For all the uncertainty swirling around Everton, one thing is clear: the days of lavish spending are over.
Last summer their biggest transfer fee was the £1.75 million for Demarai Gray, and although they invested on two full-backs in Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson in January, those deals were effectively paid for by the sale of Lucas Digne.
It is the new normal at Goodison — perhaps a throwback to a different era. With Farhad Moshiri’s finances compromised by the removal of Alisher Usmanov’s sponsors, a new stadium to fund and the fraught position in relation to the Premier League’s profit and loss rules, they can only spend what they bring in.
A squad that was nearly relegated, though, is not overflowing with assets that other clubs prize.
It is why the future of their two star players — strikers Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin — continue to be the subject of heavy speculation and a sense that one, or both, could leave this summer.
Calvert-Lewin signed off on a hugely difficult season for him and the club on a high. His winning header against Crystal Palace will go down in Everton history, in that way cementing his place as a number nine to be remembered.
That was underlined by the iconic image, captured by club photographer Tony McArdle, of the shirtless 25-year-old surrounded by a throng of joyous fans at the final whistle, arms aloft and beaming. There was euphoria — but was there also a chapter of his career closing?
Calvert-Lewin posted the picture on his Instagram and followed it three days later with a longer post detailing the psychological toll events had take on him during the season.
Beset with serious injuries for the first time in his career and latterly unable to reach the goalscoring heights of the previous campaign, his mental health suffered.
A month earlier he had already gone public to detail his frustration with the criticism some of his performances had garnered. “People can choose to believe what they read,” he wrote. “That’s out of my control.” He noted that Everton had “shaped him into the man I am today”.
In his most recent post, he added, “Finishing the season on a high meant everything to me, enjoy the break Toffee fans you deserve it. May the pressure continue to be a privilege.”
Without further elaboration, it is possible to read various different conclusions into these posts.
Aim The Athletic understands Calvert-Lewin’s career on Merseyside is indeed at a crossroads this summer.
There is a feeling around the player that, while his own damaged confidence contributed towards those uncharacteristically lacklustre displays once back in the team, so too did the removal of anything approaching a consistent supply line. The sales of James Rodriguez and Digne, plus absence of Gylfi Sigurdsson, had a big impact on a striker who scored many of his 21 goals in 2020-21 thanks to their deliveries.
It remains to be seen if Everton will be able to fully address their creative deficit, but it is an issue for Calvert-Lewin — who will want to start the new campaign with the best possible chance of starting to score consistently again in a World Cup year.
It may be that, having ended a bad season on a high, he takes the decision to leave a club which undoubtedly means a lot to him for a fresh start with that happy memory as a full stop.
There remains interest in him from Newcastle, among others, but there is not believed to be the potential for a frenzied auction in the current market.
Nevertheless, Everton’s situation may dictate their willingness to step aside and enable a move that may in some quarters at least be viewed as suiting both parties.
At the time of writing, Everton are yet to receive formal bids for either player.
There is, however, a general sense they will be tested this summer, and that the steely resolve they have had in previous years when it came to retaining their best players has diminished out of necessity.
Richarlison is currently on holiday in Brazil, where he is unwinding in his hometown of Nova Venecia after a hectic season.
He made headlines last month for comments made on international duty, interpreted by some as the clearest indication yet that he wants to leave Goodison.
“I’ve already made it clear to the board, I’ve already talked to (Frank) Lampard too, with my agents and they know what I want,” he said. “Let’s wait for June.
“Now I can’t talk, because when we talk about leaving a club, I’m kind of like this, because of the history I have at Everton, the affection that the fans have for me, when we talk about leaving, I ‘m a little speechless.“
Those closest to him were quick to stress that supporters shouldn’t read too much into his comments; that this was a formulaic response for dealing with the regular barrage of questions he receives from reporters in his homeland about his future whenever he is away with Brazil.
But it is true that there have been a number of decisive shifts behind the scenes. Aware of the interest in his services, last summer Everton’s recruitment team prepared a list of contingency options should he push to leave. Some are of the view that he is likely to do so this time around.
More recently, he has signed with industry big-hitters CAA Base, who will now work with his Brazilian agent Renato Velasco.
There is now a sense from Richarlison’s camp that he believes he is capable of playing for a top club and wants to play in top competitions. In other words, he feels ready for a step up despite his clear affection for Everton.
Tottenham are one of several interested parties, at home and abroad. They have shown the most willingness so far — despite stopping short of lodging an official bid — but in the last couple of years his progress has also been tracked by Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona among others.
Former boss Carlo Ancelotti is another known admirer.
The decision over what comes next will not be rushed. Everton’s valuation comfortably exceeds the £50 million quoted in recent reports, and crucially any sale will need to make financial sense for them. So far, no club has shown the appetite to pay those sorts of sums and some with knowledge of the situation wonder if they ever will. So what is most likely is that this rumbles on longer, and reaches an impasse until either Everton or a prospective buyer cracks.
On Richarlison’s side, there is a feeling the next step needs to be planned carefully. Particularly in a World Cup year, risky moves need to be avoided, and his ultimate aim is to shine in Qatar for his country. Playing at the highest level possible is important, but so is regular game time. His place in the Brazil spot cannot be compromised.
Richarlison’s holiday — Everton players are due to return to training on July 1 — affords him the opportunity to take a step back and assess his options.
While Richarlison has so far garnered more interest — Calvert-Lewin’s injury problems last season deterring some potential suitors up to now — many of those with knowledge of Everton’s financial predicament have stressed the need to maximize profits on ongoings.
In this sense, the key consideration is still satisfying FFP demands.
In purely financial terms, it is harder for Everton to make the sort of profit they need on Richarlison than Calvert-Lewin. Why? Because while the former was signed from Watford for a fee rising to £40 million, his strike partner arrived for a meagre sum of around £1.5 million from Sheffield United as a youngster.
At this stage, just about everything recouped on Calvert-Lewin would be profit. Not so with Richarlison, who maintains a higher book value. Few clubs have so far intimated they would be willing to meet Everton’s valuation of Richarlison, again lofty out of necessity.
His former club Watford are also said to be entitled to 10 per cent on any figure over the £40 million Everton initially spent on him, further eroding the potential for profit.
Clearly there are other ways for Everton to generate funds, but there is still a feeling that at least one of their key assets will need to be sold for healthy profit regardless of any potential takeover. New ownership does not wipe out FFP considerations, after all.
Early sales, before the end of the current financial year (June 30) would help immeasurably.
Where Everton and their two star players are concerned, it is now a waiting game. The club need to recoup money; Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin want to further their careers; Lampard needs funds to reshape the squad.
All that is left is for the first domino to fall.
(Top Photo: Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)