At Oodison Park, there is always a lot of noise. Sometimes it is cheers and sometimes it is jeers. However, when Everton plays against Manchester United on Sunday, the atmosphere will most likely be filled with passionate support. This yearly tradition of setting aside conflicts and uniting behind the team to avoid being relegated will begin earlier than usual this season. There is nothing like a shared enemy to bring people together.
The adversary in this situation is numerous. It is the disorganized management of their own team, the Premier League for filing charges and advocating for a 10-point penalty, and the independent panel for determining their guilt and implementing the punishment.
The potential new owners, 777 Partners, may also be a cause for concern. With their history and the Fifa punishment for not paying transfer fees, there is a fear that they may bring about trouble for Everton. Even Genoa, who were seen as a success story for 777 after being promoted last season, are facing financial struggles. In the short term, this could unite and motivate Everton to face the challenges ahead.
It is possible that this season may not be the most detrimental time for receiving a 10-point penalty. Sheffield United and Luton are known to have limited resources, and Burnley has surprisingly underperformed. When it became clear that Vincent Kompany’s team would not replicate their dominant Championship form in the higher league, the three newly promoted teams seemed likely candidates for the bottom three. For mid-table teams worried about their standings, Bournemouth’s sluggish start under Andoni Iraola has provided some extra protection.
Prior to the deduction, Everton had a comfortable nine-point lead from the bottom of the standings. However, they have now been pushed back into the group of teams fighting against relegation, instead of being given an opportunity to close the gap. It should be noted that all four of the struggling teams had more difficult schedules at the beginning of the season, with only two games played between them before this weekend. Additionally, Everton’s upcoming matches before the halfway point of the season are mostly against top-half teams.
Given the circumstances, Manchester United serves as the ideal adversary, embodying traditional charm and the establishment. However, they also serve as a warning of the dangers of unregulated capitalism and inexperienced non-local ownership. While United has achieved victory in four out of their last five league games, their performance has been lacking. As a result, they not only pose as a possible noteworthy victory, but a feasible one as well. The memory of Phil Neville’s rough tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2008-2009 season will likely linger on Sunday afternoon.
However, it should be noted that United was among the driving forces behind the effort to create an English Super League. The practice of deflecting blame is detrimental to fairness – regulatory bodies should not neglect to penalize an offense simply because other offenses have gone without punishment. On the other hand, Everton supporters have a valid question as to why overspending results in a deduction of 10 points, while plotting against the league only results in a shared fine of £22m.
The implications of this decision are particularly intriguing. Setting aside the Super League controversy, if this is the punishment for one violation of the Premier League’s financial regulations, considering the mitigating circumstances of the pandemic, repercussions against a major sponsor, and a player’s contract termination for non-sporting reasons, what might the penalty be for 115 violations, including some for lack of cooperation, in a pre-Covid era? In the case of Everton, the Premier League requested a punishment of six points plus an additional point for every £5m in violation. Using this reasoning, numerous clubs could potentially face deductions of hundreds of points.
Another problem to consider is the compensation for teams that were relegated while Everton remained in the Premier League. In 2009, West Ham had to pay £15 million to Sheffield United in an out-of-court settlement. An additional £5 million would also be paid if the club was sold within the next five years, which it was. This legal issue arose due to West Ham’s violation of third-party ownership rules in relation to Carlos Tevez, who scored the winning goal against Manchester United on the last day of the 2006-07 season, securing West Ham’s spot in the Premier League.
Assuming that £20 million was the amount in question at the time, it can be assumed that the current equivalent would be much higher (although it may be difficult to prove a direct cause like in the Tévez case). This is especially true considering that up to five clubs have been given permission to seek claims. Furthermore, no matter how large the fee may be, it would pale in comparison to the potential amounts if a team that consistently qualified for European competitions over a longer period was found guilty.
Looking at the bigger picture, the most significant element of the Everton penalty is its timeliness. It has been nine months since Manchester City was charged with 115 counts of alleged misconduct dating back to 2009. Prior to the release of information from the Cyprus files, the Premier League was already looking into Chelsea’s financial activities as far back as 2012.
With the conclusion of Everton’s case with such severe consequences, the lack of resolution in the case against City becomes more striking – and the tariff now is set should they be found guilty. There are two fundamental issues at stake here: the Premier League can prosecute clubs of Everton’s stature, but can they prosecute the state- and oligarch-run clubs? And if they can, with City charged and Chelsea under investigation, 12 of the last 19 league titles are in some sort of doubt.
No matter the end results, if there is not a strict and comprehensive system in place, the question will remain of whether the modern Premier League can even be regulated. Everton’s frustration may be justified towards those who have mismanaged them, towards the seemingly random nature of the process, and may also stem from a feeling of self-pity. However, it is also a plea against the worry that modern football is now controlled by unregulated forces.