Kevin Keegan believes Everton, who will try to clinch a UEFA Cup place against his Newcastle side on Sunday, could be the only team capable of breaking into the top four next season.
The Merseysiders have been in the Champions League places as recently as three years ago, only to discover that the dual goal of domestic glory and European success is beyond all but the very best.
Yet Keegan feels Everton are still the club closest to knocking Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool from their lofty perches and he has the perfect chance to measure the quality of David Moyes's men at Goodison Park.
“Everton have done fantastically,” he said. “They haven't had some of the problems that other clubs have had and, like us, they're still in the same stadium. In that respect there's been continuity and not the pressure on budgets that there might have been.
“They've got it just right at the moment. They add two or three key players every season – this year it was Yakubu and before that it was Lescott – and it works. They've been fantastic signings. Everton have cut their cloth accordingly and it's a well run club.”
The same cannot be said, with any confidence, of Newcastle. Friday saw Keegan summoned to London for a meeting with United's owner, the sportswear billionaire Mike Ashley, following his assertion that the Tyneside club is 'a million miles away' from challenging the top four.
Not for the first time in the 15 years the Magpies have enjoyed continuous top flight football, the corridors of St James's Park echo to the sound of discord and disunity.
Chairman Chris Mort insisted Friday's meeting was 'productive and constructive' but the only thing for certain is that Keegan, for all his public and, some would say, provocative posturing, is still in a job.
“I think a lot of the things Kevin said aren't far off the mark,” said Moyes. “It is terrific that Everton qualified for the Champions League three years ago.
“That's why we thought if we had made it this season it could have changed Everton forever. We might have been able to really change the goalposts completely regarding what is seen as the top four.
“I am not going to give up trying to break in. It's not in my nature. My first step is to make sure we finish fifth (this season). I can't say I don't want to finish fourth (next season) but there is realism about it because it is very difficult.
“But from my point of view, I will never accept that we can't do it. We have done it once and pushed it close this year.”
Ashley's view is that if Everton can repeat their trick of three seasons ago then surely Newcastle, with bigger crowds, a greater turnover and more quality players, should be right up there with them.
On paper, at least, there is no reason why Newcastle cannot usurp this weekend's hosts and become the next in line to challenge for Champions League qualification.
Like Everton they have proved it can be done in the not too distant past and a forward line of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins is the envy of clubs across Europe.
Australian forward Viduka will miss the Goodison clash and could be out until Christmas if an Achilles tendon problem is as serious as United's medical staff suspect.
However, Keegan always wanted to sign a fourth top class forward this close-season and the possible absence of his most experienced striker has simply increased the Newcastle manager's resolve to land a big-name goalscorer before August.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!