These Built to Spill Blues

The plan keeps coming up again
And the plan means nothing stays the same
But the plan won’t accomplish anything
If it’s not implemented…

Hit shuffle on my 90’s/2000’s playlist and landed on that Built to Spill classic “The Plan”. Less an omen and more of a nagging reminder of this wretched thing called Everton in 2017/18.  And as the pounding guitars rolled into my ears, I further considered 4-0 at Wembley and realized I’m pretty tired today.  How about you?  But I woke up this morning in no mood to ask the same nagging questions that have been asked thousands of times but that no one really has good answers for regarding our play.  Why don’t we have a left back?  Why can’t we generate shots on goal?  How can it get more boring than this?  Are we even good at being boring in a manner that would help us?

I was also too tired to watch the Anfield Martyr Complex take on City today.  Heard it was a helluva show.  Heard they almost blew it, but didn’t.  Who cares?  It doesn’t change how shit we are. I’m more interested in the reasons why we’re so shit at the moment. But maybe more importantly, I’m even more interested to understand what we’re doing now—as in today—to not be shit next season.  And the season after.  And the season after that.

I suppose that I’ve got bigger questions about USM FC than ones concerning the formational merits of never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever deviating from playing two defensive midfielders.  Like, who the hell is this team?  Who are its leaders?  What are we trying to do?  Who are we trying to be?  What is our style of play?  What is the plan when we go out on the pitch?  Who is responsible for setting the tone and providing answers to these questions?  We’re not hard to beat.  We say we’re setting up to counterattack but keep our fastest players on the bench.  We’re not open and expansive offensively.  We’re not especially good at set pieces.  We don’t seem to thrive in direct play.  We talk about clean sheets—as if the words alone might magically trigger us to play with a corresponding mindset.  How has that worked out?

 

 

What is meant when people talk about “salvaging’ this season?  There are no more trophies to win.  There’s a beyond remote opportunity to make it into Europe.  But let’s face it—salvaging this season isn’t finishing 9th. Or 8th. Or even 7th. It OUGHT to be about getting something useful out of an otherwise lost season so that next season doesn’t end up just like this one.  And that’s the source of my biggest worry for Everton.  If we can agree that other than staying up that there’s nothing left to win, can’t we also agree that there’s a difference between a productive use of the remaining season versus a wasteful one?  The opportunity that ought not to be squandered isn’t about anything that can be won this season.  It’s about what can be learned FROM this season.

Which brings us back to the ulcer-generating, pit in my stomach suspicion that there is no plan.  For example, if we’re going to end up mid-table-ish, why give valuable minutes to guys who aren’t part of the future?  We know who these guys are and what they can and can’t give us.  This isn’t personal, but there’s nothing new to be learned about Aaron Lennon.  Or Leighton Baines.  Or Phil Jagielka.  Or Ashley Williams.  Or dare I say even Wayne Rooney.  And if some of these guys are being played ought of sheer necessity, that reflects poor planning on the talent acquisition side of things.

Rooney himself is the perfect microcosm of the mixed messages the club sends about what it’s trying to accomplish when it persists in giving him a seemingly automatic starting role.  What have we gained from bringing Rooney back to an Everton in such pronounced transition?  A walk down What Might Have Been Lane?  Outside of a few YouTube highlights and a handful of feel good moments about “one of our own”, the question is not “What has Wayne Rooney given us?”  Yes, he’s given us some goals and had some good games here and there.  The question is “What has Wayne Rooney cost us?”  Some tough questions worth asking: Has he made others around him better?  What has been the domino effect on others in terms of either position or playing time due to the club’s seemingly impenetrable mandate to play him at all costs?  Why do some of us continue to argue that there are nuanced reasons that our club record signing shouldn’t start in his ideal position? Some real rhetorical gymnastics there.  And how does moving our club record signing to a less than ideal position affect the opportunities of others who would ideally play in that position themselves?  How does this affect how effective our team on the pitch can be as a result?

 

 

The collective successes and failures of roster-building this current iteration of Everton falls at the feet of Farhad Moshiri, Director of Football Steve Walsh, and the previous full-time manager.  The pronounced conflict of interest that has arisen between a new manager who appears primarily concerned about the short-term criteria he understands as key to keeping his job and a club in need of first team player development and a long-term vision?  Also on Moshiri and the DoF.  But the mixed messaging and selective application of purportedly straightforward principles regarding how playing time is allocated?  That falls squarely on the manager, Sam Allardyce.

