The drop from 5th to 11th was a harsh one for Evertonians. The first season under Martinez saw us play open attractive football and put up a genuine challenge to 4th place which only fell away in the final few games of the season. That season gave optimism for the next that we could once again challenge for the much coveted Champions League qualification and also have the opportunity to win a European trophy. Obviously that never materialised and Everton fans were left wondering if Martinez was a one season wonder or whether this was just the difficult second year.
There are a large section of Everton fans that remain sceptical about Martinez, who at the beginning of the year would have been happy to see him go. There was certainly a stage where many other chairmen would have pulled the trigger but hopefully Kenwright’s patience will be rewarded. There have been signs this season that the swagger and arrogance of that first season has returned, slightly disguised by the particularly challenging first ten games that Everton have had.
The minimum expectation this year would be 7th and many Everton fans would hope for higher. Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City seem out of reach but with our comparative squads, we should be battling for league position with Tottenham and Liverpool. Chelsea is an interesting one was you’d expect them to come back strongly and still may quality for the Champions League. If all the above named teams finished above us then we’d be 7th. There is no other team in the league whose first eleven would be a match to ours. The likes of West Ham, Southampton, Swansea and Stoke may be close but to finish below any of them would be a failure.
Would 7th be a successful season though? Not really. And in many recent seasons it hasn’t been enough for a European place with various other teams winning the League Cup or getting to the FA Cup final. There are a group of precocious Everton youngsters who would demand Everton to be challenging for more, and a group who will play regular Champions League football, whether that is with Everton or not. This was seen with John Stones and his desire to leave and although eventually he was happy to stay, the likes of Stones, Lukaku, Deulofeu and Barkley aren’t going to wait forever. I doubt they would see 7th as a success.
Whilst a trophy would be fantastic for the club, it wouldn’t serve to appease our ambitious youth. There are many a hypothetical question asked about sacrificing league position for silverware but it’s not a hypothesis Everton can entertain. Would 8th and a League Cup win be a success? You’d have to say yes but the short term win would come at a long term cost. Everton have to prioritise every competition and we now have the squad size to do so.
Everton like all clubs want to win trophies but unlike most it isn’t a case of attracting players for the future, it’s as much about keeping the players of the present. The potentially world class players that we have through the spine of the club need to be kept and they’ll only stay if their ambition is matched.
Everton aren’t in a position to pick and choose success though and much as we can say what would be a successful season; another trophy less 11th place is equally as possible.
A trophy in any form would make this a successful season, and with that, winning any domestic trophy comes with the prize of European qualification. The ultimate aim though is the Champions League and although qualification this year would be a tough ask, an attempt at least as strong as in Martinez’ first year is most likely the minimum expectation to the players who want to play in it.