Assessing the candidates

In the wake of Koeman’s sacking there is the usual merry go round of managers being linked to the job. Different tabloids have made Dyche, Tuchel or Ancelotti the number 1 choice while some are suggesting Unsworth will be given the chance to prove himself worthy of the job. There are also decorated footballers such as Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs linking themselves to the job. As indicated in the previous article, the next appointment will give us a clear indication of how Moshiri sees Everton advancing, and what influence the “old guard” still hold over the club.

The man in possession is currently David Unsworth. While I am very much in the Tuchel camp it is important to address some of the disparaging points that are being made about David Unsworth for the sake of clarity. I found his initial press conference pre Chelsea a fascinating one. Firstly he is a fantastic speaker, warm, energetic, thoughtful and positive. He is a great example of not profiling someone as a manager purely on their playing style, which was limited and hard working and his approach to management is far more open minded and expansive while still keeping to the principles of hard work. There is a clarity in how he communicates his message but also a genuine delight at managing Everton that shines through in his words.

Having seen him speak regularly with the under 23’s it comes as no surprise he communicates well, but his demeanor seemed very different to the first time he was caretaker. That seemed far more care free, far more jovial and happy to be given the opportunity. It was perhaps representative of a group of players and fans who had been hammered for months and wanted the season to end, a free hit game to get a bit of credibility back. This time the seriousness of the clubs situation has led to more of a serious outlook, with him declaring he had spoken to the players individually and reminded them of their responsibilities. I have little doubt it would have been a firm message given to them.

While the situation leads itself to a more serious approach, so too does his own situation. While last time he was well aware this was a 3 day opportunity of a lifetime to manage Everton, before he went back to the under 23’s this situation is now a unique opportunity to lay his claim to the top job. He spoke like a manager who had at least medium term plans, as opposed to just trying to get a win to send the fans off to the summer in high spirits. The press conference indicates to me the words of a man who thinks he has the chance to take over.

The first team squad is in some ways reminiscent of the under 23’s team he took over. Struggling towards the bottom end of the league with a heavy reliance on younger players. This will not be uncommon territory for Unsworth in the squad make up (though it will in terms of the profile of said players). In his first season he was very positive about the players, win lose or draw and focused very much on performances. I suspect we will see much of the same over the next 3 away games, lots of positive praise in exchange for an upturn of performance, performances with greater intensity and competitiveness.

As for the player make up I think it’s very unlikely we will see 3 or 4 lads coming into the starting 11 like last time. We are a young squad (the average age of the 11 that ended against Lyon was just over 24 and the squad used against Arsenal was under 26). We have a core of players under 21- Holgate, Kenny, Davies, Vlassic, Lookman & Calvert Lewin and it’s difficult to see how they will all be fitted in never mind adding more from the under 23’s. My suspicions are Kenny will get a run of games at right back until Coleman is fit (as he should have had from the start of the season) and I imagine Davies will start games in central midfield.

The nostalgic Evertonian in me can’t help but cast my mind back 20 years to the autumn of 1994 and I have a strong suspicion this approach will be adopted by Unsworth as he played in the team and has the man who managed that team in his management team (in fact his two other coaches were all central to the turnaround that occurred). Back then Joe Royle came into an underperforming Everton side who (though it’s hard to believe) were performing worse than the current lot. Very quickly younger players like Parkinson and Hincliffe would be brought into the team to play in more forward positions, with the fabled “dogs of war” midfield of Ebbrell and Horne whose focus became making Everton more difficult to play against. The first 3 games then were Liverpool at home, Leeds away and Chelsea away, with famous victories coming and no goals conceded in the process.

Much of the success of that team was not just the injection of energy, pressing and tempo that came into the team but also Royle ability to utilize the skills of more experienced players. The maligned Dave Watson was given more protection in front of him, and he like Neville Southall would enjoy an Indian to their careers alongside other older players such as Rideout, Ablett, Limpar and Horne. The obvious comparison now would be players such as Rooney, Williams, Jagielka and Baines who I would not be surprised were given central roles over the forthcoming games to help us out of the predicament we are in.

If not at Chelsea, at Leicester away it would be no surprise to me if 3 from Schneiderlin, McCarthy, Gueye and Davies are selected with the instruction of covering more ground than they looked too this season under Koeman and making it difficult for the opposition. Davies is perhaps the only 1 who can do 3 games in a week so I suspect he will start all 3 with the others being rotated. I imagine Rooney will start up front with Sigurdsson and Mirallas in wide positions. It is a unique opportunity for Unsworth and though he is faced with 3 difficult games to start I would not right us off emulating Royle’s start and getting something from all 3 games. At Chelsea he will be after a performance to build on.

Much of the criticism has been centred around his lack of experience and comparing him to a Craig Shakespeare figure. While there is little doubt there is a lack of experience, sometimes understanding and knowledge of the club, it’s processes expectations and culture can go a long way further. There’s little doubt an incumbency bias exists in most workplaces and you could not get a more suited group of coaches to the demands of Everton. It may not be enough to cover for Unsworth’s lack of experience though it gives him every chance possible.

In situations like this it is often worth noting examples where such an appointment has worked out. A useful barometer may be Alan Stubbs Unsworths predecessor who went to Hibs and won them their first trophy in decades before taking on the Rotherham job under challenging conditions and failing in the championship. With no disrespect to Stubbs, who did a commendable job with our reserve side, anyone who has paid attention to Unsworth’s progression would say he is a cut above Stubbs though Stubbs’ own progression indicates it is possible for managers to step up from reserve football and succeed.

