Are Everton ready to challenge for a top four Premier League position after summer of big spending?

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Evertonians could be forgiven for waking up and thinking it’s all a dream, after all, a summer spending spree of close to £100m is something the Blue half of Merseyside could have only dreamt about previously.

For so long, Toffees fans have almost become used to disappointment in the transfer market, that inability to be able to break the glass ceiling, buy big-name stars, fall behind and constantly be in the shadow of neighbours Liverpool across Stanley Park.

Now, it is seemingly a different story – well ever since Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri purchased a 49.9% stake in the club to become majority shareholder in February 2016.

The ambition shown from Moshiri – a former minority shareholder in Arsenal – has driven Everton to new heights in less than 18 months.

While some football observers may question the progress the Blues have made on and off the pitch since his arrival, it’s laughable that this is even up for debate. He has actually changed the direction and feeling around the club in so many ways. Without him, Everton could not punch much higher than mid-table.

Moshiri, 62, is in a hurry, and along with chairman Bill Kenwright, 71, the pair are not going to waste any time in trying to make Everton a force again.

This summer, the Toffees have broken their own transfer record twice with the £30m signings of Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane – out-bidding the £28m fee shelled out on Romelu Lukaku in 2014. Throw in the £25m fee paid for Yannick Bolasie and £24m spent on Morgan Schneiderlin last term, as well as £23.6m for Davy Klaassen last month, then the club have put their money where their mouth is.

Off the pitch, Everton’s proposed new £300m stadium move to Bramley Moore Dock is now well underway, new naming rights at USM Finch Farm – the club’s training ground and a facelift to the club’s Goodison Park ground, home to the Blues since 1892, has brought Everton well up to scratch.

Let’s not forget a record shirt sponsorship with Sportpesa too.

It’s investment that shows Everton mean business and are ready to compete.

Signings-wise, Steve Walsh, Everton’s Director of Football, the man who rose to prominence after scouting the likes of N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez for 2015-16 Premier League champions Leicester, has clearly wasted no time in signing the players Ronald Koeman had asked for.

Quick business, with the promise of one or two more stars to arrive, should enable the Blues to hit the ground running.

Sandro Ramirez, for example, is a smart purchase (a snip at only £5.2m) given he is only 21 years of age and has the discipline and work rate to play up front on his own. Pickford and Keane – two young England stars – epitomize the Blues’ plan to build a youthful team with players ready to deliver now, rather than just pure potential.

Koeman is structuring a solid side, capable of challenging the Premier League’s big guns.

The signings have a similar resemblance to Chelsea’s back in the summer of 2004 when they acquired the likes of Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Arjen Robben, Thiago and Petr Cech, among others. These stars may have not been household names at the time but they arrived in England approaching the peak of their careers with the drive and ambition to be world-class.

I’m not saying for any one moment Everton will be challenging for the title next term, but it’s an interesting comparison to make.

The conundrum over Lukaku’s future will surely rear its head when he returns to pre-season training and while Koeman is happy to keep the Belgian star given he has two years left on his contract, a big-money bid and Lukaku’s ambition to play elsewhere should prise him away this summer.

Keeping Lukaku and getting one more season out of him would be massive for Everton but no one at Goodison is holding their breath, instead they’re waiting for the inevitable. The club have known for a while now that he doesn’t want to be a Blue for much longer and have planned accordingly, so that should help the Toffees.

Selling Lukaku for £70m wouldn’t be bad business, the same goes for the £50M the Blues got their hands on from the sale of John Stones last summer.

Then there’s Ross Barkley – the boyhood blue whose contract is up at the end of the next season. Given the way Koeman criticized the England man openly in press conferences last season, the two clearly don’t see eye-to-eye – even if that was the Dutchman’s impolite way of telling the 23-year-old to up his game.

Koeman has made plans without them and is making sure Everton start the season strong with or without Barkley and Lukaku in the ranks.

Let’s not forget, all those years ago, Everton finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League (eventually losing out to Villarreal in that famed qualifier). Back then, 450k signing Marcus Bent was David Moyes’ biggest purchase ahead of the season after losing star player Wayne Rooney for a fee which rose to £30m. The game has changed a lot since then but is evidence anything can happen in football.

Talk of a return for Rooney of course has some sentimental value and it’s a move that probably fits in with the ‘People’s Club’ slogan that has stuck with Everton, but it’s not a transfer the club should make.

His experience would probably help but his deterioration as a player as well as hefty pay packet just wouldn’t fit in with a club that has very rarely ventured over the £100k-a-week figure. The emergence of Tom Davies – the teenager who is now a first-team regular – as well as England under-20 stars, particularly attacking trio Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman and Kieran Dowell, is further proof Everton don’t need to turn back to Rooney. It’s time for a new generation to make their way.

Boss Koeman is typically Dutch in the sense that he isn’t afraid to come out and say what he thinks, and while the Barcelona legend has two more years left on his Goodison deal – he isn’t likely to go beyond that.

That shouldn’t bother Evertonians, though, most should be happy that they have a man in charge who wants to make things happen now – and ultimately that will boost his own personal gain as well as Everton’s.

Big spending perhaps brings with it more pressure to deliver, something that won’t bother Koeman or Evertonians, most of whom have been longing for this kind of investment for years. You have to go back to the 1960s when the club were nicknamed the “Merseyside Millionaires” – the last time they seemed to have reputable financial clout, and of course the 1980s, for Everton’s last period of sustained success.

While the dream of qualifying for the Champions League next season and the rich rewards of everything that comes with it are what the club are aiming for, realistically, that’s going to be difficult to achieve with the power of the ‘top 6′.

Dare I say it, a Cup win, either the Capital One Cup or the FA Cup, would resonate more with Evertonians. Why? The Blues have gone 22 years without winning a major trophy – the longest barren patch in the Merseyside club’s history. Silverware is badly needed.

Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher, a boyhood blue, derided the Toffees’ summer signings on Twitter – saying that none of the new faces would get into the Kop first-team – and many would disagree with the defender.

However, in all fairness to him – he has a point to goad the Blues. Everton haven’t won a Merseyside Derby since 2010 and have an inferiority complex against their rivals – something they have been unable to solve or change.

Next season, the burden of Europa League football (Everton have to play qualifying matches before the Premier League season gets underway) is not ideal but the Blues should have a strong enough squad as youngsters will be handed more game time.

Last season was very much work in progress for Everton, but a seventh place finish and strong home record under Koeman, showed plenty of signs that with more quality heading into next season – there’s no reason why Everton can’t be there or thereabouts for a top four berth.

We don’t have to wait long to find out whether the Toffees will stick or twist anyway, fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in four of their first five league matches should give us an early indication of whether of not they’re capable of breaking up the big boys.

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