If Everton had a time machine, would they go back and do things differently two years ago?
Roberto Martinez was the manager but, with the club sliding towards a second successive bottom-half Premier League finish, he was removed.
Everton were semi-finalists in both cups but deep progress in those competitions wasn’t sufficient to convince newly-arrived majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri.
In some senses though, Everton were progressing nicely. They were blooding a number of young players tasked with gradually reducing the dependence on David Moyes’s old guard.
John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku provided the backbone of that Everton side and all three have since moved on to top-six clubs.
There was a coherency in Martinez’s signings even if some of them did not work out. Everton – for better or for worse – were going to play bright, positive football and the current Belgium manager attempted to bring in a type of player he felt capable of doing it.
By the time the end came though, Martinez was overwhelmed with pressure from supporters, who had taken to turning up to games with banners demanding his removal.
They had a picture in mind of the club they wanted to be - and the position in the table they felt was deserved. For fans and the decision-makers alike, Martinez fit the bill no longer.
He may have played a part in raising those expectations himself given his success in that first season. Everton came tantalisingly close to realising a Champions League place but nonetheless returned European football to Goodison Park with a record Premier League points total.
The summer he never got, in 2016, would have been crucial for Martinez. Leaving the club were David Moyes mainstays Tim Howard, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar. Martinez was denied a big chance to recast the squad in his own image – and install his own players as senior figures in the dressing room.
Instead, Ronald Koeman, recruited from Southampton, and Steve Walsh, freshly installed as director of football, would be the team to oversee Everton’s new day.
There was supposed to be a cash injection from Moshiri in the transfer market which would allow Everton to punch their weight. It appeared from the outside however that Everton were spending the money they earned through sales in that first window.
Stones went to Manchester City, while Yannick Bolasie, Ashley Williams, Idrissa Gueye, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Maarten Stekelenburg were recruited for roughly the same price.
Morgan Schneiderlin was then added in winter and so began the rapid deconstruction of what Martinez was trying to build and a period – which stretches to this day – that saw Everton’s “School of Science” identity eroded.
Koeman tried hard to stamp out any trace of Martinez in the Everton squad. By the time they kicked off this season with a 1-0 win against Stoke not a single player signed by Martinez remained in the first XI.
Through this season’s two windows Everton signed 11 players on permanent deals with varying degrees of success and with varying playing profiles. It’s difficult to look at the incomings and pinpoint exactly what kind of squad Walsh and Koeman were trying to shape.
Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen were all recruited to play in attacking midfield. Wingers like Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon departed, leaving the team worryingly short of speed on the flanks. Theo Walcott was summoned from Arsenal to rectify that in January.
Ross Barkley went for a song, Oumar Niasse was treated appallingly by Koeman, Tom Cleverley was shipped out to Watford and briefly back in the England reckoning before injury all but ended his season.
Lukaku was replaced with Sandro Ramirez and, belatedly, Cenk Tosun, though neither are in the same class as the Belgium record goalscorer.
Michael Keane was a replacement for Stones one year too late as Williams demonstrated he wasn’t up the job. Cuco Martina was brought in from Southampton as a reserve right-back and ended up being deployed at left-back through Leighton Baines’s long spell out of the team. No specialist left-back arrived to cover the long-time Everton favourite.
Henry Onyekuru, loaned immediately to Anderlecht, has not yet kicked a ball for the club while Nikola Vlasic has been a signing of the lesser-seen variety.
Jordan Pickford is undoubtedly the best signing of this campaign while Idrissa Gueye has proven himself to be a clever operator in midfield from last season’s recruits.
Klaassen and Sandro were outright failures from last summer’s job lot of recruits while the jury is still out on many others from the last two seasons combined. Bolasie has spent a lot of time injured and so it would be unfair to write him off at this stage.
But recruiting in that age bracket can be lethal for clubs like Everton. They are stuck with players on peak wages but with little or no resale value in the market. Moshiri is going to see very little of his investments back.
Everton fans’ brief dalliance with optimism at the start of the season quickly disappeared as it became clear Koeman had neither the squad nor the smarts to meet their expectations. The football was dull; the results dreadful. And, by the time Sam Allardyce pitched up, Everton were desperate.
Goodison can be a hostile place - even for the home side - but the support was good when Allardyce watched David Unsworth’s team beat West Ham 4-0 in November. It was Rooney’s best game of the season and supposed to signal another fresh start.
It wouldn’t last. Everton have consolidated their place in the division, but the season began with talk of the Champions League. Allardyce has got Everton safe but fans legitimately feel they should be aiming higher both in terms of style and standards.
The club didn’t help themselves with a badly-misjudged fan survey last week on how the manager is performing. As if the booing both home and away wasn’t evidence enough of what supporters thought.
So this summer Everton could well find themselves back at square one. Only this time any new manager is going to have to put up with four windows of dud signings and ageing players on hefty contracts.
The simple truth is that Everton are no better off now than they were under Martinez. Back then, there was a plan and a process. There is now neither. Back then, recruitment – at least profile-wise – made sense. Now, it’s hotch-potch. Back then, there was a style of play that encouraged the fans. There have been two seasons’ worth of long ball and knockdowns. Promising young players were sold, expensive ones on the decline replaced them.
Everton may have lost their way under Martinez but that’s not to say they wouldn’t have found it again. Now, it feels like two years wasted; a whole lot of money spent, a whole load of proper players gone and very, very little in return.
Stadium plans at Bramley-Moore Dock appear to be moving along well but Everton are still a long way away from giving any new ground the kind of team it deserves.