top at toffees | 

Frank Lampard has as much riding on his good calls as bad ones as Everton seek top-flight survival

Everton manager Frank Lampard. Photo by: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sam WallaceTelegraph Media Group Limited

These are the most critical two months that Everton have faced in their recent history, and perhaps their distant history too, and how Frank Lampard navigates them will not just affect the life of this old club but the course of a management career that is now, for better or worse, entwined in a common destiny.

Relegation has never been more damaging than it is now, as the new three-year cycle begins of the latest Premier League broadcast deal worth around £10.3 billion (€12.2bn), another new benchmark.

Everton have never embarked on a capital project as large as the new stadium that awaits a couple of miles from Goodison Park.

The club have never spent the kind of money that owner Farhad Moshiri has invested, and for so little return thus far.

The visit of Newcastle United tonight feels fundamental to Everton’s season, with the team not playing at home again in the Premier League until the visit of Manchester United 23 days later.

The three intervening games, starting with an FA Cup quarter-final against Crystal Palace and then two away trips, to West Ham and Burnley, form a sequence that could save the season or break it, before a brutal run-in begins with United.

A turbulent year is building to a dramatic end. It is not that Everton have survived more consecutive seasons in the top-flight than any other club, save Arsenal, it is more that they have survived before by the skin of their teeth.

Most recently in 1998 by goal difference, then four years earlier in that famous final-day win over Wimbledon, and before then in 1980 by the margin of four points.

Their survival streak is that much more sacred because Everton have diced with relegation and survived.

Into Lampard’s hands in January was thrust the future of Everton’s top-flight status. The team have failed to score in the past four games, but it was in defence that the problems began.

He took over a club with morale at rock bottom and lost his two best defenders in his first two games – Ben Godfrey in an FA Cup tie against Brentford and then a St James Park defeat on February 8 that claimed Yerry Mina.

Since then the struggles have been evident across four league defeats, one win and just one clean sheet. He has switched between three at the back, in the most recent defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, as opposed to a back four when conceding five against Spurs.

If the January transfer window could be re-run, especially given the fate of Mina, it would have been that part of the team which would have been prioritised.

Lampard finds himself making the compromises all managers in his position must make, between telling the hard truths and trying to preserve what fragile confidence remains to keep his team up.

He is at a critical point for his own career. Relegation would not necessarily be terminal, but it could count against him in the future.

There had been other options for him in the months leading up to his appointment, with strong interest from Rangers and then Norwich City, but this was the mid-season challenge that he wanted the most.

The Everton decline, in spite of the investment of the past six years, has been long and complicated, but the convergence of factors now for club and manager are stark.

Everton have been unequivocal that there is no part of the club that is owned by the sanctioned Uzbek-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, and that has been reflected in the assets listed by the UK government.

His friend Moshiri now owns more than 94 per cent of the club, with an investment of £450 million (€536m) that has no repayment terms and a major portion of which has been converted into equity.

Losses over the past two financial years, totalling £252 million (€211m), are the heaviest in the Premier League. The club have indicated that there will be no issues complying with the league’s financial fair play regulations in their next annual results, to be published this month.

Around £40 million (€47m) spent on fees on the new stadium will be offset from that calculation.

The new stadium is the crossroads for the club. It has needed Moshiri’s investment to begin the process, including the infill of the Bramley-Moore dock site, while borrowing of around £350 million (€416m) was sought to fund the building of the ground.

The club are understood to be confident they have that borrowing in place and have denied suggestions that they are seeking funding for anything other than the stadium construction and servicing the net debt of around £2.3 million (€2.7m).

Borrowing in place for all or part of the new stadium, with the steel for the site scheduled to arrive in the summer, adds a layer of security to the club. Although above it all looms relegation.

That would wipe out around £70 million (€83m) of Everton’s broadcast income at a stroke. It would ask more of everyone involved, not least Moshiri. Who knows what effect it would have on the market in which Everton may apply for fresh funding for their stadium.

All of which intensifies the pressure, magnified from every side, on manager and players.

It is a pressure that was no doubt felt by Lampard’s predecessors too, in terms of prestige and in part finance, when they had their own near-misses with relegation.

A big club going into the home straight with the prospect of the drop is by nature a fretful, anxious place. But the stakes for season 2021-22 are immeasurably greater.

For Lampard, in his new profession, the good calls, as well as the bad ones, have so much riding on them. (© Telegraph Media Group Limited, 2022)

Today's Headlines

More Soccer

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos