If I can remove my red-tinted glasses that skew my view of everything Everton and always pushes me to have a good chuckle at their expense, last week’s 10-point deduction penalizing the club for financial cock-ups for the years 2019-2022 was pretty convenient for everyone.
That may sound strange to Everton supporters who just watched their team plummet from comfortably mid-table to 19th without ever actually taking the field, but it is. And Everton were in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to a Premier League that wants to look like it doesn’t need an independent regulator forced onto it by the British government.
First, the convenience for Everton. While they will certainly create a defiant jet engine of a roar when the Toffees play Manchester United on Sunday, airing all their grievances at the top of their lungs for 90 minutes, deep down they’ll know they were lucky to get this punishment now rather than say, last March or April. Had it been the latter, Everton would be playing Championship football right now, which would have left far longer-lasting damage on the club that can not take it on right now.
Getting this penalty now is going to do little to Everton in the long run. Yes, they’re in the relegation zone now. They could be out of it come Sunday night. Luton, Sheffield United and Burnley are the very extent of ass. If Everton can’t match Burnley, gather one more point than Sheffield United and two more than Luton in the 26 games left to play (they have a far superior goal-difference than all of them already) they’ll deserve to go down. It’s highly unlikely. Everton were never going to challenge for European places this season anyway, and they can still finish solidly above the relegation zone, which was probably the height of their ambition for this season.
While they’ll never say it, it’s hard to believe that didn’t enter into the commission’s thinking for administering the heaviest penalty ever levied against a Premier League team. They can look like they’re taking the league’s FFP rules very seriously and violations of them even more seriously, while not really harming a club long-term. It’s a bit of a show of strength without actually showing all that much strength, because they haven’t really sentenced Everton to anything other than temporarily looking awkward in the table for a month or two.
And why does the Premier League want to look strong, capable of managing their own house? Because ever since six of its clubs spent a good 20 minutes saying they were leaving for a European Super League, the UK government has been threatening to install an independent regulator to keep them all in check. Not only that, but the regulator might kneecap the biggest clubs in other ways, spread the wealth down the pyramid and keep them from acting however they want. The Premier League will do anything to stop this, including looking like it actually wants to regulate itself. Which it doesn’t.
Still, even with all the sleight of hand going on here and the stuffing of everything into the closet to make the room look clean to mom, it’s hard not to feel a bit for Everton. Because not only did Everton admit to breaking the rules, and while there’s a dispute between them and the Premier League over how much they went over the spending limit, even by going by the Premier League’s claims, it wasn’t even £20 million over. The rules are the rules, of course, and maybe it shouldn’t matter how much a club goes over that limit. But it sounds really punitive, especially when considering other clubs, which we’ll get to.
The overriding aspect though is that Everton wasn’t really being mischievous. They were just stupid. Really, really stupid to be sure, but not exactly trying to hoodwink anyone. They just tossed good money after bad, cycling through managers who wanted different players than the manager before, who had wanted different players than the manager before that wanted. And most of those players weren’t any good, and thus, couldn’t be sold for significant money. All while trying to build a new stadium and through a pandemic. Everton were also undercut by its biggest investor, Alisher Usmanov, being barred from having anything to do with the club thanks to the Ukraine-Russia war. Not really something anyone can predict.
It’s horrible mismanagement, but being a moron isn’t exactly illegal. Sure, it’s mismanagement that could have caused even bigger problems for Everton than relegation, and there needs to be safeguards in place that galactic imbeciles can’t cause a team to go bust.
While there are appeals to be heard, Everton certainly wasted no time in pointing at Manchester City and Chelsea and screaming, “What’re you gonna do about them, then?” A natural reaction, of course, but these are different kinds of cases. The money Everton blew is there for all to see and even Everton didn’t do much to dispute that. City’s and Chelsea’s cases revolves around what they did to cover up the money they spent over the limits, shielding the money they spent, which means the Premier League has to prove that, A. they spent over the limits, and B. what they did to cover it up. That’s a much harder task. In City’s case, the league has to prove that City’s owners basically moved money from one pocket to the other while calling it sponsorship revenue, why that’s illegal, and how they masked it. One hundred fifteen counts certainly speaks to its own story, but it’s far murkier than Everton’s case.
Still, if Everton were docked 10 points for going some 20 percent over the limit, then 115 counts over years and years of financial mishegas should land City playing Wrexham next season. But that’s not how it will work. Another factor in Everton’s penalty is that Everton doesn’t draw a lot of water for the Premier League, whatever its history. City were just named the biggest club in the world, reigning Champions League winners who help boost the Premier League’s European standing every season, which results in things like the league getting a fifth spot in the expanded Champions League next season, for instance. City help make those ballooning international TV contracts that the other leagues in Europe can’t come close to. Is the Premier League really ready to take a swing at someone their own size?
Everton definitely dug their own hole, but that hole was precisely in the Premier League’s crosshairs right at the time they were looking to show off their discipline powers on someone they could get away with doing so to with minimum fuss. It was the perfect storm.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social