The Season So Far
Last season, I wrote in this column that:
Being an Everton fan over the last decade or so must feel a lot like being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Nothing ever changes. The same routine plays out over and over and over again.
Every few years, an expensive overhaul takes place. The old guard is culled. A recruitment genius comes in and brings with him a new set of shiny big-money/high-potential signings. Most importantly, a charismatic, upwardly mobile, messianic young manager takes over and declares Everton ready to shatter the glass ceiling separating them from the Champions League elite. Unfortunately, it never quite works out.
The signings that looked so exciting never really deliver. The recruitment genius turns out to have just been a guy who knows how to sign smaller clubs’ star players and big clubs’ cast-offs. Consistency is never attained and the manager’s tactics, demeanour and/or soundbites start to drive everyone insane. After a couple of years, half the squad is jettisoned along with the manager, who has now become a hate figure at Goodison Park. The recruitment guy leaves via the back door. The cycle begins anew in the summer.
The same routine has played out again.
The Season Ahead
Now that Marco Silva has gone, the cycle will soon begin anew. The star players who have still to deliver in Blue will be wondering whether they will ever deliver in Blue, or whether their careers will be consumed in the chaos of Goodison Park. Many will be plotting their way out, sooner rather than later.
Fears of relegation are exaggerated. Everton are genuinely too good to go down. A new manager will soon come in, save them and decide to sell half the squad for half of what they cost, before spending another nine-figure sum on yet another raft of new players. Those players will in turn fail to deliver before that manager loses his job and the routine repeats itself.
Under Silva, Everton most often played with a conventional 4-2-3-1 based on partnerships all over the pitch, none of which ever came to real fruition. The full-backs never really clicked with the wingers, the number ten never got the best out of the striker and vice-versa, while no midfield two has been any good since Idrissa Gueye left. The less said about the centre-backs the better.
Whenever the going got tough and a change of tack was needed, Silva tried a back three system, which seemed to convince the players that they needed to run more, tackle harder and shout and point with increased frequency, but which never really led to long-term improvement.
This may not be a good team, but each of the players in isolation is a good footballer. Some of them even have the potential to be great players. Hell, with the right manager and time, this could still be a top six team. Just not now, and not ever unless the churn is stopped and the turnover of players and managers is halted.
At Everton, there’s a lot of empty talk about ambition and attacking football and “getting the club back where it should be”, but the more boring, practical things like having a squad which know and like each other and can also play a cohesive style together are just afterthoughts. Ever since Roberto Martínez left in 2016, Everton have yet to commit to a single plan and see it through. It’s now four managerial changes in four years and counting, and they’ve got a net spend of around £250m in that time – for nothing.
No-one, player or manager, has the time to settle or bed in before they’re judged. Davy Klaassen was Ajax captain and didn’t even make it through pre-season before becoming surplus to requirements; Cenk Tosun was a Champions League level poacher who became bench fodder within half a season; Bernard is a decorated Brazilian international who became unpopular after half a season of adaptation and now looks shot of confidence; the list goes on.
Like any other failing, grand old institution, they’re a sucker for any magic, short-term fix someone wants to sell them. Sam Allardyce came in and convinced the hierarchy that he had a Lukaku replacement – Tosun – and could fix Theo Walcott and make him a 15 goal a season striker. They gave him £50m to buy and pay the two and then sacked Allardyce anyway, and hired Marco Silva, who didn’t like either player very much and ended up leaving them out.
They’ve also repeatedly fallen into the trap of signing players who look great in one system without recognising that it’s actually the system and the training ground work they’ve done in that system that makes them look good. Therefore, they’ve got Schneiderlin, who’s done nothing since he was at Southampton; Michael Keane, who is abysmal unless he’s playing in Burnley’s deep block; Sigurdsson, who can’t play as a ten unless he’s got five lightning fast, technically gifted players around him; et cetera.
And, at boardroom level, they’re currently too busy arguing about who the new manager will be to accept their own roles in this mess.
In short: it’s a bit of a mess.
Caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson will pick a populist Everton XI that will go out and run hard and make the fans cheer.
Frank Lampard will shuffle his pack after a hard midweek game.
With morale on the floor at Goodison and mutiny in the stands, all Chelsea have to do to secure three points is score the first goal. The home crowd will do the rest and the goals will flow.