Everton's new era features big spending as the top six are targeted
Even before Romelu Lukaku's expected sale to Manchester United, the English summer transfer market's winner so far has been Everton.
As each of the six clubs that finished above them in last season's Premier League wrangle to land targets, the Goodison Park club have been busy, adding five players to Ronald Koeman's squad for a combined cost of £83 million.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, for £25m from Sunderland, midfielder Davy Klaassen, £23.6m from Ajax, striker Sandro Ramirez, £5.3m from Malaga and Michael Keane, £25m from Burnley, have all arrived. Belgian striking prospect Henry Onyekuru has also been signed for £7m from KAS Eupen, though he will spend next season on loan at Anderlecht.
Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney is expected to return to the club at which he began his career and Everton have also been linked to deals for Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud and Swansea playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Thanks to the backing of new owner Farhad Moshiri, who bought a 49.9 percent stake in the club in February 2016, Everton's age of austerity is over. It had lasted almost three decades; the last time the club was among English football's big spenders was in 1988, when striker Tony Cottee was bought from West Ham for a then-British transfer record of £2.2 million.
Arriving in the same summer were winger Pat Nevin, bought from Chelsea for £1.75m, midfielder Stuart McCall, £850,000 from Bradford City and another midfielder, Neil McDonald, who cost £525,000 from Newcastle.
That spree failed to revive a team that had been champions in 1986-87 and the long years since have seen Everton clinging to the coattails of English football's billionaire-backed elite. Along the way, they have been forced to sell stars like Rooney, Duncan Ferguson, Francis Jeffers and Joleon Lescott to richer rivals.
"I think austerity is the perfect word to describe it," Kevin Kilbane told ESPN FC, who played for the club from 2003 to 2006. "David Moyes [manager from 2002 to 2013] knew he had to survive on a budget, to keep the margins tight." Moshiri, a former shareholder at Arsenal where he was a business partner of Alisher Usmanov, cashed in his share in the London club to become exactly the type of buyer that Everton chairman Bill Kenwright had been craving since taking the post in 2004.
"We don't want to be a museum," Moshiri told fans at the club's general meeting in January. "We need to be competitive and we need to win. We have a window to establish ourselves and we will do everything we can."
As well as the recruitment drive, a new Liverpool City Council-backed stadium at Bramley Moore Dock, in the heart of the city, is a project significantly down the line. Goodison will be missed, but is an antiquated home beyond renovation for 21st-century standards.
And, this week, a £60m credit facility with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was announced. With this, as well as close to £128m in prize money from last season, the outlay being spent will not just be the proceeds from the sale of Lukaku.
"No Moshiri, no party," Kieran Maguire, a football finance lecturer at Liverpool University, told ESPN FC. "Bill Kenwright is a lovely bloke -- a true Evertonian -- but really fans are not looking for investors, but sugar daddies.
"I don't think Moshiri will be a Roman Abramovich or a Sheikh Mansour, he won't go that far, but he is not a Stan Kroenke," Maguire continued, contrasting the vast fortunes invested at Chelsea and Manchester City with the rather more careful financial management of Arsenal's majority shareholder.
Steve Walsh, the director of football who moved to Everton from Leicester in July 2016, has been the driving force behind this summer's recruitment drive. Koeman has been sequestered in his Portugal holiday home, happy for Walsh to take the lead ahead of the manager's return to Merseyside this week.
"I think he's signed real quality," Kilbane said of Walsh. "It's bringing in signings at the right age that are going to be around for four or five years and will have future market value."
As for Rooney, the return of someone who left the club in 2004 as an 18-year-old -- and for wages reported as £250,000 per week -- has mystified many, but appears to be a popular move among Everton supporters.
"It will be brilliant to have him home," Simon Paul, of fanzine website Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, explained to ESPN FC. "I think we have come full circle. We loved him, despised him when he left, and he played pantomime villain, but he's matured. His kids are being brought up as Everton fans. I don't think he ever enjoyed football as much as he did at Everton. There's never been that glint; the enjoyment has not been there. Coming back here, there would be a weight lifted. I think even he thinks he's past it."
"[Rooney can bring back] the experience and the values of the club," Kilbane said. "There are players like Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines at Everton, but a lot of experience has been lost in recent years, players like Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert leaving. Rooney is someone who knows what it's like to be an Evertonian. Once you are part of the club, that identity never leaves you."
Reviving Everton as one of football's great institutions is a project that will take time and money and there is much ground to be made up. Turnover last year was £121m, compared to the £301m generated by their crosstown rivals and the £515m of Man United.
But Koeman will have a much stronger squad than that which finished an unspectacular seventh last season. The six clubs above Everton in 2016-17 might soon have another contender to concern them.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.