Everton: Entirely predictable strife

November 27, 2017

It quickly became about the intangibles.


David Unsworth had just watched his listless Everton side be torn apart by Southampton at St Mary’s and, in spite of a performance which must have angered him, was honest and frank with the media.

The press-conference took a strange turn, though. Unsworth might have thrown any number of players under the proverbial bus, credit to him (perhaps) for not doing so, but chose instead to pursue the unity line.

“I’ve never known a team that needs its fans as much as ours does at the moment.”

Need. Need, need, need.

Everton needed many things which they didn’t bring with them down to the south-coast – discipline, commitment and a coherent gameplan to name a few – but the absence of a supportive crowd wasn’t among them. Support helps, certainly, but this team’s mechanics are so broken that even the loudest, most partisan backing could have provided little more than a false comfort.

And yet that was Unsworth’s focus. Not Morgan Schneiderlin’s many failings or Phil Jagielka’s insultingly poor performance, but the crowd.

Unwittingly, that moment exposed the flaws in Everton’s thinking over this past month and  their deference to imagined imperatives over those which really matter. Unsworth doesn’t deserve scorn, because he has simply been over-promoted into a job for which he has far too little experience – which of us would turn that opportunity down? – but that he is there at all demonstrates how primative English clubs are still capable of being. He was in the right place at the right time, knew the players (and the place) and was apparently owed an opportunity on account of his having been employed by Everton for a long time.

More broadly, it seems he has been left in charge for as long as he has not just because the search for a full-time alternative has taken too long, but because those making decisions evidently don’t have enough respect for the principles of success. They believe, clearly, that there is still currency in these wifty, pseudo truisms which tumble from the television every Saturday morning. Maybe the Everton players like Unsworth more than Koeman. Perhaps training is more enjoyable than it was in August and September. But it means: nothing. This team can’t defend, it can’t attack, and it can’t win possession of the ball. Those are coaching failures, nothing else.

So no, it hasn’t worked, as nearly everybody outside the standing army of ex-professionals working in the media said that it wouldn’t – and, because it hasn’t, this has become a less attractive job in the process. To look down on them on Sunday was to see a group of disaffected players content to let themselves down. Everton are a wonderful, community-based club and their future – hypothetically – should be bright, but who on earth would want to manage this team? The squad of many static playmakers but precious little speed. The defence which isn’t fit for purpose and hasn’t been for what seems an eternity.

But the problem transcends the pitch.

Last week, it was reported that when Steve Walsh, the technical director, was asked to make his recommendation as to who should succeed Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce’s name came dribbling from his mouth. It’s the kind of detail which made you want to roll your eyes: Everton have a new stadium on the horizon, have entered a new era of financial possibility, and yet Allardyce – in his mid-sixties and prone to eighteen-month stays at clubs – was deemed a suitable character within that long-term plot.

Staggering. Particularly so as the former Crystal Palace, West Ham and Bolton head-coach is known as someone who likes to bed his own staff into a club’s superstructure. In Walsh’s mind, across the entire football world, that was the smartest hire he could think of. Not a lesser name with a stronger pedigree for developing young players (of which the club have plenty) or an ideologue capable of moulding the concept of what Everton are around his personality, but the nuts-and-bolts merchant who might admittedly have toughened the side, but would then have bolted for the retirement hills after a season or two of dull, pragmatic football.

If the reports of Walsh’s increasing insecurity are accurate, he can have few complaints. His underperformance has cast him as the figurehead of an organisation without a coherent focus – a club without an established philosophy.

The most successful teams in the world, even those empowered by bottomless reserves of cash, are run with a cold, dispassionate precision. Managers are hired according to what they’ve achieved and what they’ve proven themselves capable of doing. Their employability is also defined by how well they complement the native structure around them: they share beliefs with the technical, conditioning and data staff and each department’s effect is multiplied by healthy relationships with the others.

There’s little evidence for any of that at Goodison Park where, over the course of the past six months, so few decisions bear scrutiny. Not the re-signing of Wayne Rooney or the dawdling, ineffective negotiation for Gylfi Sigurdsson. Certainly not the failure to plot for life after Ronald Koeman.

Yes, Everton want to be successful. And, yes, Farhad Moshiri seems intent on funding that success. Those two desires alone, however, will not be enough. Achievement actually has to be plotted, not just thrown together on a whim.

What are you looking for?