Ronald Koeman: Europa League finalists set standard Everton aspire to reach
I will be a keen observer of events in the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Wednesday when Ajax and Manchester United contest the final of the UEFA Europa League.
As manager of Everton, I am very much looking forward to playing in the competition next season, with the team having realised our objective when we set out at the beginning of the campaign of qualifying for Europe. For us, this was the first step. The final between Ajax and Manchester United will provide a glimpse as to the next step and where we aspire to be as a club going forward.
It is important to have these aspirations and to have direction. Every player wants to compete in Europe and, ultimately, this means the Champions League. The first step, however, is the Europa League, and Wednesday's final will provide something of the standard that will be required in next season's competition.
Of course, Manchester United and Ajax have genuine quality and pedigree, for they have been standard-bearers of European football for many decades. I am anticipating a great final. The money at Manchester United might outweigh the investment into this Ajax team, but the long-time investment in youth in Dutch football has propelled Ajax to the final, along with an adventurous, aggressive style which I like to see.
United are strong and they have formidable individual quality throughout their team. But they are not invincible. They do not press with high intensity from the beginning of the game to the end. They do it differently.
Ajax apply lots of pressure and inject real intensity into the game. I watched them in the first leg of their semifinal against Lyon when they won 4-1 and played fantastic. They were a great advert that night for Dutch football. This was football how I like to see it played -- pressing, pressing, pressing and they showed genuine quality, too.
For sure, Ajax have a great chance to win this game while United can show that they have reached the levels this season that everyone expects from them. It will be a really interesting final.
For Everton, the Europa League will be something very much on our minds from the beginning of our pre-season on July 3, with a qualifying round to be played over two legs in the last week of July and the first week of August.
You cannot be 100 percent prepared in my opinion in just three weeks, but players need to have a holiday to clear their minds and to overcome the physical demands of a long and demanding season. They need to refresh themselves and build again for the campaign to come. It is a draining experience.
It will place particular demands on the whole of the squad and we did not need to be confronted by the world-class capabilities of players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in our final Premier League game on Sunday against Arsenal to appreciate the level we will need to hit. You always try to get new signings in as quickly as possible, though the reality is that it's not always possible. But we need to improve, we need to strengthen, we need to rise to the challenge if we are to take the next step as a team and as a club.
Everton has a rich heritage and Evertonians are rightly proud of this. Historically, we are one of the most successful clubs in English football. But ambition is about the future and the goals we set for ourselves now as a club. The players here know the way we like to train and the intensity we demand from our training sessions every day. These are our standards presently and our objective is to get better still, to grow further and reach new heights.
While this season has been really positive in many aspects -- we secured the most home points in the Premier League era for Everton, the most home wins, the most goals at home -- we need more numbers in to be prepared for a long, tough campaign next season in the different competitions and we need more aggression in the team.
A clear objective will be to bring in players who will have more productivity. I expect that we can change that for next season. If we can do the business we want to do this summer, the team for next season will be really strong, I believe.
The expectations will be higher than before, too, but I accept this. This is the challenge I took on when I sat down with the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, and our major shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, and agreed to become Everton manager. This is a challenge we are prepared for. This is why we are here.
Ronald Koeman is the manager of Everton Football Club.