Caligula’s Blushes

This is around take 3 of an article I have wanting to be writing for 10+ days. The initial one was focusing on why I thought Watford didn’t have the incentive to let Silva go. The second was on the dangers of a short term manager. As often happens with life, events rendered both radically out of date, firstly with Watford’s refusal to budge and then two crushing defeats for Everton extinguishing any possibility of an upturn that had been flirted with in the previous 2 games league games.

Before we go any further and though it has been done in many places, David Unsworth should receive enormous praise for how he has handled himself in a challenging period.  In truth while I’ve been underwhelmed by his performance on the field what it begins to show is the jump from academy coach to first team manager remains enormous and is not one that can easily bridged, particularly at a club hurtling towards crisis. Unsworth more traditional emphasis on straight talking and hard work seems perfect for young players keen to run through brick walls for a chance at the big time though senior players who have “made it” will not look as fondly upon the dose of honesty they are given. While this for the most part is an unenviable part of modern football, we cannot ignore the concrete reality of where the game is and alongside his desire to focus on playing attacking football rather than looking to re-enforce our defensive prowess it would be not be unreasonable to deduce these were the two central factors in the underwhelming results delivered.

Where he should be commended though, is how he continued at all moments to put himself in front of camera’s, answering questions about his future and the direction of the club in a typically honest way that allowed Everton to be portrayed in a less negative light. Even when it became clear the job was overwhelming him, initially away at Leicester and particularly after the Atalanta and Southampton games, he did not throw the towel in and walk away.  When you compare that to the actions of the Everton heirachy, who made no statement of support for him at any time, and didn’t accompany him to any press conference, the stark differences in approach are seen. In simple terms he was hung out to dry for 5 ½ weeks to give the Everton board maximum time to find the best quality of replacement available to the club. As the weeks progressed it had the feel of a disorderly pantomime, with different competing interests groups getting varying message out via different media conduits (though perhaps most importantly none through the official club channels). When the man settled on was Sam Allardyce it is fair to say a level of anger and dejection has descended upon large sections of the fan base. On discussing with different Evertonian’s almost all say they can’t remember an appointment causing such strong and mixed emotions.

None of this is directly Sam Allardyce’s fault and it is important to remember that in all of this. However it is difficult to extend such a courtesy to Everton’s board, and particularly Farhad Moshiri who has spent the last 18 months making numerous promises about what he intends to do with the club, which for the most part have at best been partially met or in a lot of cases not met at all. If he intended to take Everton from being a “Museum” to that of a successful football club, at present he has only moved us from a museum to a poorly assembled joke shop. I suspect his standing amongst Evertonians will be damaged as a result of this episode, damage that so some fans that will be beyond repair.

The result on Wednesday night has helped the feeling across the club immeasurably. In truth it has been a difficult 4 months for all Evertonian’s seeing a season unravel in quicker than any I can remember watching the club, with the only possible comparable one being 1996/7 where we want from potential championship contenders to relegation candidates over a difficult winter. Sometimes a club needs a win, a good win just to get everyone associated with the club happy again. While players are (in my view disgracefully) well rewarded for their efforts, underneath it all they are still human’s. We should be able to switch our emotions on and off easily while at work, but earning lots of money doesn’t automatically allow you to do it. I imagine it’s been a pretty miserable run for them as well, and you can only hope last nights performance can be the ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

When we look at the specifics of the game it is hard to fault anybody for their performance. Martina looked ropey at moments but kept going, Williams gave away a silly penalty but looked far better operating to simple instructions of volleying the ball away (there will be plenty of this). Holgate I felt had his best game for Everton and showed a glimpse of why he could be a Premier League level centre half. Likewise Kenny began to attack with some intent, and while I worry he lacks a yard of pace, his run for the our second goals was very promising.

In the midfield Gana stuck to the task of protecting our back four and the energy, movement and industry of Davies helped him in this. In wide areas Lennon does as he always had and put a shift in without massively influencing the game, while Sigurdsson continues to work hard, at times too hard in searching for quality in the final third. Up front Dominic Calvert Lewin worked extremely hard in the sort of performance that will endear him to the new manager.

All of the above led to a solid team shape and Everton having the better of the game, yet the two key pivotal moments happened in the second half. Having had his crossbar rattled minutes previously Jordan Pickfords penalty save is fantastic. At that moment of the game, a goal going in against us and the teams propensity to ship goals in groups would have meant conceding one so early into the second half would have put the result into major doubt. In truth I have been far more lukewarm on Pickford than many onlookers. While he has been one of the most impressive players, I think there are at least another two levels Pickford can grow too as he moves forward, and this will involve him winning Everton games on a more regular basis in the way De Gea does for Manchester United.  The next priority can and will be ensuring he gets more protection in front of him to allow him to feel less exposed.

If the penalty save would normally be enough to be the stand out moment in most games, Wayne Rooney clearly saw a different script and this game will be immortalized as Wayne Rooney’s game. While I think Pickford’s performance may have been slightly overated this season I think Wayne Rooney remains hugely underated. When you watch him play, watch how the other players look to pass to him when they are in trouble. It is a key sign indicator of how highly they rate him. He is who they trust with the ball when there is little else on.

He played deeper on Wednesday. I have always felt this would be his best position, and is an area of the pitch which is you get the right energy around you can allow you to play if you are slightly struggling with the rigors of top level football. While the media got on his back, I always felt midfield would be the position that would suit Rooney as he got older, who has the technique, vision and game awareness to dictate the pace of a game. He clearly enjoys getting on the football and starting moves, and is equally as dangerous arriving from deep as he did for his second goal of the night as he is if he takes his starting position higher up. There will inevitably be some who argue he can’t be dropped after that performance, which again I would disagree with as much as those who say he isn’t good enough. He’s a rare talent who needs to be managed properly, played from the start in games where added creativity is needed and introduced from the bench at moments in games where calmness is required. His performance yesterday was reminiscent of Paul Scholes at his best, or indeed aspects of Andrea Pirlo in the way he stirkes a ball, both players who carried on well into their late 30’s when their bodies had long since let them down. If we manage Rooney right, we have that same opportunity with Rooney who’s technique , special awareness and vision matches both of the above player, though there needs to be an acceptance this will be a very different player to the 18 year old all action player who left the club 15 years ago.

