavering in the Catalan’s first season in charge, with a record Premier League points haul of 72 – which led to a 5th place finish – bearing witness to the manner in which Martinez had appeared to take the Toffees to the next level up from predecessor David Moyes.

But Evertonians’ patience and belief began to falter throughout the course of last season as the former Wigan Athletic manager notably struggled to reach the lofty heights of the previous campaign.

Unable to marry commitments in both the Premier League and Europa League, Everton’s form suffered. A bottom 10 finish for the first time since the 2005/06 season, first round exits in both th FA Cup and Capital One Cup and a capitulation in the Europa League last 16 tie to Dynamo Kiev resulted in Martinez having much to ponder throughout the summer months, and Evertonians wondering if the Spaniard was the right man to carry the Blues forward.

Such feelings failed to dissapate after a summer that saw only Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu join the first team ranks – albeit before August 28th – and the crescendo of boos that greeted both Martinez and his players at the half time interval on the opening day of the new season, with Everton trailing 1-0 to newly promoted Watford at home, only served to reinforce the turning of the tide against Martinez.

It is all the more remarkable, then, that opinions of the current Toffees boss, since those post-match comments, seem to have turned back in his favour.

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The almost father-esque manner in which he protected Stones, particularly in the wake of the 21 year old handing in a transfer request just 24 hours before the Toffees’ trip to Oakwell, and the veracity with which he drew a line under the month long saga drew plaudits across social media amongst Everton supporters in the days that followed.

Of course, Martinez will be judged primarily on what occurs on match days. Positive results in the league, which would allow for a return to European football, and potentially a 1st trophy in 20 years would catapult confidence in the Spaniard skyward, and earn respect exponentially quicker than soundbites in his press conferences, interviews and post match reaction pieces.

So, too, would bringing more exciting, talented footballers to Goodison Park to wow the crowds. Incomings into the first team squad have been mixed at best since Martinez’s arrival, with the overriding opinion being ‘can do better’.

There is no denying, however, the pragmatic and dignified manner with which Martinez has addressed this particular issue in the face of such dogged persistence from Chelsea Football Club and the national media to see Stones move to Stamford Bridge.

One soap opera will not completely sway judgement back in favour of Martinez, but he has not harmed his chances of doing so in recent weeks.

Money most definitely cannot buy everything. For Evertonians, it could not buy a more virtuous, honourable manager than Roberto Martinez.

Stones saga a damning indictment of football

The news that reached Evertonians on Tuesday afternoon was the news that everyone associated with the Toffees had been dreading.

The handing in of a transfer request by young centre back John Stones – who has been the subject of vast speculation throughout the course of the summer transfer window, thanks in no small part to Chelsea’s unrelenting pursuit of the 21 year old – left supporters of the Goodison Park based club shocked, angered, dismayed, distraught and offended.

That Stones has left it this late, with less than a week of the current transfer window left open, is reason enough for many to call into question their fealty to the sport of football as a whole.

And yet, Stones’ decision to leave Merseyside isn’t just an indictment of modern football, though it is not aided by the media circus that dominates such occasions.

It is an indictment of football as a whole since its inception.

Richer clubs have always bought the best players from other clubs, because it’s how those richer clubs stay on top and, in turn, weaken their rivals.

Everton themselves and Liverpool did so in the 1980s, Manchester United in the 1990s, and now it is the turn of Chelsea and Manchester City – in England at least – to pluck the very best talent from across the globe  to bring to the Barclays Premier League.

The argument remains, of course, that Stones naturally wants to play at the highest level, winning copious amounts of silverware and playing alongside some of the best footballers in the world in the process. That is a given.

But for football fans, no club is more important than their own.

Evertonians are no different. Everton supporters want the best, most talented players to see their club challenge for success, and to finish in the very highest of echelons in each competition they participate in.

The sale of Stones would once again throw realism into the equation and confirm that football clubs like Everton are inevitably swimming against the tide. That any and all attempts to achieve some success will be thwarted when other clubs circle around their most gifted players.

