Arrogance and Incompetence have Left Everton Punch Drunk

The post Leicester fall out has likely shifted the Everton board into directions they were previously unwilling to consider and at a speed they are uncomfortable with. The chaos and confusion that has reigned through consecutive summer windows is beginning to threaten to erupt over a manager search, where lines of division are becoming more pronounced with different managers and approaches seemingly favoured by the older members of the board and the new shareholder. I have little doubt they had hoped Unsworth would make a success of this appointment. He would get some points on the board quickly, ideally at least 4 in his two league games to get the phycological hurdle of being in the bottom 3 out of our minds and allow us to pitch the club not as one mired in a crisis and a dog fight but one which can look to climb the table with an inviting set of fixtures to come.

The Leicester result has really put the dampeners on that. It was not the worst Everton performance I’ve ever seen, nor was it the worst Everton performance I’ve seen this month but the worry was it was indicative of a caretaker manager who had little ideas how to set a team up to be competitive. Leicester didn’t hammer us, but they won comfortably and didn’t get out of second gear for most of the match.

Logic of course would have dictated that Unsworth would struggle. A manager with a handful of first team games under his belt would indicate such a turnaround in such a short space of time was unrealistic. Many people have said that and they have thus far been proven right. I suspect tonight’s game against a 3rd place Lyon (who were Europa League semi fianlists) will further re-inforce this against a depleted Everton squad. I can’t lay claim to be one who shared the view Unsworth would struggle, though I am very rapidly coming round to the viewpoint my initial optimism may have proven to be overly keen.

While the logic that an untested manager at this level would likely lead to failure, there were other factors that counted in Unsworth’s favour. The work he’d done at youth level being one, his knowledge of the club being another and perhaps most importantly the experience of his only previous game being a dramatic 3-0 gave decent grounds for optimism albeit from a tiny sample.

Of course, using 2 or 3 games to discount him from the job is also equally difficult to generalize from, but the onus was very much on Unsworth to prove he was worthy in these games, which at present he has struggled to do. 

There could well be a number of factors for why it so well last time and not this time. The quality of opposition must be taken into account, and also the fact Norwich were relegated helped Unsworth. Chelsea, Leicester and Lyon away is a fiendishly difficult start for any manager, yet you can only play the cards you are dealt and there was precious little to shout home about against Leicester.

I also feel, a heavy emphasis on working hard which comes from Unsworths sides allowed a side with far greater quality (lads such as Coleman, Mori & Lukaku) to up their game dramatically, whereas this time the lack of quality is shining through as opposed to a lack of effort. If a team is already working hard, making that a central tenant of your approach is unlikely to garner the results you are after.

As the crisis has gradually engulfed the club it should be no surprise that the names currently dominating the betting are Allardyce and Dyche. Both managers experienced managing teams struggling at the bottom. On Monday I felt we would see one appointed before Lyon, but for whatever reason it looks like they have held their nerve slightly and stuck to the original plan of waiting until after the Watford game. Quite why this has happened I don’t know. Possibly there is an unresolved disagreement between who the number 1 choice is? It could be they are waiting on a bigger name manager to give them a concrete answer. Perhaps more likely may be that the package both managers are asking for (particularly Allardyce) goes well beyond what we had in mind and they are hardballing it, and sticking rigidly to the original plan that Unsworth gets given the full 4 games. I find it hard to believe any result Unsworth gets against Watford can really save him, so I can’t say delaying the Allardyce (Or Dyche) appointment makes much sense.

While both Allardyce and Dyche seem to be getting lumped in together, and have many similarities in their approach to football and knowledge of the English top division, there are some key differences. I sense those in favour of Allardyce on the Everton board see him as a far easier short term solution, given his age and reputation of “fireman Sam” and may allow Everton to look again come the summer at a higher name of candidate. You can imagine Silva, Tuchel and Ancelotti may well have their futures mapped out and be far more open to advances knowing they have a full summer to sort the squad out and a team in the top division. In theory this plan may well look the most appealing one. We put up with 6 months of Allardyce to get us to safety, accept the season is a complete write off before investing again come the summer.

