Rafael Benitez sets Everton back on the right path with savvy summer spending


Everton had spent about half a billion. Then they paid out £1.7 million this summer. After the extravagant outlay of the Farhad Moshiri era, the years in which their outlay approached £500 million and, as the £1.5 million Dominic Calvert-Lewin was their best buy, it was tempting to wonder where much of it went, came a transfer window of penny-pinching.

It was necessary, too. Everton’s summer of austerity was the legacy of past spending sprees, shaped in part by Financial Fair Play, or profit and sustainability rules. When the window closed, a club accustomed to being near the top of the spending charts had the Premier League’s smallest expenditure. But, in a way, perhaps the best: it was hard to get four players for under £2 million in the 1990s. Everton did it in the 2020s, acquiring Salomon Rondon, Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend and Asmir Begovic for less than they paid for Vinny Samways alone.

There are caveats to attach. Rondon, in particular, is likely to come with a substantial salary. Everton also wanted a right-back and did not get one. Their inability to find a taker for James Rodriguez means their outlay on his wages for a couple of months may exceed their summer transfer spending, while his enduring presence creates problems for Rafa Benitez. If the Spaniard’s past may yet undermine him, Everton are weighed down by their decisions in recent years. They must have wished some of the (almost £200) millions lavished on Alex Iwobi, Davy Klaassen, Yannick Bolasie, Cenk Tosun, Theo Walcott, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Moise Kean and Ashley Williams were still in the coffers, ready to help a recently-appointed manager shape his side.

It would have been intriguing to see what they had done had Carlo Ancelotti remained in charge. Instead, Benitez brought a contacts book and a clarity of thought. He rang Townsend soon after taking charge, urging him to wait for Everton’s offer. He was reunited with Rondon. Whereas other clubs have picked up Everton’s past big buys on the cheap, the Merseysiders got Rondon, who cost Dalian Shide £16.5 million, and Townsend, for whom Crystal Palace paid £13 million, for nothing.

Both arrive pre-programmed, having downloaded the Benitez handbook of tactical instructions. Townsend can track back, tuck in to form two banks of four when his side doesn’t have the ball and cross. Rondon was perfect for Benitez’s Newcastle, able to prosper alone up front with a combination of aerial ability, hold-up play and defence-stretching pace. Suddenly there is an alternative if Calvert-Lewin is injured or a twin target if Richarlison is sidelined or operating wider.

Gray has been the early revelation, his first three games for Everton yielding two goals and a nomination for the division’s player-of-the-month award. He represented untapped potential, but there was a savviness in recognising the release clause that meant he always threatened to be a £1.7 million bargain. And that, in turn, acts as an endorsement of the new regime.

Benitez’s pragmatism in finding affordable players has been matched by his style of play. Ancelotti admitted his Everton were not a possession team. Benitez’s Blues have not tried to be. Instead, he has used his signings to accentuate Calvert-Lewin’s strengths. With the Premier League’s best attacking header of a ball – even if Cristiano Ronaldo may claim that title – it makes sense to give him a diet of crosses. With the pace of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison augmented by the speed of Gray and Townsend, Everton are more of a counter-attacking threat. They have taken out Rodriguez’s creativity but found another way to play and done it on the cheap.

The end of every window prompts talk about its winners and losers. Premature judgments are invariably reached but if Everton have got too little return on some nine-figure outlay in previous summers, now they have made a little go a long way. They look the value-for-money champions. They sometimes were in the David Moyes era and perhaps in the summer when Roberto Martinez sold Marouane Fellaini, borrowed Romelu Lukaku and brought in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. But they have rarely been the masters of economy in the Moshiri years.

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