Everton have impressive ambitions to break into the WSL top three in the near future and qualify for the Women’s Champions League for the first time since 2011. The Toffees are hoping that a strong summer of targeted recruitment will provide another big push in that direction.
Traditionally strong within English women’s football, there was a time when Everton provided the fiercest competition to a dominant Arsenal in the late 2000s. They were later a founder member of the WSL, only to be relegated from the top flight in 2014 after key players were poached.
Relegation ended 21 years as a top flight club for Everton and getting back to the WSL was proving to be a challenge until the collapse of Notts County in 2017 prompted invitations to clubs in WSL 2 (now the Women’s Championship) to apply for the vacant spot.
They comfortably survived ninth of 10 in the first season back but then came close to relegation from the WSL in 2018/19. They had spent a portion of the season bottom of the table and were saved when they doubled their points tally from the first 13 games in the final seven.
Yeovil’s administration and 10-point deduction also eventually took the pressure off in what could otherwise have been a nervous fight right to the end.
But Everton have made considerable improvements since that low point. The summer of 2019 saw the arrival of Lucy Graham at the club, now captain. Tinja Riikka Korpela boosted the goalkeeping position, before emerging stopper Sandy MacIver returned to England mid-season after a spell playing college soccer in the United States. Izzy Christiansen also joined from Lyon.
Chloe Kelly also enjoyed a real breakout season and the Toffees won five of their opening seven WSL games of 2019/20. They had matched the previous campaign’s points tally after only six games and went on to eventually finish sixth on points per game when the season was abandoned.
2020/21 marked another significant improvement even after the departure of Kelly to Manchester City had the potential to be a backwards step, as it had been in 2013 when Jill Scott and Toni Duggan had made that same move.
But Everton showed ambition in the recruitment market by landing France striker Valerie Gauvin, as well as Denmark forward Nicoline Sorensen, veteran Norway defender Ingrid Moe Wold, impressive young Bristol City full-back Poppy Pattinson and ex-Man City winger Claire Emslie.
The mid-season loan arrivals of Alisha Lehmann from West Ham and the returning Jill Scott provided a further boost for the second half of the campaign and Everton improved to fifth place. The club also reached the final of the delayed FA Cup from the previous season.
The ambition now is keep building that momentum and close the gap on the top WSL clubs. In that respect, Everton won’t let up and are already close to landing several experienced international players they believe will take then on to the next level.
“The most important part of a football club is the recruitment. Working with better players every year. Yes, it’s really important to develop your players as well but, ultimately, you’re always looking to bring better players in,” manager Willie Kirk told the club’s own website at the end of May.
Kirk said that Everton are ‘way down the line’ on a number of summer deals and described those expected to come in as players with ‘lot of caps for top-10 countries’ and ‘lots of medals’.
Perhaps the more immediately attainable target for Everton is to reel in Manchester United, Kirk’s former club. The Red Devils fell away from the top in 2020/21 after a strong start to the season and frustration behind the scenes led Casey Stoney to quit her job. There is an expectation that Tobin Heath and Christen Press will not return, while a handful of others could also leave.
The bigger task for Everton, but one they are still keen to achieve, is getting to a point where they can genuinely compete more with Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. The latter might be considered the weakest of the three giants, although it is definitely only a relative thing. But United, before their slide, did briefly show last season that it is possible to break up the top three.
With Champions League football now on offer to three WSL clubs each season, European football is more accessible to Everton that has been at any time since they were last in it a decade ago. But they have to continue getting the recruitment right to take advantage of that chance.