Borrowed Time

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Premier league clubs are allowed only two full season domestic loan signings each term. Everton have filled those two spots, with Gareth Barry (from Manchester City) and Romelu Lukaku (from Chelsea), as well as adding the Barcelona starlet, Gerard Deulofeu, to the ranks as an international loan signing, and an eye-catching one at that. These three players have profoundly contributed, maybe more than any other Everton player, to the team’s success this season. David Moyes, by the time his lengthy reign had come to an end, had fashioned Everton into a team that was always a solid opponent to every visiting opponent, always capable of nicking points off the top sides at Goodison, and one that excelled in carving out a comfortable spot just outside the top 5 each season. After Moyes had that quiet drink with Alex Ferguson (in hindsight, it may have been sipped from a poisoned chalice), and moved on to manage the “world’s biggest [underachieving] club”, Roberto Martinez was hired and, with startling swiftness, turned Everton into a club that has a legitimate claim to a Champions League spot, playing a beautiful passing game. If it wasn’t for the fact that their local rivals have also raised their game to astounding new levels this season, then Martinez’s progress at Everton might be getting more press (and praise). And certainly, it would only be those Liverpudlians fanatically draped in red that wouldn’t admire the real headway that Everton have made this season.

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But, as I said in the first few sentences, they have three loan signings. Martinez has spoken recently of his intention to make these loanees permanent additions, particularly Lukaku. He may well sign Gareth Barry in the summer, and a good signing it would be too. But his chances of permanently securing Lukaku’s services, not to mention Deulofeu’s, are slim to none. Lukaku is their top scorer this season; he has almost double the amount of the next highest goal scorer, Seamus Coleman, a defender). I remember the bemusement, the outraged incredulity, which met Jose Mourinho’s decision to loan out the bruising Belgian, particularly when you took a glance at Chelsea’s other choices up front. But it hasn’t measurably hurt Chelsea (in the league at least, the Champions League is another matter), they are still very much one of the favourites for the title. All this while Lukaku gets  another season of regular game time (injuries permitting) in the Premier League, only further bolstering the impression that he is one of the best young strikers in European football. And the impression is genuine because he is very good indeed; incredibly strong and athletic, able to see the gaps to make runs into, as well as being quite handy on the ball, a good dribbler and decent passer. The way he has hurled himself about, almost recklessly, in search of goals (the winner against West Ham earlier in the season comes to mind) testifies to his bravery and desire to score. But he has not made any efforts to mask his desire to play Champions League football, and nor should he because he is probably good enough player to demand such a stage. Everton probably, barring a bout of ruinous generosity from Arsenal, won’t be able to provide that. Chelsea will be able to offer it, and Mourinho, despite his decision to loan him this season, isn’t a fool and can surely see that the Belgian is a quality player (and that Fernando Torres’s slow and arduous voyage into mediocrity is a one way trip). Even if Mourinho, in the face of Chelsea’s striking issues, the comparisons of Lukaku to Drogba, and the protestations of just about everyone involved in football, decides to go and get Diego Costa or Falcao this summer, he is certain to use Lukaku as a hefty financial makeweight.

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What will happen when Big Rommy goes next season?

Deulofeu is a La Masia product, who was only secured because of Martinez, who is well respected in Spain and plays a compatible brand of football. The winger will return to Spain with the hope that, with his experience in England in the bank, he can secure a first team spot with the Spanish champions. Barry has been vital to Everton’s midfield this season, he is a player whose positional sense is generally very good, who can compete physically in the maw that is the Premier League midfield battle, and can play the short, quick passes that keep possession ticking over, as well as the ball that releases Barkley, or Mirallas, or whoever, to surge forward. Barry should sign with Everton, but that deal, although likely, is still yet to be officially completed and anything can happen.

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Oof, Get in…my team on a permanent deal!

The point of all this is that Everton have relied so heavily on these players, particularly Lukaku, that to lose them in the off season will require serious moves to replace the holes they leave. We have seen how West Brom have struggled so badly to replace just Lukaku. Nicholas Anelka and Victor Anichebe, even combined, have been nothing like as effective, and West Brom are now mired in the toxic bog that is the yearly relegation battle. Martinez reportedly has a transfer kitty of around £20,000,000 and that money may be needed to be utilised fully and intelligently. Aside from just the loss of such quality, essential players, the improvement this season has raised expectations for the next. West Brom finished 8th last season, and were in the top ten for almost all of the campaign. Steve Clarke was judged by that yardstick this season, and when he failed to exceed, or even match his own benchmark, he was culled mercilessly. It went rather unmentioned, what with all the managerial upheaval at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, but Everton also lost their manager of 10 years. They are undergoing a period of radical change with Martinez, and it’s all well and good to get off to a good start, certainly David Moyes is looking on with envy. But the accumulation of the maximum amount of loanees, particularly loanees who have become such central players, is a thoroughly short-term form of team building. It would be a crying shame if Everton suffered later on because of it.

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This article also appears on TheTurf.com.au, a new Australian site dedicated to international and domestic football writing.

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