Do songs ever pop into your head at certain moments that seem to be a manifestation of your exact state of mind at that particular time? Happens to me all the time for a variety of reasons. Pop music is weird like that for those of us who grew up clinging tightly to music to soundtrack our lame lives. The occasional intersection of moments like these with the perpetual pain of sport—one of life’s truly poor emotional investments—is often a sad bit of magic.
Yesterday as the third best football club in Cyprus headed in a gut-wrenching equalizer after having just gone down to ten men, that old familiar Everton disappointment felt like someone pushing ‘Play’ on the jukebox of my internal bitterness.
“Fuck. This. Band.”
Unlike most of the other songs on the now defunct Welsh noise rockers Mclusky’s magnum opus, “Mclusky Do Dallas” and despite a title—“Fuck This Band”—that would suggest otherwise, lead singer Andy Falkous doesn’t scream these words out. Instead, he quietly and slowly articulates each word—full of beaten down exhaustion to drive the point home in a way that his normal trademark howling never could.
That was my immediate, overwhelmingly raw response to yesterday’s latest chapter of Everton theatre.
Fuck. This. Band.
My Everton balls hurt. Like so much.
The last time I wrote for EAW, I discussed the idea that it was time to deal in the reality of the current situation as opposed to what ideally ought to be the case—especially in light of so much conjecture regarding what this all could’ve been if only we’d gotten all our transfer business right. I somewhat hopefully claimed that the person who could do the most to influence how things went from now until January was manger Ronald Koeman.
Well, he sure is “influencing” things at the moment, eh?
(Can you imagine how much Southampton supporters must be loving this?)
Problems in a sport like football are rarely ever simple to comprehensively define or solve. But if we have to capture the soul of the problem, it’s the manager. Ronald Koeman is the problem with Everton Football Club right now.
Managers often find themselves being the problem or part of the problem, but if you have faith that the manager can find a way to become the solution—or at the very least facilitate one—then you find yourself willing to be a bit more patient because if you’re honest, sport isn’t always logical and certainly isn’t always fair. So if you’ve got a leader who can see a negative situation for what it is and take steps to remedy it —even if doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d prefer—there’s a way forward.
Yet for the first time—even based on such a modest and rational bar as articulated above—I’ve got my first real doubts about Ronald Koeman’s ability to right the ship. And as much as the tactical choices have bothered me, it was yesterday’s post-match comments from Koeman that took me to a darker place than I’d been in quite a while when it comes to Everton and the manager.
In a post-match abdication of leadership for the ages, Koeman obviously and repeatedly blamed the attitude, the confidence and general mindset of the players as if he carries no role in it or responsibility for it—a BAD color on a man whom we all believed to be the walking embodiment of footballing accountability.
This triggered a series of disturbing questions and thoughts about Koeman that I never believed would enter my head.
The players lack confidence? So what exactly IS Koeman worth if he can’t at least get his players to be confident? His tactical acumen? He’s certainly poured gasoline on that fire of late.
Simply stated, Ronald Koeman was supposed to be the anti-Roberto Martinez. But they may be more alike than we thought. They’ve got a personality “brand” they stick to. And both seem to look at bad football and not recognize their role in it and/or be unable to industriously find a way out of it. For all the annoying, misplaced sunshine of Martinez, it was his unwillingness to change in the face of overwhelming evidence that his tactics were ineffective that was his ultimate downfall. Did we ever think THIS would be a problem for Koeman? Koeman was the guy who could look at situations, diagnose them, and make changes accordingly. Where did THAT guy go?
The absence of “Pragmatic Koeman” this season was bad enough without him throwing his players under the bus. But to look at a team that desperately needs to find a way to play together while integrating new players and believing that calling them out in the media without a hint of shared responsibility is the proper approach is utterly reprehensible given the role Koeman has played in the start to the season.
And while a man like Ronald Koeman has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, there are things that I and anyone with two eyes can plainly see. I may not know what he knows, but I do understand the concept of insanity.
