Firstly, I’d like to clarify that I do not want the club to sell John Stones. I think that he is irreplaceable in the market, and it would be extremely damaging for the club and send entirely the wrong message to others at the club with huge ambition (Barkley, Lukaku, Coleman).
I also think that it would be a bad time to sell Stones, as I think after another 12 months at the club, it wouldn’t just be Chelsea looking to sign him, but all of the big clubs in European football. The boy has immense talent, and incredible potential, and yet I don’t see the champions showing the sort of money that I would hope to expect for such a talent.
But, should Everton cash in this summer, which all Blue’s will know is a distinct possibility, which areas should we seek to improve? And is there anyone out there who will fit the bill?
The first area is very clear: if we lose Stones, we will have lost three centre backs this summer; an area which we didn’t look too solid in last season either. We have two talents coming through the youth system, with Ty Browning and Brendan Galloway looking to make the step up, but to become a first-team player in the Premier League, particularly in a position under such scrutiny, would be unfair on these two at this stage of their careers, and wouldn’t show the ambition of a club that looks to be pushing for a European place.
However, I find this position a hard one to fill. We will need two centre backs, and while we have been linked with Jonny Evans and Scott Dann, neither inspires any great confidence. Combine with this the injury concerns relating to Evans, and we don’t look to be in a much stronger position than when we had Stones. The other great difficulty in relation to a move for either/both of these players, is that both would command a fee somewhere between £8-12m, taking up a huge amount of the Stones fee, and leaving us with a worse player in our starting XI. The options on this are tough, and will require Martinez’s scouting network to unearth something special, because I cannot see anyone who I feel would adequately fit the bill, and unless he has someone lined up as a replacement, Stones certainly shouldn’t be sold.
The next most crucial area would be in attack. We have Romelu Lukaku, who will be our primary centre forward this year, but behind him we have Arouna Kone and Steven Naismith, and as much as these two may try, neither are prolific Premier League centre forwards.
In this position, we do have options. We could go for someone like Charlie Austin – he can score goals, and would be a similar style replacement for Lukaku if unfit. He is relatively young, and available for around £15m. I, however, would prefer a move for a different style of player to Lukaku, someone who can stretch a defence and look to move beyond it, and for this type, someone along the lines of a Loic Remy would work well. He has an excellent goalscoring record in the Premier League, shows excellent movement in the box, and looks to run in behind a defence – something that I feel Everton are far too often guilty of not doing. I also feel that his use off the bench would be invaluable facing up against tired defences and could prove a real asset to have.
The final, most crucial, position that I would hope that we could fill is one that Martinez has spoken about in the past, and is something that would change the whole dynamic of Everton’s attack, and that is a “No. 10”. This is the player who plays just behind the striker but who can pick apart a defence with his passing and vision. This is a player who we simply do not have. A Fabregas, a Silva, a Mata, a Rakitic, a Modric, an Isco. These players are highly coveted and not readily available, but is a player that we need if we are to push on again this season. We need to break down an opposition, particularly in the style that we play, which allows defences to get back and organised.
The players that I would like to see the Toffees go for who could fill this role would be one of Bojan at Stoke, or Sigurdsson at Swansea. These are players who can pick a pass, and who have the ability to change a game when not going their way. Either would take a decent chunk from Everton’s kitty, so it has to be hoped that if they do sell, they sell BIG.