There are major flaws in this proposal though, the primary one being the ambitions of Allardyce himself. Every comment I have seen from Allardyce indicates to me he wants a crack at a top job. Perhaps legitimately he has always carried something of a chip on his shoulder that he has never been afforded an opportunity at a top job. There are certainly those in and around football who are lurching behind this supposed anti-British outlook of the Premier League and making noises that Everton would be insane not to give Allardyce the opportunity to show his worth. He himself has made at times ridiculous comments that his approach to football would be better suited to Real Madrid. He had apparently retired from Crystal Palace as he’s sick of managing at struggling to just get them to safety. 

Given all of this context I find it very hard to believe Allardyce will accept anything less than an 18 month deal. Some reports are suggesting he wants as long as 3 years and the ability to bring in 10-15 members of his own staff, included sacked Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare. Perhaps understandably he sees the pot of money at the end of the summer being the real prize and sees keeping Everton afloat as a means to an end as opposed to an end in itself. For Everton that means if the plan was to keep him until the summer, it’s likely they will have a bill of upwards of 10 million to pay off Allardyce, on top of all of his staffs contracts in addition to the costs involved in hiring them. It would not be unreasonable to suggest the cost of Allardyce with bonuses involved and this seasons wages could become close to 30 million for Everton.

The other concern with this, is that it is likely to mean the back office that Everton have built over a longer period, crammed with talented coaches as well as those who have come through the academy system, played for the first team to then return and as coaches when their career ended. I can understand the objection that we have to look for excellence over loyalty to ex players, though the record we have at youth level is excellent and it would feel deeply short sighted and morally questionable to see Evertonians such as Ferguson, Unsworth, Ebbrell and Royle being made to leave so the entourage of Sam Allardyce can be given a final pay day.

While many of these problems are very specific to Allardyce, you would imagine Dyche may be more open to working with some of the staff who are at Everton. He also feels a more Kenwright type manager (as with the broad links he’s Kenwright’s preferred option) as a younger manager, who has shown promise at a lower club in the North West can come and build a “dynasty” at Everton. He feels very similar to David Moyes when he first came. You also sense, to get him out of Burnley a long term deal would need to be on the table and reassurances about time to build a side up would need to be given. If Allardyce’s pride may stop him signing up to do a short term job, common sense would probably prevent Dyche walking out on a stable job where he has built links to go into a club who may view his role as a glorified caretaker until the end of the season.

Whether Everton want to commit to Sean Dyche over the medium term (ie the next 2-3 years) is to me hugely open to question. While there undoubtedly positives in how he’s set Burnley up, you can also see enormous limitations to the play. Much like Everton found under Moyes, a self imposed glass ceiling will likely be re-enforced through his play style as opposed to broken down. His Burnley team show a huge reliance on largely British based players who play an effective brand of football but not one you would readily associate with sides who challenge for honours.

All of the above leads to a precariously difficult job for Everton’s board. Difficult discussions and negotiations and perhaps a realisation of the mess they have led us too, not just in the short term but also as part of the longer term picture. It is difficult to truly identify what Moshiri’s approach is, given how little his board communicate to the media and how there is a feeling that this board remains a transitional arrangement. In the absence of said communication there is huge scope for speculation both on the immediate goals and which direction the club wants to travel in after the full acquisition.

With that in mind it would not be unreasonable to say Moshiri wants Everton to move down a youth orientated, low cost high sell on value approach to recruited, which has been partly performed by Steve Walsh thus far. In order to maximise the potential for this you need a manager to work easily with the DOF, be competent and happy with working with and developing young players and be willing to have a longer term view of managing the club as opposed to the expectation of immediate results.