His players can certainly stand to perform more effectively, but it’s HIS lineups without a wide threat and 2 defensive midfielders to start (AT HOME! AGAINST AVERAGE TEAMS!) that continue to doom us to the kind of slow starts that allow fluky, ridiculously Everton things to happen like yesterday and/or bury us so quickly against good sides that we don’t have the chance to get back in the game. It is NOT that he has started ineffective lineups. It is that he has started ineffective lineups, makes changes late that seem to have a positive effect, and then proceeds to start the next game with the same previously failed philosophy—expecting to do the same thing and have results magically change. That is insanity, kids.
Some people claim that Koeman is too conservative. I don’t mind conservative if it wins games. But Koeman isn’t conservative. He’s illogical. And maybe most damningly, he just doesn’t have the imagination we all thought he did.
Being pragmatic and conservative aren’t the same thing. Pragmatism is looking at what you have, what’s working and not, and proceeding accordingly. Koeman’s inability to look at what he has and create a lineup that accentuates his squad’s strengths from the FIRST whistle week to week is confounding—and is the albatross hanging around the neck of Everton at the moment.
When you’ve got a squad full of new players, you’ve got to tinker until you find something that works. I get that. It’s that Koeman often finds something effective after yet another poor team selection mid-match and doesn’t appear to be learning anything from the experience. It’s like he’s getting his brain wiped a la Men In Black and he’s starting from scratch each game—not the kind of learning curve you’d expect a manager of his experience and alleged caliber to constantly rely upon. He either doesn’t appear to be learning what his squads strengths are and adapting accordingly or he does and is more concerned about doing things “his way”—either of which are shockingly concerning. What’s sad is that I was under the misapprehension that Koeman’s “way” was to figure out what works and go with it.
The most obvious blind spot that Koeman seems to have right now is the inability and/or unwillingness to put his players in their best positions/formations to succeed. And there may be nothing that better illustrates this issue more than Wayne Rooney’s role in Koeman’s current plight.
Rooney is both a blessing and a curse to this particular version of Everton. Because no matter what you think of his handful of goals and the fact that he’s been far better than the hyperbolically dour assessments of his remaining abilities before he returned home to us, his continued inclusion and the impact it has on others in the XI having to cede their natural positions to accommodate a system that runs heavily through him deserves questioning.
And it’s not that Rooney CAN’T contribute. It’s that the free license he’s given to play “positionless football” and roam around midfield or wherever the hell he wants compromises any effort to develop a coherent or cohesive offensive plan of attack—which is only further exacerbated by having no wing players to create an outlet and the other formational decisions that serve to slow things down to a crawl with everything flowing through Rooney. Rooney’s adventuring around the pitch also really sold out Sandro and any chance he had to be truly effective. And what happened? Sandro started dropping back to try and get the ball and thus the formation and any semblance of a plan or a philosophy was further undermined. I’m sure Wayne Rooney has plenty of “winning mentality” to provide to young players, but can we honestly say that the free license he’s given and then exercises sets a good example?
And It’s not a coincidence that the team became more dangerous when Gylfi Sigurdsson was playing centrally, he had a winger to play with (how great was Vlasic?!) and one less defensive midfielder slowing the attack down. Playing your £45m acquisition in his best position. How fucking novel.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some hard choices to make, but Ronald Koeman was supposed to be the emotionless, hard as nails Dutch football manager bot that was paid the big money to make the tough decisions. Decisions like tightening the reigns on Rooney. Or playing a real wing player even if he isn’t 28 (and a “man”) and full of experience. Or acknowledging that Schneiderlin looked better without Gueye on the pitch and seems generally like he plays better without a defensive midfield partner. I’m conflicted about this particular development. I’m not sure what to do, but it does seem like having two defensive midfielders play hasn’t been working. Like at all. But it isn’t about what I’d do. It’s about what a manager who is supposed to be one thing and has completely turned into another these days wants to do.
Koeman’s approach to start a season with so much promise is at best flawed and at worst completely negligent. A football season is like a vast ocean with a variety of opportunities to re-examine the map and right the course. But vast oceans can also be a graveyard for ship captains who continuously and stubbornly invite mutiny at every turn. Your move, Skipper.