The Everton manager spent a considerable time with the media ahead of the visit to Wembley this past weekend to push the narrative that the financial commitment shown by the club to spend money on players this month was a sign of the Board’s desire to commit to him long term.  In reality, the potential money spent on a striker and a left back (surely still, yes?) this month has more to do with correcting glaring, egregious omissions from the last “plan” that the club tried to execute over the summer.  Allardyce also threw his hands up over players like Sandro and Klaassen saying effectively that “they select or don’t select” themselves and that when given a handful of chances they haven’t done enough to keep their spots. First off, I’m not sure you can argue that giving a player a few minutes here and there and then freezing them out again for long periods constitutes a real “chance”.  Secondly, how does the manager explain his handling of Ademola Lookman?  After another prolonged dry spell, Allardyce plucked Lookman off the bench at Anfield, sat Rooney, moved Sigurdsson to his preferred spot and for the briefest of times, the offense looked like an actual, functioning, potentially good attack.  Lookman took his chance, played a significant role in the equalizing goal.  By the manager’s own plain-spoken, safe hands, back to basics criteria that the national media seems to just eat up, Lookman had fulfilled his part of the social contract to warrant another chance.  And yet what happened a week later?  Once again, despite his incredibly lackluster form of late, Wayne Rooney was gifted his spot back in his preferred position, the club record signing was moved off of his, and a talented young prospect that we paid a substantial sum of money for who was likely lured to the club because of Everton’s reputation about giving youth a real shot to play, was rewarded for his efforts with zero minutes of time on the pitch.

 

 

So again, I ask, WHAT IS THE PLAN?  Because this isn’t really about whether you or I think that guys like Lookman or Vlasic or even poor old Sandro are any good.  The issue is that nobody really knows because in a season that has turned in favor of trying to answer these questions, nobody—especially the manager—seems bothered with finding these answers.  And in a season where despite how underwhelmed we all are by all of this, we aren’t likely to face a real relegation battle.  Even if there’s nothing left to win, there’s still SO MUCH to gain.  Because if we finish this season and STILL don’t know what we have in guys like Lookman and others that we’ve spent time and finite resources on, what has been the point of this season?  If we have no clearer idea of what our philosophy or our playing style is or our identity is or even what we want those things to be, what has been the point of this season?

At last week’s AGM, among a slew of notable things that the major shareholder said (ahem), this one line from Farhad Moshiri stayed with me: “No single setback will derail us.  We are on the road and we will get there.”  I remember thinking that that was the kind of thing that if the CEO of the company I work for said, I’d feel incredibly reassured.  It suggests that failures are part of a larger process, that they can be learned from, but that they ultimately won’t derail the vision and the achievement of success moving forward.  But between Moshiri and the manager being good at saying lots of “good-sounding” things, have the actions of either of them in regards to the product we see on the pitch backed up those lofty sentiments?  We’re about a year from Moshiri also saying that the club can’t simply be a museum, too.  Statements like these suggest a strategy, a plan, and a vision that simply does not seem apparent when you consider what is deployed on the pitch each week.  The club does not lack money.  The club does not lack men and women in expensive suits with great educations.  But money isn’t a strategy.  Clever-sounding aspirational statements from the “right” people fit for a poster aren’t a strategy.  We’ve heard all the right things and yet seen far too few of them come to fruition.

Maybe the plan is simply to hold on until the summer and try again.  This time, we’ll finally find a manager with a plan.  And a philosophy.  And a vision.  One man to save it all.  Eggs, meet basket, I guess.  But what of the next five months?  What does the club do to advance itself by simply just trying to exist/survive when there are clear opportunities to learn, develop, and establish a solid foundation for the next manager to build upon?  The mixed messages, the mixed transfer objectives, the lack of guiding footballing principles, etc.  All of it serves to undermine the club’s aspirations moving forward.  Do we want to go young?  Do we want to go more experienced?  Do we want a stalwart, defensive, counterattacking side?  Do we want to go with a wider, more expansive attack?  I don’t know the best answer.  But I can assure you that the current middling cocktail of youth, experience, far too many guys well past their prime, and a mish-mash of styles and agendas isn’t a winning combination.  It is the symptom of an organizational sickness from years of rudderless, leader-less decay.  It is time for someone to step up at Everton.  It is also time for others to get the hell out of the way.

Rob Vera
Rob Vera

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8 Comments

  • Jon  14/01/2018 at 22:17

    The clubs in a total mess and always will be while bill kenWright is at the club.

