Finishing in fourth place would be a huge achievement for Everton this season, but Roberto Martinez is aiming significantly higher.
The Toffees often flirted with UEFA Champions League qualification in the David Moyes era, and had the chance to compete in the tournament when they finished fourth in 2005. However, they were forced into the playoffs due to Liverpool conquering Europe, and were eliminated by Villarreal on aggregate.
Moyes, who left Goodison Park for Manchester United in the summer, made no secret of his frustration at a lack of funds to invest in his squad, particularly as many of their rivals would snap up the top players from around the world. Martinez, though, believes this is no excuse for not competing at the top level.
Since succeeding the Scot ahead of the current season, the former Wigan Athletic manager has transformed Everton into one of the most entertaining sides in the Premier League. And performances have benefited as a result, with the Blues in sixth position and just a point behind their neighbours in fourth spot.
Qualifying for the Champions League would certainly be seen as a huge success in Martinez’s debut season, and something which he was not expected to achieve just yet. However, whilst the 40-year-old would likely accept such a finish, he is of the opinion that a club like Everton should be setting their sights even higher.
“That (lack of money) is not an excuse not to aim for the title,” the Spanish coach is quoted in the London Evening Standard. “In football, you need to be creative and brave enough to make up for the lack of finances. The title win was a long time ago but we have won it nine times. Not many clubs can say that.
“That means we have the right to dream. It is foolish to guess who will win. Everyone rightly talks about Manchester City but they have to go to all the top teams barring Chelsea. You look at the top seven and everyone has a chance to win the title. This is the most open title race I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Premier League.”
The last time Everton were crowned champions of England was in 1987, when Howard Kendall led them to a second title in the space of three years. Their nine crowns is bettered only by Manchester United (20), Liverpool (18), and Arsenal (13). With 22 matches of the current campaign played, Martinez’s side are nine points behind the Gunners, who travel to Goodison on 5 April.
The Toffees, meanwhile, are closing on a loan deal for Lacina Traore. The 23-year-old striker, who stands at 6ft 8in tall, has been granted a work permit and will join from Monaco on loan for the rest of the season. The Ivorian follows Aiden McGeady, who signed from Spartak Moscow last week for an undisclosed fee.