There are many parties who could be held accountable for this sorry saga.

The blame could be placed at the feet of Stones, who has left Everton in the lurch by handing in said request just one week before the close of the window. Or at the feet of the board, whose inability to suuply manager Roberto Martinez with substantial funds – Romelu Lukaku aside – to push on after Everton finished fifth in 2013/14 with a record Premier League points total. Or at Martinez himself, who failed to get the best out of the Blues’ best first team squad in nigh on 28 years.

Outside of the club, fans could blame the national media, whose dogged daily interest in this story has whipped up a mass frenzy. Or Chelsea, who leaked their opening offer in the first place, and since then have used every trick in the book to unsettle one of Everton’s brightest young starlets.

Where the blame lies doesn’t matter, however. What matters is the never-ending cyclical nature of the best players eventually being bought by the top clubs, and preventing other teams from remotely competing.

And that is the most disheartening reality of all.

Why 2015/16 is make or break for Martinez

It has been 75 days since a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur brought Everton’s miserable 2014/15 season to a close.

A pleasurable Europa League campaign aside, the Toffees endured their worst domestic season since 2005/06 and, along with it, came a dose of realisation and a period of reflection from current managerial incumbent Roberto Martinez.

The Catalan enjoyed a honeymoon-esque debut season in charge of Everton, with a 5th place finish and the highest points total of 72 achieved by an Everton squad in the Premier League era – a points total that would have ensured a place in the Champions League qualifying round in 5 of the last 10 league seasons. Coupled with a young, vibrant first team squad that dominated matches with Martinez’s brand of free-flowing, attacking football, the adulation bestowed upon the former Wigan Athletic manager was seemingly well deserved.

Fast forward 12 months, and the picture could not have been more polarised. A limp, inconsistent and frustrating 2014/15 followed, resulting in the Blues finishing in the bottom half of English football’s top tier for the first time in 9 seasons – Martinez and his charges were even in danger of being hauled into the mire of a relegation battle before and upturn in results throughout March and April deemed them safe – accompanied early exits from both domestic cup competitions, a spate of injuries to key players and a growing irritation from the Goodison faithful over Martinez’s nauseating positive outlook, refusal to change tack or to adapt his tactics.

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There was little for Martinez to cheer about domestically in 2014/15

And that growing discontent has failed to subside much throughout the course of the summer months. Just two summer signings in Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu have been added to Everton’s first team squad, – albeit both players will no doubt be very good signings – a fixture list that sees the Blues face last season’s top 7 sides in their first 10 matches of the new season and a growing number of concerns over an increase in the amount of hamstring strains, that Everton’s first team players have picked up in pre-season, has left some Everton fans notably worried about another sluggish start under Martinez.

It would be insensitive not to touch upon some positives concerning Martinez since the end of 2014/15, however.

A brighter pre-season, both results and fitness wise, will undoubtedly allow Everton a much better start to this season than last. Experimentation has taken place with regards to new formations and systems, which have been employed throughout pre-season matches, and the handling of Chelsea’s unrelenting pursuit of centre half John Stones has been impeccably dealt with by Martinez despite the media circus surrounding the young Toffees star.

martinez2

Martinez needs more to celebrate if his future at Everton is to be secured

Of course, none of the above will matter much if Everton start the season in much the same vein as the last campaign. Martinez has accrued a blend of experienced veterans and talented, precocious youngsters within his first team ranks -alongside some of the squad he inherited from previous boss David Moyes – and it would be a shame to see the best squad assembled by the Toffees in years fail to live up to its potential by suffering from similar complications as the 2014/15 season.

Martinez knows the pressure is on to recover from last season, and he will need to regain 100% trust from Everton’s fanbase once more by achieving the performances and results of his first season in charge if the 2015/16 campaign is to make him succeed at Everton. Failure to do so could irreversibly confirm that his time at Goodison Park is up.

Which youngster is next to break into Everton’s first team?

Everton Football Club has a proud tradition of bringing young players through its ranks.

