Toffees stuck in the mire

When Everton’s first-team squad reconvened for pre-season preparations David Moyes’s players were greeted with specially mounted photographs of themselves positioned above their personal changing-room clothes hooks.

Although Wayne Rooney, who returned to the club on Thursday after a post-Euro 2004 break, has yet to approve his mug-shot, it was the sort of touch footballers — a species invariably fixated with personalised car number plates — appreciate.

More significantly, the photos represented an olive branch proffered by Moyes. First-team players endured a sometimes hostile relationship with their young but authoritarian Scottish manager last season and here was an apparent indication of his new-found willingness to adopt a more holistic approach.

Unfortunately it coincided with the outbreak of civil war in the boardroom, highlighted by the resignation of Trevor Birch, Everton’s chief executive, after only six weeks in the job.

With the club £40-million in debt, the departure of the man who somehow kept Leeds United out of administration last season was the last thing Everton needed; but Birch felt unable to work effectively while chairperson Bill Kenwright and Paul Gregg, the two

major shareholders at Goodison Park, remained at loggerheads.

The former friends, who were founder members of the True Blue Holdings group which took control of Everton five years ago and which owns 72% of Everton, have fallen out over Gregg’s insistence that True Blue should accept a dilution of its control in order to attract outside investment, principally from the far east where he has recently secured a shirt sponsorship deal with Chang Beer.

It is understood Gregg has lined up a tentative takeover deal with a Thai consortium, something bitterly opposed by Kenwright, who, crucially, is backed by Jon Woods, True Blue’s third and final director after Arthur Abercromby’s resignation from the board on Tuesday. Woods’s shareholding in True Blue, 25,6%, and support from Kenwright, who holds just over a third of the shares, means that Gregg is denied the majority stake needed to instigate change.

Gregg, worth £160-million after selling his Apollo Leisure Group, did not attend a single game last season and the Kenwright/Woods camp suspects he is primarily concerned with recovering the £7,5-million he invested in 1999.

‘I believe Mr Gregg’s proposals are both impracticable and unachievable and I will continue working with Bill Kenwright towards bringing success on and off the field,” explained Woods.

‘No one works harder than Bill Kenwright to try and ensure Everton are where they should be. He is Everton, Everton, Everton, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he had the millions himself there is no doubt he would be ploughing them into the club.”

The theatre impresario, however, lacks the requisite funds. As Gregg put it: ‘I hope the other shareholders recognise the urgency of the situation; we need to attract new investors as quickly as possible.”

The obvious solution is to sell Rooney, who is expected to reject an offer of a new, £50 000-a-week, five-year contract.

Despite being arguably Europe’s most exciting young player the local boy and Euro 2004 luminary has been overpriced at £40-million, but Manchester United would possibly part with between £25-million and £30-million for the 18 year old. With Kenwright committed to onerous £2,8-million-a-year loan repayments, such an offer would be hard to refuse.

Moyes and the fans may demur but no one is ever indispensable — and, for all his Portuguese exploits, Rooney did not always play well in the Premiership as Everton narrowly avoided relegation by finishing 17th last season.

If Everton, who have offloaded 15 professionals and signed only one, Marcus Bent, this summer, are to flourish, it is surely via the cheque for Rooney. Even Gregg, previously adamant that Rooney would be staying, has admitted: ‘It’s incredibly sad that we are actually contemplating selling Wayne.”

With matters complicated by a broken foot, which means missing Everton’s 10-day trip to Texas — they fly to Houston on Friday — it could indeed be that Rooney will begin the season a Goodison player only to stymie Moyes’s rebuilding plans by being sold shortly before the transfer window shuts on August 31.

Already the uncertainty surrounding Rooney has seen Moyes denied the money needed to secure the signatures of the off-season targets Robbie Savage, Sean Davis, Dominic Matteo and Henri Camara.

It all seems light years removed from 12 months ago when Everton had finished seventh in the Premiership, but almost imperceptibly Moyes ‘lost” a cabal of senior players including Duncan Ferguson, a cult hero, and Thomas Gravesen, his best midfielder, who claimed training was too hard and the manager was unapproachable and bore grudges.

Moyes’s position looked precarious this month when the striker Tomasz Radzinski publicly conceded: ‘I hope Wayne Rooney goes somewhere where he can improve and grow as a player. Sadly, I don’t think that is Everton. I don’t think this club is a good place to be at the moment because we will be fighting another relegation battle next season.”

But it is understood that a recent training camp in Austria witnessed a willingness to compromise from both management and players.

There has never been a more opportune time for Moyes to fulfil the potential shown during a 1990s coaching course when he proved the outstanding candidate of a quality crop, including Steve McClaren.

If he fails, the message on a banner, referring to the former owner, unfurled by fans during Tuesday night’s 2-1 friendly defeat at Crewe — ‘From Sir John Moores to Death’s Doors” — could prove prophetic. —

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