The biggest loser of the last 5 days surely has to have been David Unsworth, who many (myself included) felt could give a good fist of taking the job on a more medium term basis. While there was positives in the second half against Chelsea, Everton looked woefully short against a Leicester side who were only marginally above Everton at Kick Off. What’s become clear over the last two games is a focus on working harder alone is not going to be enough to get Everton out of the predicament. While in his last foray into managing the first team, an injection of energy and workrate to a team with distinctive quality worked dramatically well, this side needs more than just a re-emphasis on the importance of working hard. At present it’s difficult to see quite what David Unsworth can offer above that.

As I travelled back from Leicester I pondered quite where Unsworth can go from here. As I suggested in the previous article about him wanting to see positives, it’s very difficult to take positives from that game. Privately I think he will be confused as to how to deal with this situation. Had it been the under 23’s they’d have been given a rocket and slammed publically after the game, yet given the gravitas he holds within that set up and the trust and respect he has built from those players he would get the required reaction from them. They are also mentally strong enough to take the said criticism and respond positively. Looking at the players on Sunday, I am hugely doubtful such an approach would bear dividends. After an initial meeting outlining expectations he would have been looking for positives to build upon to keep the momentum going and he received precious few on Sunday.

What is also becoming clear, is that it is not as simple as just freezing out signings from the Koeman regime. Already publicly Nikola Vlasic has stated his displeasure at not playing and questioned his future beyond January. I suspect privately Sigursson, Klaasen & Sandro may be doing the same. Another harsh lesson for Unsworth may be that managing senior players who can move to most decent clubs in Europe is a lot harder than managing teenagers who would give their right arm for your recognition. In the most part the under 23’s players need Unsworth and Everton to forge a career, yet the senior players I have mentioned above their could all have their pick of clubs playing European football.

For Unsworth to have given himself a credible chance of taking the job on a longer term basis, I always felt he needed a strong start. When you look at how Royle and Moyes started (both brought in part way through the season to turn fortunes around) both started with wins and subsequent unbeaten runs. There is a strong case to say he has been unlucky to be given 3 challenging away fixtures to start however life and football is very much about being in the right place at the right time and on this occasion it looks like the starts didn’t align for him. Even an unlikely win in Lyon and triumph over Watford will be enough to keep him in a job, as I sense the wheels are now firmly in motion to get a full time replacement and I can’t see that being reversed.

The two prominent names currently being mentioned are Dyche and Allardyce. While I will deal with both individually there are enough similarities to make some broad statements about both. Currently the fanbase seem heavily split, around 70-30 in most polls against both managers though both (particularly Dyche) may see an increase in support if they are appointed. While the reasons for such a split may in part be down to their individual record, to me it goes to much deeper questions about how we view the club.

Football played simply, (as with most businesses and competitions) reflect the inherent bias and inequality within the game. The teams with the most money, should be able to afford the best players and will thus finish higher. For a club like Everton, who sit around 7th in terms of wages & turnover (though recently higher when it comes to gross and net spend) a long way behind those sides above them this doesn’t play out well. We are destined to be some way off challenging for honors and need to become inventive in ways to try and combat this. One answer is to grow revenues, which tentative progress has been made. The other is you need to find ways to outperform your position on turnover, ie spend your money better than those with more of it. One clear example of that is to employ a coach, who is adept at working with younger (and often cheaper) players, improve them and manage a team that can win trophies from a much lower budget than might be expected from buying them at their peak. This certainly appeared to be the dream for Moshiri on buying Everton.

As with most good ideas though, I always feel if it worked that easily everyone would do it. Some teams do try to do it (namely Spurs and Southampton who have had varying degrees of success in doing this) however it is laden with risk. You are essentially putting short-term gain to one side for the potential rewards of long term success. In calculations this makes sound footballing sense, but within the Premier League the spectre of relegation, whereby you lose hundreds of millions of pounds of TV revenue alone (before you even mention gate money, sponsorship etc) means for many owners and clubs they are either not brave enough to go down this path, or they lack the stability and initial quality to be able to make such a risk.

The two example I gave above were Southampton and Spurs who are examples where such an approach has worked. Spurs were a side who finished 6th when they went for Pochetino and Southampton were towards the middle of the table. Both had a stability to be able to employ a more long term, youth orientated manager. Both had the stability to know relegation wasn’t a concern, and could risk falling down the league a little in the short term (as Spurs would finish outside of the top 4 in Pochetino’s first season) for a longer term gain.