From being signed up by the club’s academy at a young age, to working their way up to making their debuts for the senior set up, the Blues have produced a number of exciting, talented players that have gone on to achieve success at the highest levels of the footballing pyramid.

The current Roberto Martinez-led Toffees era has already seen the likes of John Stones and Ross Barkley propelled into the starting lineup as regulars in the past two seasons, and the Spaniard has further underlined his willingness to give youth a chance during the course of the 2015/16 pre-season schedule.

And with just 6 days to go until the new Premier League campaign kicks off, which of Martinez’s current crop of young proteges have impresed enough to be given more senior game time this season? Let’s take a look at the 5 academy stars who could make the breakthrough…

tyiasbrowningTyias Browning

The 21 year old defender has featured the most out of all the potential nominees throughout pre-season, with 6 appearances, and 1 goal against Villareal in Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial, to his name.

He also featured twice from the substitutes’ bench during the 2014/15 Premier League season against Liverpool and Manchester United, and provided the cross in the Merseyside derby at Anfield that would eventually lead to captain Phil Jagielka’s thunderous equaliser in the dying seconds of that contest.

Quick across the turf, physically strong, tidy on the ball and able to play at both right back and centre back, Browning looks almost certain to break into Roberto Martinez’s first team squad in the upcoming campaign, most likely as a substitute from the bench to act as backup for centre halves Jagielka and Stones, as well as Seamus Coleman at right back.

brendangallowayBrendan Galloway

Signed from MK Dons last summer, Galloway was highly rated by Martinez upon his arrival at Goodison Park, but the 19 year old had to wait until Everton’s final two league fixtures of last season to showcase his raw talent to Evertonians.

Deputising for the injured Leighton Baines and Bryan Oviedo against West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur at left back, Galloway performed admirably alongside the rest of the Toffees’ first choice backline and drew praise for his lung bursting, dribbling runs from deep on occasions against the Hammers and Spurs.

The Zimbabwean has played 3 times for the Blues’ first team in pre-season and, despite clearly not being near the finished article by any stretch, conducted himself well on the field of play. Galloway might struggle for game time with Baines and Oviedo vying for the left back berth in the starting eleven, but he would not be daunted if handed any first team opportunities throughout the season, providing he is not sent out on loan by Martinez.

conormcalenyConor McAleny

The 22 year old forward seemed to have missed his opportunity to forge a career at Goodison Park after making his first team debut for the Toffees over four years ago but, no doubt re-energised by a successful period on loan at Cardiff City towards the end of last season, McAleny has staked his claim for a greater first team role at Everton this season with some impressive showings during pre-season.

A hattrick of assists and a goal in the 4-0 victory over Swindon was followed up by further promising showings against Dundee – another match he scored in – Leeds United and Villareal.

With Martinez short of attacking options with just a month of summer transfer window left open, McAleny may be in with a shout of featuring more regularly for the Blues in the upcoming campaign.

keirandowellKieran Dowell

Little was known of the 17 year old before he was handed his first team debut in last December’s Europa League match against FC Krasnodar, and many did not expect to see the England Under-18 international feature much, if at all, for Everton’s first team throughout the 2015/16 pre-season schedule.

But feature the youngster has – making appearances in each of the Blues’ last three friendly meetings with Hearts, Dundee and Leeds, with his eye for goal being picked up by eagle eyed Everton fans.

Not likely to figure in Martinez’s plans barring an injury crisis at Finch Farm, but one to keep an eye on over the coming nine months of the season.

ryanledsonRyan Ledson

17 year old Ledson has only featured once during pre-season for the senior side, but big things are expected of the midfielder in the coming seasons.

He made the bench for the Blues against Southampton towards the end of the 2013/14 season before, like Dowell, making his first senior appearance against FC Krasnodar in the Europa League.

A captain of the Toffees’ youth sides, and a mainstay of the current Under-21 team, Ledson is arguably the least likely of the five to figure for Martinez’s side this season, such is the plethora of midfield options available to the Catalan. Providing he continues to progress at a fair rate, however, Ledson could well feature from the bench if handed the opportunity to do so.