There was an interesting moment after Daniel Wass powered in Valencia’s winner at Goodison on Saturday.
As most of the Everton side stepped out with their heads down, Seamus Coleman approached Sandro Ramirez to remonstrate with him about a fatally underhit pass. Sandro offered a meek retort, before his arms slumped to his side and he turned to face the restart.
It has been said for quite a while that Everton lack leadership. Scenes like that are a reminder of it.
In any office, there have to be people who take the lead and inspire others – especially when that office is a football pitch, with the intense focus and pressure that professional football brings. Someone has to be there to reassure people lacking in confidence, or slapping down those with too much of it.
Marco Silva and Marcel Brands are trying to make the Everton squad younger, so senior players need to play a pivotal role in educating and supporting them. We’ve seen that an influx of players means a lot of time spent bedding in, and a real slump if that adjustment doesn’t go well. In times of adversity, there has to be someone to look to for inspiration.
The captain tends to be that figure. Yet Phil Jagielka hasn’t been a moral colossus. Perhaps that’s different on the training ground, but in the public sphere, it has been suggested that Jagielka hasn’t been a strong leader.
You can tell the difference that an influential captain makes. It’s often mentioned by peers, they can be seen offering constant advice, and they’re the first ones ready to calm down a situation or back their man to the hilt. Our neighbours had a captain like that, who even organised team huddles for the cameras so everyone could see what a great unit they were. And that went really well, I think.
Jagielka’s comments on Jordan Pickford this summer were more than a bit bizarre. After a stunning summer with England, Pickford was of course linked with a move away. The Everton skipper said: “There is talk about us giving him a new deal but, let’s be honest, football’s crazy. If someone wants to come and offer us £100million or £150million for Jordan then football is football but he’s happy where he is.”
Coleman could easily be identified as Everton’s de facto captain. Statesmanlike off the field and warlike on it, the Irishman has the attributes to be a leader. Leighton Baines is another candidate, though his infamous penalty deferral to Kevin Mirallas at home to West Brom is a black mark. Pickford makes himself heard, while Cenk Tosun has been championed as a key figure in the dressing room despite only joining in January.
Apart from that, it hasn’t really seemed like Everton have had players willing to be the wind beneath the team’s proverbial wings. Ashley Williams arrived as potential captain material, but heads off to Stoke with memories of self-sabotage at Burnley and an Old Trafford to-do with Romelu Lukaku featuring more prominently than anything. Wayne Rooney was obvious captain material but it says a lot that he was gently herded out the door after just one season.
But here’s the thing. Is it important?
Manchester City played most of the season without captain Vincent Kompany, but did just fine. If a team is well-gelled and the coaching staff keeps players in line, the rest takes care of itself. But that Valencia goal – the winning goal, as it turned out – is indicative of situations which have arisen in competitive, meaningful games. Everton have hit rough waters plenty of times in the past few seasons, and will do again. Influential team members will need to be on hand to prevent a slump.
Jagielka may soon make way for a more competent centre half; if Michael Keane remains, that other centre half will need to keep Keane’s head in the game. Baines’ spot isn’t secure either, so there will be more focus on Coleman as a leader. For some reason – don’t berate me for this – Morgan Schneiderlin doesn’t seem like a dominant presence. So there’ll be a collective responsibility among the rest of the midfield and Tosun to collaborate, encourage and share ideas. Just like you’ve said that you love to do in every interview you’ve ever been to. I’m on to you.
Do I want to see players surrounding and berating the referee? Not really, it doesn’t make them change their mind. That said, comments from ex-Premier League referees suggest that they’re actually quite susceptible, so it might work. Do I want to see players squaring up to opponents to protect a team-mate? You’re damn right. Leighton Baines versus Mikel Arteta lives long in the memory. What I definitely want to see is a team that bands together when they need to most, no matter if the crowd joins in with them.
The only way this Everton side is on the up is if they’re going there together.