You may have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of output from Everton Aren’t We’s fine writing posse. That’s mostly because there really isn’t much to cover any more. And, with Everton in the doldrums, there isn’t much inspiration to go around.
Even more established media outlets have nothing new to tell us. “What’s gone wrong?”, asks Chris Bascombe in the Telegraph. “What’s gone wrong?”, asks Paul Joyce in the Times. “You’ll never guess what’s gone wrong at Everton – click here to find out #efc”, the Liverpool Echo tweets. Our own Chris Smith has noted it in this Unibet piece. Everyone has identified the issues Everton have, both on the pitch and off it. It makes original content very hard to come by. And it’s the clearest evidence possible that the club is fully in the mire.
At times like this, the eulogising of David Moyes’ spell at Everton – a dynasty, compared to most managerial spells these days – goes into overdrive. “Back then, we never gave up” (we did). “We never got battered on our own turf” (we did). “We never struggled for goals” (you’ve got to be kidding me). We have a very selective memory of those times. The one thing that Moyes offered was consistency. There was at least a heartening familiarity to finishing 6th or 7th, knowing that a poor start probably meant an excellent run to the end of the season was on the horizon. There was a lack of pressure, too, as it wasn’t as if there were any huge spending sprees that needed to be justified, or any statements of ambition that needed to be followed up on.
Everton haven’t really changed that much. In mid-October 2005, Everton were bottom of the Premier League. Three years later, we were 16th. Eight games into the 2009/10 season, we were 11th. The next season, Everton were the last club in the top four tiers of English football to claim a league victory, and in October 2011 we briefly plummeted to 17th. What has changed is the expectation of success, and the lack of expectation that we can achieve it. Moyes brought pleasant mediocrity. Now there is but chaos and uncertainty. Essentially, we’ve captured the Brexit mood quite nicely.
Farhad Moshiri is at the heart of the leap from transient optimism to a steadfast demand of success. Money is the central metric of all comparison in football. Every Burnley win against a bigger side last season was extra special because they’d spent £46 and a few drachmae in their entire history. You can’t get through one weekend of FA Cup football without it coming up. And, because Everton went on an unprecedented spending spree, the results have to be there.
Nonsense. The results have to be there because we have enough quality players to get the results. We are as reliant on Idrissa Gueye and Nikola Vlasic, bought for £15m between them, as Gylfi Sigurdsson, who cost three times that. It is much too easy to focus on the money. David Unsworth very recently said it best. “We’ll never ever get carried away with any run that we’re on, but at the same time, we demand wins and we expect wins.” True ambition is not measured by money. It is measured by the attitude exemplified by the manager, the players and us, the fans, as well as those who sanction transfers. Burnley stringing together 24 passes to score the only goal at Goodison Park is a case of tangible ambition being rewarded.
Back to the issue. Ronald Koeman’s time at Everton is over, or at least close to being over. I have nothing particularly new to say here, because nothing is changing. The formation, the use of certain players, the reliance on players who certainly shouldn’t be focal points, the tempo of play – they are not changing. They won’t change. Because Koeman either doesn’t know how to alter things, or he refuses to. Either way, change must be made by those at a higher pay grade. It is back into uncertainty that we go. Such is life in modern football – a life we were sheltered from while David Moyes repeatedly averted disaster and provided consistent moderate success.
It would be very easy to stick with Koeman. As easy as, say, doing nothing. Transfers in January will sort it all out. Maybe things will just sort themselves out. After all, think of all the ‘expected losses’ so far. Even in those two words, Moshiri spoke of an Everton that harks back to a time of no ambition and little hope. There is a difference, though, between knee-jerk action and acceptable alterations.
Koeman’s act has already grown old. “He says it like it is”, something racists normally say about Paul Watson or some other monolith of bigotry, wore off when he alienated players, and began to overemphasise the promise of performances in the hope of saving his own skin. He is evidently in it for himself, and that’s fine if he’s Jose Mourinho, for whom success trumps self-promotion every time. Making overtures towards Barcelona after guiding Everton to seventh speaks of a very different motivation. He has also failed to deliver on his promises. Where is the high intensity pressing game he vaunted? Where is the super-fit, hungry Everton he championed? Where is the tight, secure, organised defence we assumed he could provide?
This has become a very long ‘Koeman Out’ piece. But forget Koeman for a second – he’s not bigger than the club, no matter what he thinks. What is it we want? Silverware? Reaching for the very top? Or returning to a state of security, with solid bedrock beneath and a thick glass ceiling above us?
Isn’t risk truly the mark of ambition? It goes at every level. Kevin de Bruyne’s mesmerising display for Manchester City against Stoke was such because he made deliveries that were at risk of failure, but succeeded because he had both quality and conviction. Compare that to most Everton players right now, struggling to beat a man or make a killer pass for fear of failure. Marco Silva and Roy Hodgson both reaped the rewards of taking the game to better opposition. Hull appointing Silva in the first place was a risk – just ask Paul Merson – but though they failed, there was an ambition to do something about their predicament, and Silva’s own innovations earned him a better job. And who’s been Everton’s brightest spark in the past few weeks? Vlasic, who seeks to take the game to the opponents whenever he can; something which puts the unadventurous Morgan Schneiderlin to shame. It is necessary to have the imagination to see the opportunity for success, and the bravery to make the leap with the hope – nay, the certainty – that things will go well. Carpe diem and all that.
David Unsworth did sum it up well – we should expect and demand success. Maybe then, he is the man for the job. Maybe he isn’t. Do you see the paradox? Uncertainty is not a good thing, but when the alternative is consistent meek drubbings and uninspired displays, it is. Whatever choices are made in the end, Everton will have to take a risk in order to get what they want.