    Reply
  • Charles  14/01/2018 at 22:43

    Well said Rob. This article sums up my feelings entirely. Can’t understand why players like Lookman are left on the bench. Why getting transfer deals done is like pulling teeth and how in hell can Sam say we should have been less offensive against Spurs. No shots on target yet again. I feel sorry for Cenk Tosun who I suspect is now doubting the wisdom of his decision to sign. New stadium my arse, get rid of the deadwood. The u23’s would have performed better yesterday. It’s embarassing.

    Reply
  • Mark Bebbington  14/01/2018 at 22:46

    Excellent article, concur with all you’ve said. Most disappointing moment of a very disappointing visit to Wembley was Big Sam choosing to replace Bolasie with Lennon rather than Lookman. We have 15 or so games to look at the youth see if Garbutt has any justification for his five year contact and get some form out of Davies, and give Vlasic Lookman etc some real game time. More importantly as you suggest get some Identity. I’m prepared to write off the season if we can gain knowledge over our future but not to just trudge through our remaining fixtures!

    Reply
  • Ryan O'Hanlon  15/01/2018 at 09:17

    Alleluia!!! Couldn’t agree with the article more.
    I’ve been wanting to vent since Saturday, possibly longer.
    I understand Allardyce’s reluctance to use too much youth in the side, however that should not mean we use experienced players that do not offer us anything or worst still (Rooney), unbalance the team.
    We spent £45m on a quality player in the summer and yet every manager we have had this season refuses to use him in his best position. In fact every manager has decided to use him in a position he is crap in. What makes him worse is that we are currently playing somebody at left back who is as much a left back as Tony Hibbert was and therefore can not support him in any attacking sense effectively and that means we have Sigurdsson on the left trying to do all the work of a left winger when he isn’t one and as such the left side of our attack is redundant.
    Sigurdsson we can all agree should be played behind the striker, it’s where he had all his success with Swansea and presumably that’s why we bought him.
    So how do we combat that? Simple really and that’s drop Rooney. He unbalances the whole team, and whilst he has scored plenty of goals this season his presence in the team means that other players have to accommodate him. He continually drops deep to get the ball he doesn’t need to get which slows down our play and cramps our midfield.
    There’s plenty of other problems within the team however I view this as the biggest and will probably cause the most friction with pundits and media but not Everton fans

    Reply
  • Micky  15/01/2018 at 14:51

    When Farhad Moshiri bought his 49.9% share in EFC, I posed a few questions about four weeks later (let him settle in) on the forums and on Twitter:

    Why has there been no press conference?
    What is Moshiri’s plan?
    Who is this Billionaire?
    Why is Kenwright still there?

    Collectively, ever supporter was left to their own conclusions. I was immediately torpedoed by some so called fans with: Why the f**k should he? Man City didn’t when the ‘Arabs’ took over…and this classic…It’s none of are business, d**khead! [sic]. I’m sure you get the picture, Rob?

    Some people are just happy with the lot vis-à-vis EFC, but I’m like you, I question matters. 90% of us I’m sure wholeheartedly welcome FM into our club, but for the life of me, I don’t know why Kenwright, Woods and Elstone have been retained. This part of the equation is lost on me.

    Cheers my friend.

    Reply
  • Tommy  15/01/2018 at 20:16

    Rob, you put it all into perspective for me, numerous times I’ve wrestled with the Rooney situation, along with Siggy, Lookman, Vlasic, Klaassen etc etc, but if we are trying to form a team for our future, then surely we should be playing these players? It’s obvious Fireman Sam is not the answer, he has stated a few times now that we can’t, or don’t score, so we have to keep a clean sheet, or concede just one goal, yet the pair who did the best in defending, was Williams & Holtgate, but Jags came back in & did pretty good, but we seem to fall apart! Holtgate has not been as good, but I think he’s got a great chance of being one of our CB’s for many years to come! Sam’s latest comment of “we need to become more boring” is not what the fans need to hear…..or see FFS! More boring, is that even possible with our futile attempts in portraying professional footballers? I do believe there are other things going on within the club, as it seems that our players downed tools, once again, under the watch of a 3rd manager this season! Thanks Rob for an excellent piece, you pretty much said it all.

    Reply
  • Brian O'Riada  18/01/2018 at 14:52

    Thanks for the article, sums up my thoughts and so many of my friends – after spending a pile of money, we are in a worse place than at the end of moyes reign.

    Reply

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