The final goal in the hatrick is as good a goal as you will ever see. Savage was right to describe it as a better goal than even David Beckham’s, given the way the ball arrived back at him. Within the context of the game-which was still very much in the balance, it has to go down as a truly memorable Goodison moment to help secure a priceless three points.

After the conclusion of the game, a 4-0 win probably gives a slightly rosier view of our prospects than the challenge Allardyce faces. Much of the discussion around the team very much centres around two competing facts, which can both be true at the same time. The first is that this squad, minus Lukaku (and even without his goals) finished 7th last season and have added 150 million pounds worth of talent to the team. While none have reached the heights hoped, that situation cannot continue indefinitely and when performances improve so to will results. The other, is that we have been hammered (by 3 goals or more) on 7 occasions this season and prior to West Ham had not won a single game by more than the odd goal. We justifiably had the worst defensive record in the league and to put that right would need far deeper change than just waiting for the players to come good.

In truth both of those viewpoints are correct. While one hints at the need for a more progressive manager and the other would lead to a position of the stability of Sam Allardyce what mustn’t be lost is both viewpoints have validity. At times this season Everton have been well off the pace against very ordinary teams (Leicester, Southampton, Atalanta x 2) and it must be remembered that the resounding win over West Ham doesn’t change this. However for Allardyce, this represents an enormous opportunity, working with probably his best group of players yet and having the opportunity in January to recruit further. If he can get his ideas around defensive stability across, integrate Coleman, Bolasie, Barkley and McCarthy back into the first team set up and recruit a centre forward, centre back and left sided player there is clear evidence to suggest if he can slowly move us away from the relegation zone we can build up momentum as the season goes on.

While it would be remiss to say I am supportive of the appointment, it is important that Allardyce like any Everton manager is given a fair chance to win the fans over. The frustration I have is as much with Farhad Moshiri who has promised fans a “superstar on the sidelines” and found Sam Allardyce. Perhaps a more honest evaluation of our standing in the game is now required as a result of this, and action taken accordingly. One of the actions points ought to be the club compiling a list of managers who could be on our radar should we need to remove a manager, so the process can be done in a far more swift and efficient manner next time. The other needs to be a clearing out of the older remnants of the club and building Everton into a competitive force off the field to make us a more saleable prospect for potential managers. There are many suggestions that this process may already be underway, yet the next 6 months needs to be filled with concrete action as opposed to abstract pontification.

One final positive that may come from this appointment, is it should lead to a more joined up approach to player recruitment. Walsh has a strong relationship with Allardyce but also with new Assistant Craig Shakespeare. Where some of the farcical recruitment has been put solely at the door of a breakdown in the relationship between Koeman and Walsh, Walsh now very much has “his man” at the helm and this needs to be reflected in how we conduct our business. I suspect we will more of a domestic focus and potentially a move away from stellar names in January and possibly the summer. It may well be more pragmatic, perhaps throwing some unusual names but crucially people Walsh feels capable of getting over the line and Allardyce feeling he may get the best out of. Some initial names who I think may be targeted may include Cresswell, Van Arnholt, Benteke, Kone and Winston Reid. All have looked impressive under previous Allardyce teams, and if he can get that form out of them again, would greatly improve our 11.

There is some suggestions this is in effect 6 month deal for Allardyce. I think Moshiri may be more pragmatic than that. If the proposed off the field changes are coming, and the potential of additional investment arrives he may well feel the stability that will likely come from Allardyce and his team, as well as a the unity between him and the DOF may mean he looks to extend that to a period of 18 months. The amount paid out on managers fees has been an enormous drain and avoiding a huge pay out for Allardyce must be a consideration. Much of this will depend on the performances of the team over the next 6 months and Allardyce showing he is capable of having them challenging the top 6 sides next season in his cameo this season.

There is little doubt it is a humiliating episode for Everton. I also question the sense in sacking Koeman if Allardyce would have been the answer, as in all likelihood when players returned I too think Koeman would have turned it around. However you do have to let people live and die by their decisions, and if Allardyce can see an uplift in performances the decision will have been justified. What remains an urgent priority is that Steve Walsh and the club are strong enough to safeguard the careers of many of the talented young players, and not allow Allardyce to move them on for short gain. It’s not realistic to expect Calvert Lewin, Kenny, Banningime, Davies, Vlasic and Lookman to feature every week but most have potentially exciting careers at Everton and at worst will spend a short period of time learning about the other side of the game which should help the education moving forward.

I want to end on two quick points. Firstly, there is an FA Cup that needs winning in the New Year.

Secondly it is important as games go on we all remember we are all Evertonians and we have a variety of opinions. Some people are going to be badly wrong on Allardyce, either because he does well, or because he does badly. Whatever the outcome it doesn’t make anybody a bad person. I appreciate my own twitter feed has been something of a shrine of misery over the last few days, and I apologise unreservedly if anyone feels I have taken out anger on them, any anger I had was squarely at the doors of the clubs board. I understand why people wanted Allardyce, though I took a different view of it. Some fans will not be able to come on board with this, which is their right, just as for some fans this is the ideal appointment long term, which again is their right to hold that opinion. Where possible, lets try to keep discussions civil and in the nicest way possibly hope all of my own reservations over Sam are proven wrong.

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