The other worthwhile examples I can think of a De Boer at Ajax and Pep at Barcelona. De Boer has struggled at every club after Ajax, though was massively successful during his time there (again hinting at a incumbency bias within football) while Pep built arguably one of the greatest ever club sides. The point that he had better players to work with is an important one, though it should be noted he moved on some of the star players (such as Ronaldhino, Eto’s, Deco and Zlatan) to allow for lesser known players to come through who he could turn into world beaters such as Messie, Iniesta and Xavi who would become world class under his guidance. What is striking about both Ajax and Barcelona though, is they have very strong identities, a heavy reliance upon younger players coming through and a demand for football to be played in a specific manner. These characteristics are also true of Everton and underpin why the possibility of an internal appointment offers a more likely route to success than at other clubs. It is also why the comparison to Craig Shakespeare, who has no long term connection to Leicester City is not a massively useful comparison.

While Unsworth is for me an appealing option perhaps the one man I would look to move for over him would be the German Thomas Tuchel. The German has firstly managed Mainz, recovering the mess Klopp left the club in after relegation, getting them promoted and stabilizing them. He also followed Klopp to Dortmund after Klopp again left Dortmund languishing around half way up the league, turning them into a side that finished 3rd and 2nd in his two seasons as well as winning the cup. Though this track record is positive, the appeal in Tuchel goes more into the method of how he has achieved his success and that he looks another very natural fit for Everton. As a club we currently sit a long way behind 5 teams off the field and a 6th side (Spurs) who also have significantly higher turnover. The solution to this dilemma for Everton is to radically grow it’s turnover off the field and find managers who are adept at overperforming their budget on the field.

When we analyse the changes that are occurring off the field, with the addition of Steve Walsh and his heavy recruitment of younger players it’s clear to see Everton are looking to follow a model used by Monaco, Dortmund, Ajax and a handful of other clubs. This is to invest in younger players, expose them to first team football and look to move players on at a profit to reinvest. This is a method that helps to reduce the colossal gap that exists between Everton and the sides above them. It was a method that in truth Koeman never seemed massively keen to buy into, and one which signings such as Bolasie, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson and Williams don’t really fit into. The message of this summer ought to be the requirement to find a manager that fits the broader approach of the club, or you risk a chaotic approach to recruitment and not arming your squad to an adequate standard in all areas.

Where Koeman didn’t easily fit into this approach it would be easy to see how Tuchel is a more natural fit, in many ways it could be argued the perfect fit. He is schooled in Germany which have a much higher emphasis on developing young players particularly ones from their own academy and the entire league show an uncanny ability to get players to play better for German teams than they do for teams outside of the league. On top of this Tuchel has worked at youth level for a number of years, before completing a job with a limited budget akin to Sean Dyche at Burnley at Mainz and then been successful stepping up to a bigger club at Dortmund. If Everton are looking to emulate Dortmund in their approach they could a lot worse than getting in Dortmund’s last trophy winning manager!

The other candidate heavily linked is Dyche and while it would be far from a disastrous appointment it would be underwhelming and would feel very much “old Everton” and indicative of the previous ownerships approach. There’s little doubt he remains a safer choice than Tuchel due to his understanding of the English game and Unsworth (who has only 1 games experience at the top flight). He is also a manager who deserves an opportunity at a club with a larger profile and in many ways Everton would be a natural fit for him. I wouldn’t be disappointed if he came though I suspect the rewards we may get from Tuchel would be far higher than we might expect from Dyche.

The left field candidate of Carlo Ancelotti should also not be ignored. While I will argue here he is another ill suited manager to what we are trying to do, a manager of such clout, experience and winning record would be welcomed with open arms. The narrative around Everton would radically shift, both within the City but also within wider football if we could attract him. When Moshiri spoke of a superstar on the sidelines Ancelotti fits that brief better than all managers except arguably Mourinho and Pep. His potential appointment would also hint to me at further investment either occurring imminently or already existing that has yet to be seen as he will require a higher caliber of player than what we currently have. There is also every chance he only takes the job at the end of the year, though if there was a chance to get him I’d happily wait until the seasons end to ensure that could happen.

Of the other candidates Marco Silva at Watford looks a very strong pick. In my own mind I want someone who follows what Pochetino has done, in developing a younger side well suited to the Premier League and is looking to build something of a legacy at a club. My only concern with Silva is he has only been in the league 9 months and we have seen many flash in the pan managers in that time, such as our own Roberto Martinez who get found out. He also doesn’t look to have stayed at any clubs longer than a couple of years, which looks different to Tuchel who remained with Mainz for 6. It is unlikely Everton get to where they want to be in 2 years, so there has to be concerns about how long Silva will stay.

In truth I would be delighted with any manager on this list (aside from Dyche who I would be underwhelmed by but willing to give a chance) though may favoured option is Tuchel with Unsworth as his assistant. If Moshiri can deliver on Tuchel, Ancelotti or Silva it will ne another significant coup after Koeman and we can only hope that the structures will begun to be put in place to allow for a more productive approach to recruitment to give the manager the best chance possible to punch above his weight and lead us to challenge the top teams in the league.

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