Everton addressing aging squad with early business in transfer window
It was a struggle for Everton during Roberto Martinez's second season in charge, especially from a defensive standpoint. The Toffees reached a half century of goals conceded, one fewer than relegated Hull and three fewer than relegated Burnley.
Between Tim Howard dropping from the heights of a one-man World Cup show to a shadow of his best, and a defence creaking under injuries and fluctuating form, it was a slog in the defensive third of the pitch last season. Those who struggled soon moved on. Sylvain Distin joined Bournemouth on a free transfer while Antolin Alcaraz sits on the free agent list.
Problems extended to midfield and attack. The passing game lauded in Martinez's debut season quickly became stale and the lack of width nullified much of the attacking threat as the one-paced setup stifled the players.
These issues and more left Everton looking every inch the aging team they appeared, losing three of the final four matches and drifting to a lacklustre home defeat at the end of a disappointing season.
Statistics told the story of a team too reliant on those reaching the end of their careers. Eleven of the 28 players used in the league were aged 30 or older. The three players on top of the appearance list were 32-year-old Phil Jagielka (33 in August), 34-year-old Gareth Barry and 36-year-old Howard.
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Of the remaining 17 players, there were 11 in the 25 or under bracket, but six of those failed to reach double figures in league appearances -- the most used of the six, Joel Robles, managed a mere seven league matches. The quintet of Romelu Lukaku, James McCarthy, Ross Barkley, John Stones and Muhamed Besic were the only players under 25 to feature prominently last season.
Such figures display the need for a gradual overhaul of the squad. Lowering the average age and injecting fresh legs into a tiring unit is the order of the day, and that is why this summer's early business is a pleasing step.
The Blues can reflect on three players signed and a young prospect tied to a five-year deal in the week the transfer window opened for business. It is a brisk summer opening ahead of a pivotal season. Each of the players fits the remit of freshening up the squad, with each having plenty of time on their side. Tom Cleverley is 25, the others younger still: Luke Garbutt 22, Gerard Deulofeu 21, and David Henen 19.
The most recent arrival is Henen, one for the future and something of an unknown quantity with the young Belgian winger yet to feature in the first-team picture. Although Henen is an unknown, the others to sign on the dotted line are familiar to either manager or club.
Free transfer Cleverley spent a season under Martinez at Wigan, while Deulofeu spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Goodison Park. Martinez's previous stints with both helped seal the deal; each of the players turned down lucrative offers in favour of a move to Merseyside.
Cleverley offers versatility and a different brand of midfield play than those often employed in the central positions. The second of the summer signings, Deulofeu, is the type of player who excites and infuriates, often in quick succession, but one with endless potential and the ability to create something from nothing.
The only one of the four not a new signing, although no less valuable, is Garbutt, with the youngster committing his immediate future to the club -- a prospect seemingly unlikely when Garbutt failed to appear in the final two matches of the season. Martinez's preference for the previously untried Brendan Galloway appeared the death knell for Garbutt and his time with the Blues.
That the eventual outcome is a five-year deal is excellent news for all parties. Some of the hype threatened to reach dangerous heights, but Garbutt showed enough promise across 10 appearances in all competitions. To ensure his signature on a five-year deal is smart business with the potential to improve further.
For these players committing their immediate futures to the club, perhaps the biggest positive is the chance to either reunite or continue working with Martinez. Each of the players has referenced the manager as a factor in their decision to play in royal blue next term.
Often slow to act between seasons, these four deals signal a satisfying start for Everton in the first week of the summer window. How this summer progresses, in terms of both recruitment and preseason itself, is likely to shape the new season, but this swift injection of youth is a good platform from which to refresh a team out to repair the damage inflicted last season.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.