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Aug 28, 2007

Moyes the next of the big spenders?

In the seemingly never-ending midsummer sagas, Carlos Tevez and Gabriel Heinze have dominated the headlines.

Despite the Argentine hegemony, the last of the exits that were anticipated while last season was still more than a memory should eventually be concluded, when a work permit is eventually granted to one of the Premier League's prolific scorers and a Nigerian goes to Goodison Park. Ayegbeni Yakubu will become the third striker in as many years to become Everton's record signing, but there is some surprise about his destination.

And not just because of Harry Redknapp's high-profile admiration of the striker he signed from Maccabi Haifa or the move to Manchester City that many predicted, but because Everton are rarely mention in conjunction with £11.25million buys; it almost doubles the £6million paid two-and-a-half years ago for James Beattie, then their most extravagant purchase.

Moreover, had the attempt to add Manuel Fernandes succeeded, Everton's expenditure in the final week of the transfer window would have been in the region of £23 million, catapulting them into the league of the big spenders.

The official line is that funds have always been available to David Moyes. Yet he is known for his preference to conclude his business early in any transfer window and earlier signings were more in keeping with the stereotype of frugal Scots and Moyes' own reputation for astute acquisitions, often from the lower leagues. Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka, young and (in the case of the latter) versatile, seemed products of the same school of recruitment as Joleon Lescott and Tim Cahill.

More likely is that the extra investment is a consequence of Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl's presence on the board, enabling Everton to borrow more. Perhaps it was the sight of their potential rivals for a European place, such as Tottenham, Newcastle and Manchester City, spending like Conrad Black that induced Everton to follow suit.

The decision of Fernandes to spurn Everton to Valencia represented a rapid volte-face on the part of the Portuguese. Yet Everton's initial bid - and indeed their willingness to up their record signing to £12 million - was a rethink in itself.

Fernandes' deft footwork and ferocious long-range shooting were showcased in his spectacular goal against Manchester United last season. However, though most observers were impressed with the skilful midfielder, Moyes was believed to have his qualms. In part, that may be because his conception of a central midfielder appears to be based on Lee Carsley and Phil Neville; dependable, battle-hardened, but a flair-free zone. Perhaps that was part of Fernandes' thinking when he opted for La Liga instead, but without him, Mikel Arteta remains the major source - indeed sometimes the only one - of invention in the midfield.

But as the majority of Moyes' most successful signings have represented known quantities, whereas Per Kroldrup and Andy van der Meyde, both untried in England, failed, there is an understandable element of conservatism in his choice of Yakubu.

That can be gauged from the facts alone. In the last four seasons, his total of 54 Premiership goals, harvested for Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, is exceeded only by Thierry Henry. Some may claim that it is a distorted statistic as strikers of the calibre of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Didier Drogba, Dimitar Berbatov, Benni McCarthy, Michael Owen and Darren Bent have not had four complete campaigns to challenge the Nigerian, but an average of almost 14 goals per season, albeit inflated by penalties, is more than respectable.

Recent comments from the north-east have struck a sour note, referring to Yakubu's summer-long quest for a move, his lacklustre display against Wigan in his Middlesbrough farewell and the way his seasons have stalled in the spring on Teesside.

Of more relevance to Everton is whether he can dovetail with Andrew Johnson. There are similarities in that both are speedy strikers, though there is no doubt that the Englishman has the better work ethic, while the Nigerian is the more assured finisher. Yet Yakubu's most effective alliance in England was with Mark Viduka, operating as the quicker foil to a target man.

Meanwhile, Johnson's two campaigns in the Premier League, first at Crystal Palace and then at Everton, have largely been spent in the splendid isolation that is the sole striker's lot. He seems to relish the responsibility of leading the line alone, presenting himself as a one-man irritant to dawdling defenders. It suits Everton when Cahill, so expert at the attacking midfielder's role, is present to supplement the forward line and capitalise on Johnson's injury.

However, an effective partnership with James Beattie, who shares Yakubu's muscular build, eluded Johnson. Nevertheless, with only the two teenagers, James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe, as options and even the former injured, there was no doubt of Moyes' requirement for strikers. The question is whether, when Cahill is fit, Moyes intends to field Yakubu as well as Johnson and, if so, whether the Australian is incorporated in a more adventurous midfield.

So it could herald a more attacking approach remains. Rather than a prolific pairing of expensive strikers, Everton's attempts to be 'the best of the rest', like Sam Allardyce's Bolton, have been based upon their defence. It also entailed considerable continuity and, despite his price tag, Yakubu should be aware that Moyes favours a gradual introduction of newcomers.

Indeed, while Everton were preparing for what could have been the costliest week in their history, they went top of the Premier League, albeit briefly, by dint of their reliance on the tried and tested. In a division sprinkled with exciting signings, Everton recorded victories over Wigan and Tottenham without including any arrivals in their starting XI; indeed, Jagielka played a total of 10 minutes in those two wins.

Now stability has been discarded in favour of ambition as Everton, fresh from stepping up their plans to move to a new ground, are set to unveil, when the home office permit them to, an expensive addition.

The funding may have come courtesy of Planet Hollywood, but Yakubu will add drama to the script of Everton's season.


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