One of the first truly “English” English words I learned in the early days of my existence within the weird and wacky world of Everton Twitter was “bin”—a word that in American English is used as a noun but is used primarily by the majority of you, my sweet handsome readers, as a verb. Though I see it used in all kinds of ways. “Bin him off!” “Get in the bin!” Whatever, as an American I probably only still grasp the particular nuances of your use of the English language at about a 70% rate—even after all this time. I’m still only SLIGHTLY sure I could use “arse” or “blag” or “jarg” appropriately in a sentence. Luckily for me, I probably won’t ever be in a position where I need to use these words correctly because I don’t talk like the majority of you do and pretending to do so would only make me a phony. Besides, even if I don’t understand all your words, I love how you all sound like the Beatles to me. Each and every one of you scousers possess the voices of angels. Seriously, the girls over here dig it. You’re welcome.
So based on my best contextual understanding, to bin is to get rid of, sure. But used in the context of football, it feels like it goes beyond that and is utilized to dismiss/marginalize the current or even potential value of a player’s contributions. Which on the surface is fine. Hey, some players absolutely deserve to be binned.
Many of us—and I’m sure it’s not limited to Evertonians—have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to binning players. As horny as we are for significant financial outlay for player acquisition, we are often equally as amorous when it comes to dismissing them if they don’t almost immediately deliver. Sure, we give lip service to the idea that new players need the time to “bed in”, but we go from asking why Sandro (a player we almost universally lusted after over the summer) ONLY signed a four year deal to declaring that he’s got a big bag of nothing within a matter of a handful of appearances. But hey, that’s the luxury of being supporters with a voice on social media who aren’t actually spending the money in fees and salary for these guys. Snap judgements—regardless of their perceived merit—aren’t disappearing from the online world anytime soon. It goes with the territory of fandom in the 21st century and I certainly won’t fight it.
Which brings me to the matter of how those actually tasked with dealing in the tangible realities of our club on a day to day basis are charged with operating—namely those in the position to determine the next permanent Everton manager as well as the current man on the hot seat himself, David Unsworth.
Right now, there’s a lot that is unknown in regards to whether or not Unsworth is a serious candidate to be the full-time replacement for Ronald Koeman. How many games will he get? What’s the points threshold to extend his caretaker tenure and how much should said tenure even be extended? If we win the next three games does he get until the end of the season, the end of the festive period? Who knows? Not me.
But thus far in the discussion of David Unsworth’s merits as a managerial candidate, much of the focus has rightly been on his refreshingly clear and upbeat approach that has been simply focused on results. As Unsworth put it, the club needs a “winning manager” and if he wins, the rest will likely take care of itself. In a bottom line business, that logic seems straightforward enough and considering the club’s current position in the table, it really ought to be the primary focus at the moment. However, if Unsworth is able to string together some results, get us out of the drop zone and thus extend his audition a bit longer, the criteria for evaluating his long term viability as the permanent manager of a club with greater ambitions than are currently being realized becomes more nuanced.
Questions have fairly been asked about Unsworth’s lack of first team management experience which becomes especially pronounced when considering that few of us would consider the Everton job to be an entry level position into such an arena. Subsequent questions surrounding his ability to attract elite outside talent to the club are also fair and generally fall into the bucket of unknowns that can’t be addressed at this early stage of things. Yet Unsworth also has some clear points in his favor. He’s got an excellent track record of instilling high level effort, playing a particular style/brand of pressing football (even if there’s a lot of practical formational variability) and ultimately developing young talent–all great traits for any aspiring young manager. And yes, it goes without saying that his roots within the club itself and his accompanying understanding of its culture and supporters has and will continue to serve him well.
Yet for all the attributes and factors articulated above that have been discussed at length by many of us since Koeman’s departure, I’d like to throw in another essential criteria for the permanent manager of Everton Football Club that has been a bit less discussed: The ability to restore and/or elevate the first team players he’s inherited.
