Everton’s 2012-13 season was eerily intertwined with that of Wigan Athletic, a provincial club — in a town better known for its rugby than its soccer — that will be playing in England’s second-tier next season. But before I explain, let’s have an overview of Everton’s season.
By many measures, it was a successful year. We finished in sixth place, which is normally sufficient to qualify for European play. Only big-spending clubs came in ahead of us, and our record against most of these clubs was exemplary — wins against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur, plus a pair of draws against Arsenal.
We also finished ahead of Liverpool — our free spending neighbors — for the second season in a row. We hadn’t accomplished that “double” for decades.
Finally, our point total of 63 was the best since 2009, when we also grabbed 63.
Nonetheless, it was a disappointing season because this squad was good enough to qualify for Europe, but failed to do so. And this is where Wigan figures in.
Our sixth place finish wasn’t good enough for Europe this year because two lower-finishing clubs — Wigan and Swansea City — snatched European places by winning Cup competitions. But Everton had a golden opportunity to derail Wigan’s FA Cup run, and to make one ourselves. All we had to do was beat Wigan at our ground, Goodison Park.
Goodison was a fortress for Everton this season. It was there that we beat Man U, Man City, and Tottenham. Indeed, we only lost one home EPL match all season — a 2-1 loss to mighty Chelsea.
Yet Wigan thrashed us 3-0 at Goodison in the FA Cup quarterfinal. They accomplished this by scoring three goals in a space of four minutes in the first half.
The winner of this quarter-final needed only to beat lowly Millwall (from the second tier) in order the reach the Cup Final and, concomitantly, Europe. Wigan did that deed easily, as Everton almost surely would have.
At the time, the loss to Wigan seemed even more devastating than it turned out to be. I assumed that the loss meant the departure of our great manager, David Moyes, who had indicated he might well leave Everton if we didn’t make it to Europe.
In the end, however, Moyes was hired to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, after Fergie’s surprise resignation. So Moyes would have left Everton regardless.
In addition, Wigan went on to hoist the FA Cup, shocking Manchester City 1-0 in the Final. On the one hand, Wigan’s victory left Evertonians with a “that could have been us” feeling. On the other hand, it demonstrated that Wigan, despite being relegated to the second tier, can play with anyone on its day.
The final twist occurred when our owner, Bill Kenwright, named Wigan’s manager, Roberto Martinez, to succeed David Moyes at Everton. Martinez is widely respected and would likely have received strong consideration even if Wigan hadn’t dismantled Everton and gone on to win the FA Cup. But the shellacking certainly didn’t hurt the Spaniard’s cause.
Even with the Cup victory, the selection of Martinez raised some eyebrows. After all, Wigan was relegated after narrowly avoiding that fate the past few years.
But Wigan lacks financial resources and thus has been forced to sell top players every year. Martinez’s ability to keep the club viable on a shoe-string recommends him as successor to Moyes who had to do basically the same thing at Everton (though his string was longer).
What will the off-season bring? The big clubs, including perhaps Man U, will target our top two stars, Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Barnes. The latter is a decent bet to remain at Goodison. However, Fellaini has an escape clause in his contract, and may well be tempted by a bigger club, despite Martinez’s professed confidence that he can keep the big-hair destroyer.
If Fellaini leaves, he should fetch a good price. With that money, Martinez would likely pursue some of his former Wigan charges. Midfielder James McCarthy and winger Victor Moses (a big star at Wigan but now seemingly surplus-to-requirements at Man City) have been mentioned.
Callum McManaman, a wide attacking player, is another possibility. The boyhood Everton supporter and one-time Everton apprentice put in a man-of-the match caliber performance against us in the Cup quarter-final, and was named man-of-the match in the Final at Wembley.
Our biggest need, though, is for a goal-scoring center forward. We thought we had one in Nikica Jelavic, and maybe we still do. However, after a bright start, Jelavic experienced a shocking goal drought that, more than anything, resulted in our failure to get over the hump this year.
Anything, that is, other than Wigan Athletic.