The absolute travesty of the situation Everton have put themselves in is this is no longer a straightforward option. For years we lingered around the top half of the table without ever really threatening to break into the top 4 or 5 teams. Through a heady mixture of arrogance and incompetence we are now very much in the midst of a relegation dogfight. If we go for the short termism of a manager to get us out of trouble in the interim, we risk heavily undermining (I’d argue destroying) the longer term plan of breaking into the upper echelons of the league. Alternatively, making an appointment such as Tuchel or another foreign coach (often more adept at working with younger players) increases the risk in the short term things could go wrong and if it were to go wrong the stakes for losing are the calamity of relegation.

This is the essence of the debate around Allardyce and Dyche. While I object to the “Allardyce has always kept sides up” argument- as there is always a first time for everything, and in truth he has skirted mightily close over a number of seasons, there can be little doubt he would give us the safest route to survival, followed closely by Dyche who has experience of the English league. The question for supporters really ought to be just how much trouble do you think we are in?

This again is a very difficult question to answer. I have found myself in the odd position of having supporters from other clubs (Even Liverpool) suggesting we are far too talented to go down. Yet anyone who has witnessed the performances of the squad in the last few weeks would struggle to find a worse side in this league. You could make a case for Palace, West Ham, Swansea and West Brom playing worse than us (I think Bournemouth have just been unlucky) and of the list above I think Palace look to have more spirit than we have and pose more of a threat on the break.

That being said I have to keep reminding myself we have not bought poor players. Sandro was wanted by Barcalona, Spurs and Athletico Madrid, Klaasen captained Ajax to a Europa League Final, Sigurdsson was chased by Leicester at 40 million pounds, Keane is capped by England, Pickford is in the England squad etc etc. I don’t think it’s blue tinted glasses to compare our current crop to when we signed the likes of Farrelly, Ward, Oster or Spencer, players who were not only not good enough on the pitch for Everton but also widely accepted within football as poor players. We have also seen lads such as Baningime, Davies, Kenny, Holgate, Vlasic, Calvert Lewin and Lookman all show enormous promise if only for short periods of time. When I look at the squad if feels a long way from the teams of the 90’s and 00’s which were genuinely poor, yet the performances as a team are every bit as bad as some of the turgid stuff we were served up back then.

There is no easy answer to this question. I tried to make sense of it all for over 3 hours on the way back from Leicester and I could garner no conclusions. Part of me wants to be very frustrated with Evertonians wanting either Dyche or Allardyce, but I can understand it is not about low expectations but rather a very real fear we are in an irreversible mess. While there’s little doubt either appointment would see a likely mass exodus of the talented younger squad we have built and should have been developing akin to what Spurs have done I cannot hand on heart say taking the safe option for Allardyce or Dyche is wrong, even if it is disagreeable to me.

As a final though though, none of this reflects well on any element of Everton’s board. While there is a cruel inevitability that Kenwright, Woods and Elstone would let us down (I think most have grown de-sensitised to this) it has been a painful period for those who have put their hopes into Moshiri. He has now left that board in charge for over 18 months, even promoting Elstone to the board and allowing him to preside over consecutive summer debacles over the recruitment in the striking positions. Why has it taken until November and being sat in the relegation places to inject any urgency and why in that injection of urgency is there little to be said about the board currently running the club?

Farhad Moshiri has made a number of intriguing statements since coming in charge of Everton, one was indicating nothing would ever be the same again, the other was that we had a small window of opportunity to catch the teams above. An appointment of Dyche or Allardyce will do nothing to match the ambition shown in those two statements, in truth it would be indicative of a club that has gone back a decade or more. It might also suggest, the window of opportunity had sailed by. Fans craving the security of Allardyce or Dyche are understandable but for those supposedly leading the club into brave new exciting waters their potential appointments are the walking representation of failure and incompetence.

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