Which brings us back to the subject of binning—a tradition that is much a part of our DNA as Everton supporters as gun violence is to my fellow Americans in general. There will always be a faction that condemns it, but it isn’t ever going away. And this is something that happens in every sport and in every fan base. Player arrives and signs contract. Player proceeds to underwhelm. Fan base proceeds to advocate getting rid/benching/shipping away as soon as is humanly possible/passionately advocating first team role for teenager from the U-23s whose YouTube highlights give us the tickle. You guys would not believe how many SUPER EASY solutions there are to be found online to the problem of players you no longer have a use for. Unfortunately, the complexities of budget and finance and the overall big business of modern sport generally dictate that those who actually run professional clubs/sports franchises don’t have the luxury to simply cut bait on a whim—especially when a player or players’ acquisition(s) required a significant outlay in the form of financial and/or other types of limited resources. There’s no bigger “spending other’s money” bit on Everton Twitter like our demands for ownership to show “ambition” and spend money to bring in new faces and our subsequent willingness to quite quickly write said faces off as failures who can’t be any good for our team. Now you may not be convinced by the likes of Sigurdsson and Klaassen (the poor balding Dutch bastard) and Sandro and Schneiderlin. But we’ve gone from being heavily invested emotionally in these moves as supporters to being willing to ditch them after a few months despite the fact that they floundered under a manager that had completely mishandled them in terms of easing their transition to the club—namely in his failure to provide them with defined roles (a purported strength of Unsworth). It is our divine right as Evertonians to label a player as a failure who ought never to see the pitch again in a blue shirt, but it is rarely a viable option for the people tasked with the actual work at the club to execute such a whim in reality.
So if you think that David Unsworth can simply banish ALL of the underperformers like Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Klaassen, Sandro, and Keane into oblivion forever, you’re being willfully ignorant of the financial realities of the big business of modern football that all managers in the top leagues face. Ronald Koeman lost his job because he wasn’t getting results. Bottom line, sure. But he wasn’t getting results because he wasn’t able to get the best out of the big money players that he ultimately signed off on. Farhad Moshiri didn’t get rich by squandering his resources and making poor investment decisions. There’s an implicit expectation that—fairly or unfairly—a manager in his employ will be able to make his big money investments pay off on the pitch. And while Unsworth may not have picked or approved of the acquisition of these particular players, the club’s obligations to them didn’t simply disappear because Koeman was let go. We’ve got more money now as a club than ever, but we didn’t get SO much more money with Moshiri’s arrival that we can simply write off players we’ve only recently invested big money into. We don’t have the bottomless well of cash that City or Chelsea or United have. Even if you think these new arrivals have been bad (which you can definitely argue), the reality is that the owner just spent a giant chunk of his change on them. If Unsworth can’t advance the cause of getting the best out of these players (or at the very least those with strong Premier League track records), is he the manager we need in the long term? I wouldn’t be particularly convinced—especially considering that we’ve seen many of these players perform at a high level prior to their arrival.
Personally, I’d like to see Unsworth get some time to prove himself, of course. I’m rooting for him to steady the ship and if we start winning he should probably be given the rest of the season to show the hierarchy and the supporters what he’s capable of on a more holistic level. But if he is given more time, he simply has to get the best out of the talent at his disposal—including the talent that you may have no more patience for, but talent that came at a significant cost in time, effort, and cold hard cash from the primary shareholder. It’s great to be able to develop teenagers into first team players. But Unsworth has got to also be able to elevate talented senior players into consistent performers. Everton simply can’t afford for him not to.
There isn’t a magic “return to sender” button for these players—especially not in the short term. And while improving and elevating the players brought in will be critical for Everton’s success in the short term, it’ll also be a quality that will be vital for Unsworth or any permanent manager to have in order to make Everton an attractive destination to up and coming and established talent around the world in the long term. The clubs we hope to emulate—namely a club like Spurs—do a great job striking the balance between internal youth development and the integration of first team imports from both the Premier League AND foreign leagues. The likelihood of success for such a comprehensive model starts from the top down of course, but the execution of such a philosophy successfully on the pitch is largely down to the abilities of the manager. Mauricio Pochettino by all accounts possesses the developmental and motivational qualities that we’re so fond of in Unsworth. But he also possesses the ability to elevate good players acquired from other clubs into his squad. And while there will inevitably be roster turnover that may result in some of the aforementioned Koeman acquisitions ultimately moving on, the idea that all of them will easily be off the books in a window or two is simply not feasible. Steve Walsh has a job to do, but the idea that he has to effectively delete two windows of work completely from his ledger to move forward is an unreasonable ask at this stage.
So in acknowledging that reality, Everton under Unsworth or whomever the new manager may be simply must do what Koeman could not during his tenure—produce results by utilizing the talent at their disposal. This is a young man’s game and contributions from young talent will be key. But the ability of the manager to restore the output from veteran players will be the most decisive factor in regards to the ultimate fortunes of the club moving forward. I’m happy with my comfortable seat where I can bin all day and all night and so hard and so good until I can’t bin anymore. But after these early nightmarish days of the 2017-18 season, I’m ready for those at the club to embrace the reality of the conditions as they are. Only then can they move this project we love to hate because we love it so much that we sometimes hate ourselves for it called Everton forward. And I think there’s a viable path forward to a destination befitting our club. Look at me. Binning pessimism for a change.