“Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven”
So far under Allardyce I have got little correct. My initial desperation looked foolhardy as we went on an impressive unbeaten run and my optimism that came from the sequence of results now looks ill judged given we have no gone 6 without a win (losing our last 4). It would be easy to say that this is the most miserable I’ve been as an Evertonian, though it’s hard to qualify that given what has gone on over the last 3-4 years. I have no idea how to measure Martinez’s final 6 months, to the start of Koeman’s regime. What most Evertonians would agree on though, is that it has been a miserable 3-4 years and most now seem apathetic to the current fate of the team. I wouldn’t use the phrase miserable to describe my mood, but rather completely alienated from what is happening at the club and a detachment pervades my mood when I consider how things can get any better.
For Allardyce I think he is the victim of contradiction. The entirety of his appointment to the day after the Tottenham defeat runs the crude dialectic of contradiction purposefully. He is the manager who took over on a day when we were a defeat away from being in the relegation places but by the end of the night were 13th. There is a sizeable difference between those two places which would filter in to what you would assess as success for Allardyce this season. I suspect if performances don’t upturn the lower ebb of where we were when he took us over will begin to be stressed by Allardyce in press briefings. Likewise, he had a team without a worthwhile Premier League striker or left back, but also a side that had spent 150 million pounds in the summer and a squad that Allardyce feels Europa league finalists Davy Klaassen cannot get near on merit. The two statements in many ways are correct on their own merits but when put together don’t appear to make any sense.
The contradiction runs deeper for Allardyce. He is the football manager who has reveled in an ability to make poor sides average by a mixture of dogged solidity and gamesmanship. He is the manager who wanted a chance to show he could do more than this, bemoaning a lack of opportunities at more affluent clubs. He also knows, the brand of football he finds more secure in delivering in unlikely to secure him the job on a fulltime basis, yet as he ha shifted his side away from this approach he has found the performances have dropped dramatically in standard. It’s a difficult conundrum for Allardyce who desperately wants to show he can play a brand of football more akin to the top of the league, but risks jeapardising his short term prospects at the club if he goes too far along that basis. I sense his remarks about going back to defending post Tottenham were a reflection of this. He will likely look to go back to the basics that saw a positive run of form on his entry to the club.
The reality of having such a predicament for the manager is also the predicament for majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri. It could easily be argued the best thing for him to do currently, would be to tell Allardyce he has the job next season come what may, play whatever brand of football he wishes but get Everton as far away from the relegation zone as quickly as he can this season. It would likely be that certainty for Allardyce-that he gets a full pre-season with the squad that would likely cement the turn Allardyce would make towards “basic” football, with a far more dull but I suspect more effective brand which would be trotted out. If we tried to play with the defensive organization showed in the first half dozen games, focusing on clean sheets I sense a finish somewhere between 8-11th is most realistic. If he continues to be expansive my money would be on a lower finish still, as the squad is patently not able to be able to play a decent brand of football while remaining difficult to beat.
It is a very difficult call for Moshiri to make in that context. A finish outside the top 8 playing at times hideous football, or one lower than Everton have likely finished in over a decade playing better stuff is really not the type of return he’d have envisioned going into his 3rd year. He will want to consider a bigger name manager come the summer and I can’t imagine he wants to throw all his chips in behind Allardyce, for risk that his stock will continue to dwindle amongst the fan base.
The real difficulty I see for Everton is two fold. Firstly we seem to have no clear identity of what we are trying to do. Secondly it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly what needs to happen to turn the ship around. The whole club desperately needs a period of calm, where clearly thought through decisions and procedures can be brought into being without the kneejerk panic that seems to have engulfed the club over the recent weeks and months. What rubs salt into the wound is we can see across the Park our rivals and neighbours are increasingly building an impressive team, manager and club behind it. Where for years, in their own inertia from board down we were able to get close to them and be competitive (or in truth, they fell to our level) they give a useful indication of how football clubs ought to be run. They went and found the right manager who fitted their overall recruitment strategy, one who didn’t look to resolve all problems with recruitment, and then gave him time and resources to help make a team in his own image. A similar process has occurred at Tottenham, who are another club who have moved years ahead of Everton from a position if relative parity in the last 3-4 years.
Much of these problems of course have to be put at the door of the Director of Football (DOF). It is his job, above anything else to shape and mold the footballing direction of the team and players. Walsh appears to me to be too passive and too accommodating to fulfill that role. At no point watching or listening to him do I hear a man who is shaping his club (which top DOF such as Monchi do) but a decent man who is led by managers whims; in essence someone who is far closer to a head scout. While this remains an important skill for any DOF there is surely far more to the role than this if it is executed properly and more than anything else, he needs to be someone with a clear idea of how he can get his club to outperform it’s position in the league.
When you look at Steve Walsh’s track record he seems to succeed most in acquiring low cost players from unusual sources. Kante, Vardy, Mahrez, Schmeichel, Ndidi and Demurai Grey are a fine example of this. We have seen some glimpses of this at Everton with Sandro, Onyekuru, Gueye, Lookman and Vlasic all looking akin to more Steve Walsh signings. I think a stronger DOF, who’d have backed his ability to spot European and domestic talent would have been unlikely to sanction the Sigurdsson pursuit, not signed Klaassen and ensured a replacement for Lukaku was signed. When you consider how close we were to signing players such as Son from Spurs, Bailey (now in Germany) and Demurai Grey from Leicester all for significantly less than the above 2 names coveted by the manager at the time I strongly suspect we would have a more balanced and effective squad, filled with players who would likely be moved on for a healthy profit.
The same sort of mistakes appear to be being made in January. Both Tosun and Walcott appear to be signings very much driven from Sam Allardyce. This is not to write Tosun off, who I thought had a promising debut, but if he goes in the summer what if the new manager doesn’t fancy him, as Allardyce seemingly doesn’t fancy Klaassen? Everton run the risk of having significant values thrown away on players as they become surplus to new managers.
As the we head into the summer there will be increasing eyes on Farhad Moshiri who after an impressive start at Everton seems to increasingly underwhelm at as each month goes by. This is not to say the values he has put into the club haven’t been essential and greatly appreciated, but throwing money at a sinking ship while being unwilling to fix the leaks neither helps anyone nor represents astute business sense. There was some talk of a “root and branch review” occurring in the club, yet at the AGM it looked over much business as usual, with most of the old guard seemingly cemented in their places “running the day to day operation of the club” alongside a DOF who is yet to prove he is capable of the role and a manager who’s track record is far from suggesting he is either a proven winner or a coach capable of building a middle of the run side into one capable of challenging for honours.
Within that somewhat bleak and depressive outlook is where I pitch the on field performance. It is hard for me to locate exactly where to start in order to get things right on the pitch, but the continual hammerings come as little surprise. I cannot remember losing so many games by more than 2 goals in a given season (Spurs x 2, Atalanta x 2, Lyon, Southampton, Manchester United and Arsenal). The malaise goes beyond the players aren’t trying, or debates around Wayne Rooney or even any given manager. I would love to say we are just a few wins or a couple of signings away from being competitive with the top sides, but the truth is, until leadership is provided at the top end of the club and generalized down through all of the staff, we will continue to watch as sides go further away from us into the distance.