Obviously tagging Marcel Brands for Everton’s 2021/22 season is very difficult. He lasted four months of the season before his swift departure in December 2021 amid very strong indications that despite being both a board member and director of football, he was being undermined elsewhere. Additionally, it was clear that he was no longer in charge of football matters as he should have been. Only thinly veiled hints of disturbance from an unspecified direction sped past its exit.
In the summer of 2021, when the severe constraints of Profit & Sustainability loomed, he was effectively paralyzed regardless of any outside interference. With the controversial and unpopular appointment of Rafa Benitez, who, like every club he had been with, wanted a disproportionate say in transfer processes, it was always going to be an extremely uncomfortable ride for Brands. So it turned out!
If you look at what he’s overseen in recruiting players and clearly shopped in the bargain basement, he’s struck a remarkable deal for Demarai Gray for a reported £1.7million fee for a gifted if somewhat inconsistent winger. He was also responsible for the clever recruitment of veteran goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on a free transfer and 16-year-old striker Francis Okoronkwo, who many, including myself, are pointing to big things in the future.
The signings of Andros Townsend and Salomon Rondon were 100% Benitez decisions. Although Townsend has been performing well, especially up until his injury, I wouldn’t attribute either signing to Brands.
Brands and his scouting staff are also responsible for January’s two full-backs, with Vitalii Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson identified as Everton targets during the Dutchman’s time at the club. While Mykolenko has become the de facto starter at left-back, Patterson has yet to have enough playing time to decide whether or not he’s ready for the Premier League.
Looking at players leaving the club, Brands has more than recovered from Moise Kean, who unfortunately proved a miserable failure at Goodison Park. The deal to send Kean back to Juventus after his outstanding loan spell at Paris St Germain was simply brilliant. Reported figures showed a total value of up to £32.6m when bonuses were achieved (we bought him for a reported £24.7m). That figure included an annual rental fee for two seasons’ worth of rentals plus a purchase commitment. For that alone, no matter what you thought of his previous deals (success or failure), you would have to say that he negotiated them extremely well.
In other successful deals, he arranged the sale of James Rodriguez and Bernard and received fees in the region of £8million for the couple, who were said to have arrived on “free transfers”. More importantly, Brands has freed over £300,000 a week from a bloated payroll. Some might say he was primarily responsible for the massive spending for these three players (Kean, James and Bernard), but at least partially offset those earlier decisions.
He also made sure there were no contract renewals for several previous unsuccessful signings (only one was ‘his’ in the form of Josh King and maybe it wasn’t his fault either?). Those players included Theo Walcott, Mo Besic and Yannick Bolasie, all signed prior to Brand’s arrival. He also had a clear exit at Under-23 level, where the likes of Callum Connolly, Matthew Pennington and Beni Baningime left the club to give younger players opportunities to break through and pursue their own careers.
So if you were to judge Marcel Brands over the last season in isolation, it would be bizarre to say that it’s been a pretty good season for him. Many will disagree but I would mark him as a B, some great deals for the club in his last few months in very difficult and conflicting circumstances. The club’s poor performances on the field at the time of his departure clearly had one man to thank and it wasn’t the Dutchman!
Away from the main stage, he had not acted quickly enough to improve U23 and academy leadership, something he had sanctioned two years earlier and is already being swiftly addressed by his successor Kevin Thelwell.