Everton find themselves in the worst kind of quandary this summer. The club’s financial situation remains shrouded in uncertainty, with the prospect of FFP investigations looming large, but the squad is in desperate need of restructuring in the transfer market.
No sooner had the whistle blown in the crucial last-day clash against Bournemouth, than Sean Dyche was making it clear to the media that changes were needed to avoid another relegation scrap next season.
Given the club’s uncertain finances, recruitment will, unlike recent seasons, have to be done carefully, and the free-agent market is one that the club will have to investigate at length.
5 free agents Everton must consider
The Dutchman is out of contract following the conclusion of his short-term deal at Bayern Munich, and could tick a lot of boxes for Everton, especially given his versatility on the pitch.
Blind is capable of playing in several positions, and could be a reliable utility man. He could provide experienced back up for young left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko, as well as providing cover in central defence and the defensive midfield position.
He has Premier League experience from his time with Manchester United, his wages are likely to be affordable, and at the age of 33, he could provide valuable depth to a squad that lacks it.
The right-back position has been a problem one for some time now. Veteran captain Seamus Coleman has been forced to play on as first choice for several seasons despite not having the energy he once did.
Recent signing Nathan Patterson has performed well when called upon, but has now suffered three significant injuries in his season and a half at the club.
It is hoped that he will adjust to the rigors of the league and become the long-term first choice in the position for years to come, but with Coleman likely to either retire or take on a player-coach role with the emphasis very much on the latter, a reliable alternative may be needed.
Coufal is the kind of signing that won’t excite much of the fanbase, but one that may make sense in the short term. Like Blind, he also offers some versatility, having played in a back three and the right side of midfield at times.
Having previously been linked with Everton, the Arsenal man has spent the last couple of seasons on loan at West Brom, Roma and, most recently, Southampton.
Maitland-Niles may feel he has been hampered by his reputation as a utility man, but it is exactly this quality that makes him such an attractive proposition.
Although he considers right wing his natural position, he has been used by all the clubs he has represented at right back, right wing-back and central midfield, and has proven himself very capable in each.
Unlike Coufal and Blind, Maitland-Niles offers both versatility and youth. At 25 years of age, he is entering his peak years and potentially offers a more long-term solution to several positions.
With his pace and work rate, he is also more naturally suited to the kind of high-energy, intense style Sean Dyche demands from his players.
As well as valuable squad players, Everton will also be looking for players who can provide the creative spark they were missing for so much of the season, and the Ivory Coast international has consistently proven himself capable of providing that, often for a struggling Crystal Palace team.
Zaha possesses that special knack that few if any in the Everton squad have; the ability to produce a moment of individual magic from nothing.
At the age of 30, Zaha is likely to want Champions League football, and may move abroad in order to secure it. Palace will also not have given up hope of convincing him to sign a new deal.
Should he choose to leave, however, Everton must surely be among his many potential suitors, having already tried to sign him when Marco Silva was boss.
His age and resultant lack of resale value, and potentially very high wage demands, may leave Everton out of the running, but Everton need goals and creativity, and Zaha provides both.
Of all the positions that need strengthening this summer, the one most in need of reinforcements is that of striker. The lack of a focal point has been one of the biggest issues for the team, and that must be remedied if another season of struggle is to be avoided.
Former Fulham and Celtic striker Dembele was linked with the club in the winter transfer window, and also attracted interest from Aston Villa and others, but chose to run down his contract at Lyon and assess his options in the summer.
Although not a classic target man, Dembele is a confident finisher with great movement off the ball. Under Dyche, Everton have been less direct than some expected, and it’s hard to imagine Dembele wouldn’t improve their attacking threat.
At 26, he is another player entering his peak years, and Everton could be the beneficiaries of that.
Which free agent should EFC sign?