Everton proved expert market traders in battle with rich American owners
An Easter quiz for you. Which of these is the odd man out? Malcolm Glazer, Stan Kroenke, Randy Lerner, Shahid Khan, Ellis Short, John W. Henry. The answer, of course, is John W. Henry, for he’s the only American owner of a Premier League club who is happy with the way this season has gone.
He and his Fenway Sports Group colleagues must be trying to suppress mounting ecstasy, in fact, as Liverpool continue their remarkable progress towards the title. This wasn’t expected to happen so soon. But Brendan Rodgers has turned out to be an outstanding coach and victory at endangered Norwich on Sunday would set his team up for a mouth-watering potential decider against Chelsea at Anfield a week later.
These are less exciting times, however, for other Americans abroad. Short’s Sunderland are heading for relegation. But at least they’ve only changed their coach once. Khan’s Fulham are on their third of the season and still, unless Felix Magath can conjure an unlikely triumph at Tottenham, they seem likely to join the sad march downhill to the Championship.
Lerner’s Aston Villa looked safe a few weeks ago but four consecutive defeats have put them in danger, obliging the owner to declare support for Paul Lambert. There are rumors that, having paid around $100 million for the club eight years ago and invested a further $400 million, he might cut his losses by accepting a $325 million offer to sell to an unidentified consortium headed by yet more Americans. It goes almost without saying that, if Villa are relegated, the deal is off.
Kroenke, meanwhile, has seen Arsenal slip from title contenders to scramblers for fourth place and a chance to stay in the UEFA Champions League next season — though they have reached the final of the FA Cup. Which brings us to Glazer and his sons, viewing from Florida an excruciating transition from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes; for Manchester United, confirmation that there will be no more Champions League for a while came when they were predictably ousted from this year’s competition by Bayern Munich on April 9.
They have never really been in contention for a top-four place and you might imagine a certain amount of cackling will be heard on Sunday, when Moyes takes his new team back to Everton. He did, after all, leave Goodison Park for Old Trafford last summer and in the first half of the season the joke was often heard: "Moyes spent more than ten years trying to get Everton above United in the League and now he’s done it."
But Moyes is greatly respected for his work at Everton and I think this will be reflected in a warm welcome upon his return. When he came, the club were threatened with relegation and from then on it was mid-table respectability at least, with some European soccer and an agonisingly narrow failure to break through into the Champions League in 2005-06, when they were controversially beaten in a playoff by eventual semifinalists Villarreal.
Moyes also left a good team, as new coach Roberto Martinez has demonstrated while appearing to improve it, building on Moyes’ bequest with such excellent loan signings as Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry and young Barcelona attacker Gerard Deulofeu.
Until last Wednesday, when Everton were shocked at home by Crystal Palace, they looked capable of taking that coveted fourth place (most people expect Liverpool, Chelsea and City to remain in the top three) at Arsenal’s expense. But now they will have to beat United to stay in strong contention, especially if Arsenal have won their Cup rehearsal at Hull, which finishes half an hour before the teams take the field at Goodison.
United will be playing for pride. Having lost at home to Everton in December — the only goal came late from the ill-fated Bryan Oviedo, whom a broken leg subsequently ruled out of Costa Rica’s World Cup campaign — they will be keen to show against one of the country’s leading sides that recent signs of revival have substance.
Wayne Rooney, to whom Moyes gave his League debut at Goodison, is expected back after a toe injury and it should be fascinating to compare him with Everton’s new kid on the block, Ross Barkley. Another who will know his way around the old stadium is Marouane Fellaini — a less acclaimed capture from the Merseyside club, it is fair to say, in his debut season in Manchester. He has also recovered fitness.
The only mid-term certainty is that Everton, who remain in a stadium less than half the size of United’s, will be vulnerable to bids for their most exciting players. "Since I was a kid," said Moyes’ record signing Juan Mata this week, "Manchester United was fighting for every trophy. This moment is going to come back for sure."
Money will make it so. But for now Everton are ahead on merit and this game could labor the point that, when it came to the market in coaches last summer, their chairman Bill Kenwright, an Englishman — did better trading than the men from Florida.