AS OF today the new Premier League season is upon us and for once Evertonians are going into the big kick-off with smiles on their faces.
A year ago the spectre of Joleon Lescott’s impending transfer to Manchester City cast a dark shadow over Goodison Park on the opening day and an ill-prepared Everton side, decimated by injuries, were dismantled 6-1 by a clinical Arsenal outfit in their pomp.
Now, 12 months on, there is a growing feeling – and rightly so – that something special is about to happen at the club.
The 2009/10 campaign was in effect two separate seasons within a nine-month period for the Blues.
After hovering above the drop zone in those dark days of autumn, Everton blossomed in the new year – albeit with the pressure off – to lose just two of their final 23 Premier League matches.
Unfortunately amongst this run their were a couple of stinkers at home to Birmingham City in the FA Cup and in Lisbon against Sporting in the Europa League which meant that a crack at silverware for a side that had finished FA Cup runners-up the previous term remained tantalisingly out of reach for David Moyes.
Of course you’d always rather be in European competition and Moyes, unlike some of his peers, has always treated continental competition with the full respect it deserves, but a concentration on domestic matters this season can help his troops finally close in on that elusive trophy they crave so much.
The Scot himself has admitted that for all his magnificent achievements at Goodison, the lack of a cup on his CV remains a glaring omission.
Everton’s 1995 team was undoubtedly not as strong as the current squad and Joe Royle’s short-lived tenure did not lay down the strong foundations that Moyes has established but the boys of 15 years ago wrote themselves into Everton folklore with their victory over Manchester United at Wembley and subsequently forever won a place in Evertonians’ hearts.
The key word for the current Everton side and their manager is ‘legacy’ – what they’ll be remembered for at the club in the years to come.
It’s widely acknowledged now that this is the strongest Everton squad since they were last champions in 1987. Talented players such as Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Tim Cahill, and Mikel Arteta need to be achievers at Goodison Park, not nearly men who finished their time with the Blues empty handed.
The feeling that the time of turning potential into winning a competition is now imminent has seen the likes of Cahill, Baines, and now Arteta commit themselves to new long-term deals at the club over the summer, while Jagielka has shrugged off interest from Arsenal.
The glaring omission remains Steven Pienaar. The South African said at the end of last season that he’d be back at Goodison this term if ‘God wanted him to’.
Well he’s apparently raring to go after his short-lived World Cup exploits but it’s his commitment beyond the current campaign that still remains unresolved.
Despite a lucrative contract to put Pienaar amongst the club’s top earners having been on the table for several weeks, he has yet to put pen to paper with his business manager Rob Moore continuing to spout a series of baffling riddles over his future. This week’s bizarre offering from Moore in the wake of the Arteta deal included: “In the case of Pienaar it is surprising that he is the player with the least amount of time remaining on his contract, yet the last to be tied up with a new deal.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Does this mean Everton actually want to sell him? ‘
“ But there is nothing we can do about it.”
As talented as Pienaar is – most Blues would be delighted to see him extend his time at Goodison – whether or not he finds a pen and is able to do something about it, there is now enough quality in the squad to adopt a more relaxed approach to his long-term future.
Such is the current mood amongst Blues, the chuckles over Moore’s remarks were followed up by giggles over West Ham chairman David Sullivan’s insistence that Nigerian striker Yakubu is only worth ‘£1-2million’ and the belly laughs that Aston Villa wanted David Moyes to quit his job at Goodison Park to become their new manager.