You remember John Carew don’t you? Big old bruiser of a centre-forward who knocked around Europe and ended up playing at the Villa for a few seasons. Pondering on Everton’s upcoming season, I had cause to recall a remark I made on The Guardian’s Minute-By-Minute coverage of a match in which Carew was bustling and boring through defenders. The John Carew Effect (so I pompously styled it), referred to a player who is far too good to play in a relegation team, but nowhere near good enough to play in a Champions League team. He’s impossible to drop, yet his very presence means that the team are stymied in their ambitions, destined for a mid-table finish. Everton’s current squad have a lot of John Carews.
We love them, they’re solid pros and who wouldn’t want the likes of Jagielka, Distin, Osman, Pienaar, Gibson and Anichebe in their squads? Well, Champions League clubs to be honest, otherwise they would have driven a lorry load of money up to Goodison and emptied it into the boardroom – as they may still do for Fellaini and Baines (though that’s looking more and more doubtful). While it’s comforting to know that even Mike Walker couldn’t get that set of players into relegation worries, it’s also frustrating to know that a top four finish (or even an FA Cup) looks further away rather than closer – especially with the ongoing comedy across Stanley Park beginning to get serious for the first time in years.
So are we destined to another goodish top ten finish of the kind to which we have become (perhaps complacently) accustomed during the Moyes years? Well, nothing is certain in sport – though top level football’s business model is doing all it can to make it so.
My interest this season – as it has been for the last five or so – will concentrate on two related matters. Of course, there’s finishing ahead of Liverpool as Priority Number One for all of us who remember endless open-top buses being saluted by Reds May after May after May. But there’s also the development of our young players: the ones who may not be John Carews; the ones who may actually turn into Didier Drogbas.
Will Joel Robles become the consistent goalkeeper that so few clubs possess? Will Kevin Mirallas stay fit and deliver those scintillating runs and devastating finishes more consistently? Can Seamus Coleman ally a rock solid defensive game to his burgeoning attacking threat? And, most exciting of all, can creative teenage midfielders Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu realise their potential in world football’s toughest finishing school? Not both, surely, but won’t it be fun seeing them have a real go?
So what do you want? The John Carews guaranteeing that we pick up the points away at West Brom and Newcastle and the likes to lift us from 10th to 8th next May? Or the chance to see Barkley and Deulofeu, at risk of finishing 12th? I’ll take 12th.