Anyone who has followed football with a close and analytical eye over the past few years has seen a large shift in the way the top teams play the ‘Beautiful Game’. No longer is tika taka the flavour of the hour, with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich team failing to win a Champions League during his tenure, being largely outshone by Diego Simeone’s robust, pragmatic brand of football (although both fell short of Real Madrid’s achievements ultimately). We have also seen perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of the sport, with Leicester City lifting the Premier League title despite finishing 17th in the previous season, again through employing a direct, practical and defensively solid system that the Pellegrinis, Pochetinnos and Wengers had no answer to. The man at the heart of this was Leicester City’s Head of Recruitment and Assistant Head Coach Steve Walsh. A.K.A Everton’s new Director of Football. Already we are seeing the components of the system that worked so well for Walsh at Leicester being slowly guided in at Goodison Park. Which gets me very, very excited.
Straight away, Walsh made it clear he was going for a similar model at Everton to the one he went for at Leicester with the signing of my new favourite person and all round boss little player Idrissa Gana Gueye. As Kante did at Leicester, Gueye has been winning possession back in the midfield at impressive rates and launching attacks when he gets the opportunity, as well as running every blade of grass available. I think I even seen him running down the M6 on the way back from West Brom away. With Gueye’s signature secured, the engine of our team is sorted.
We also signed Wales captain Ashley Williams from Swansea. Williams has been one of the most consistent and reliable defenders in the league since Swansea’s promotion, and partnering Phil Jagielka Everton now have a solid, no nonsense, experienced centre back partnership, ala Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. What we saw last season with Leicester was that if done properly, you really do just need your defenders to defend. That is the priority, playing out comes next if appropriate for the game. Walsh has seen this and moved to replace the shaky if still totally boss Funes Mori with a more dependable option in Williams. The pattern emerges of Walsh trying to mimic the Leicester team that made his name.
The next two pieces of the jigsaw have been the frustrating ones. We were rebuffed by Lyon winger Rachid Ghezzal earlier this week; a skilful, light and agile winger who likes to drift past opponents and has a good end product. Rachid Ghezzal was going to be Everton’s Riyad Mahrez. Both Algerian too, although I suppose that was just a coincidence. However, we seem to be close to clinching a deal for Yacine Brahimi from Porto, another Algerian winger in the mould of Mahrez, so that part of the system may still be sorted before the end of the window. We also missed out on Lucas Perez, a Spanish striker who was christened as, you guessed it, ‘The Spanish Jamie Vardy’. Known for his pace, Perez bagged 17 goals for a struggling Deportivo side last season and would’ve been a great addition. But the pacey striker to partner the big man is still likely to come, so watch that space and look out for more Vardy comparisons.
The great thing about this is that we aren’t just trying to copy the Leicester model. We are evolving it to include pace and power. The signing of Yannick Bolasie is a sign that the mesh of Walsh and Koeman is producing a system that encompasses both pragmatism and panache. Bolasie and Lukaku’s speed, strength and flair is the yin to the Steve Walsh’s Leicester-esque yang of Gana, Williams and (insert striker none of us have heard of who we will all be raving about in a few weeks’ time).
Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman have come together to produce a philosophy that is as Everton as it gets. Talent and quality in abundance, but also substance and consistency. The perfect cocktail to get Everton back to making Saturday afternoons not depress you.
I’m not saying we are going to do a Leicester. I’m not going to be as deluded as other fan site writer’s out there who reckon their team is going to win the league (@IanRSalmon). However, under this ever changing yet clear and simple philosophy, Evertonians can hope for success in seasons to come.
Here’s to 2016/17, up the Blues.