Amid the post-Koeman maelstrom, a host of names have been thrown into an unlikely melange of potential successors. In this bizarre waiting room, Paulo Fonseca is rubbing shoulders with Duncan Ferguson, Sean Dyche sees himself as a challenger to Carlo Ancelotti, and the bookies can’t see Thomas Tuchel having the edge over Sam Allardyce. It’s perhaps an excellent allegory of where Everton are right now – a heady mix of wild ambition and the creeping terror of being rooted in the bottom three. In the middle of it all is a man who sees himself as the one who can take Everton to where they want to be.
David Unsworth is an enigma to those with little interest in Everton, perhaps even a complete unknown. He played for Everton, famously got cold feet after moving to Aston Villa, and then played for Everton some more before entering coaching. He’s just another caretaker, hoping to be another Craig Shakespeare, when the Leicester boss’ recent sacking is enough of a cautionary tale. That would be a huge disservice to the stand-in Blues boss, who has become an excellent coach in his own right. That is how he is known by Evertonians; the positive, highly respected coach of a title-winning Under 23s side. His role in nurturing Everton’s top young talent is such that the main argument against offering Unsworth the job full-time is that it would be a shame to derail a hugely successful youth operation for what is ostensibly a major gamble.
The man who scored the first goal of David Moyes’ 11-year stint at the Everton helm has so far featured three times in the dugout. A 3-0 win over Norwich followed Roberto Martinez’s sacking in 2015, his post-Koeman spell began with a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in midweek, and this weekend saw a dismal defeat against Leicester. In the first two, the players looked more willing to fight, and more dangerous going forward. Comparatively speaking, that is. The third could be put down to the remnants of the former manager’s incompetence – a handy excuse.
Being a caretaker manager is a double-edged sword. The first point of comparison is to a manager who has performed so poorly that they have lost their job, which sets the bar pretty low. Unsworth received plenty of praise for the way Everton set up on Tuesday, almost to the extent that some seemed to forget Everton had lost, and had subsequently missed yet another chance of a cup run. The Blues stand-in will not be given any breaks, should he assume the role permanently. The problem for the board is that his quality is hard to gauge now, when anything more than the lifeless, disorganised showings seen too often at the end of Koeman’s reign is considered some sort of success.
This being Everton, a club that cares deeply for both its history and geographical roots, there is a unique pressure for those with a close connection to the fanbase. Though Chorley-born, Unsworth started in the Everton youth system, appearing in the famous royal blue for the first time 25 years ago. Therefore, he is ‘one of us’, the subject of both an especially burning desire to do well, but also a more intense fan focus. You only have to ask Ross Barkley what that’s like. It is well-documented that every one of Everton’s post-war trophies have been won by former players – Harry Catterick, Howard Kendall and Joe Royle. Unsworth does not have the same sort of pressure as Colin Harvey, who was tasked with holding things together as Kendall’s empire crumbled, but invariably he will be lumped in with the men who have delivered Everton’s greatest triumphs.
For the wider world, Unsworth would join the list of managers given an extended stay after acting as caretaker, a club in which Nigel Adkins is considered a success story. The expectation is that such a move rarely works out. Some are simply not allowed to take the spotlight. See Sammy Lee, skulking in many a manager’s shadow; Terry Connor, due to be buried alongside Mick McCarthy a la Smithers and Burns; and Joe Jordan, whose dread at being rejected for the Scotland job and instead act as Harry Redknapp’s number two must grow with every passing day. He will struggle to ever shake off that tag.
David Unsworth, should he be appointed, will have the chance to forge his own path as Everton manager. He is already known to be a good motivator, and will undoubtedly keep the faith with his young charges from the U23s, but how he sets up tactically and what choices he makes in the transfer window are yet to be seen. The best gift those involved in Everton can give him is exemption from needless comparison. Unsworth, an ambitious man, will not consider doing better than Ronald Koeman in his last few months to be a success. He does also not need his achievements to be stacked against those of bona fide Everton legends. Football boils down to results, and results will decide if Unsworth is worthy of taking on the mantle of leadership on a full-time basis. Everton are currently battling to retain Premier League status, so there is no time for Unsworth to get his bearings. The pressure is on, and the only measure of success is the points tally. No matter the manager, they are only as good as the results they achieve.