After what has been one of the most turbulent seasons in recent memory we are now left with a period of serenity on the field. The magic 40 point mark has been hit and the win against Stoke has all but extinguished all fears of relegation. When you think back to August it would seem an arbitrary and cautious goal, but go to November after Southampton or Atalanta and I’m sure most supporters would have gladly bitten your hands off. Southampton remained a poor side, but like Atalanta 4 days previously we were completely outclassed by a side that could well be relegated from the league.
To put a defence of Allardyce (and he deserves some defence) it would very much centre on this point. That we were in deep peril and he will have kept us out of it and done so relatively comfortably. Before the Stoke win I had felt for some games we were just 1 win away from declaring ourselves completely safe. Had we have won any of the games against Chelsea, West Brom, Bournemouth or Manchester United for example the fear of relegation that has dogged us most of the season would have been lifted and there is a possibility that a more attack minded, free flowing Everton may have emerged. Unfortunately we won none of those games and were then sucked into a perpetual feeling of angst and paranoia about our own survival chances which cannot be measured accurately by either the league position or even the number of points we were above the relegation zone.
The same pattern emerged into the New Year. We perform well in the FA Cup game but follow it up with a capitulation at Wembley and a fortunate home draw to fellow struggler West Brom. We then beat Leicester but get annihilated at Arsenal. That’s followed with a good performance against Crystal Palace but then 2 defeats in winnable games led us back to being under enormous pressure going into the Brighton game. Had we lost that the serene end to the season would have been anything but. If Allardyce’s spell could be summed up as 1 win away from mid table serenity, it could equally be summed up as being 1 defeat away from panic. Lose any of Crystal Palace, Leicester or Brighton and a cloud of panic washes over the support base and filters through to the players. The history books will never show that mind, history is written by the victors.
There does now need to be an honorable mention here for Cenk Tosun. His goals in the last 2 games have been worth 3 points. Had we lost at Stoke, we are still probably nervously looking over our shoulder, with two difficult home games worrying about whether we can continue to hold our nerve at home to Newcastle.
In truth he needs his own article, such has been the impressive way he has started for Everton. Before signing him he reminded me of Soldado and Jelavic, the sort of clinical 6ft striker you see as commonplace on the continent but who to date hasn’t been overwhelmingly successful in England. Falcao was in a similar mold and flopped in the league. Most strikers in this league have to be powerful or fast. Tosun is a little bit of both but not a lot of either. Yet what cannot be questioned is his finishing ability. A good sign to note in all strikers is not how they finish, but how they miss. His misses against Burnley were all good, powerful efforts hit towards the corner of the goal. There was no hit and hope. Much of his success will depend, in my view on our ability to make him chances and ideally play under a more progressive, attack minded (and ideally European) coach would allow that to continue. Unfortunately Jelavic never built upon an impressive start and every effort should be made to avoid Tosun suffering the same fate.
He is another big tick in the box of Sam Allardyce, who barring some now bizarre comments about him not liking the cold and only playing him after we get 40 points has managed the signing very well. After a slow start he was pulled from the line up, given time to adapt to new surroundings and the pace of the league and following a rewarding trip to warmer climbs for training in Dubai looks to have found his groove. It is something of a triumph for more “old school” management of making a new signing wait and one which probably would have helped both Sandro and Klaassen has it been adopted with them on their arrival.
The bigger tick though is that he has been successful with his signings. He had alluded to this on arrival at Everton, that his signings needed to be successful, particularly his first signing- which would be the centre forward to ease the pressure caused by the whole left by Lukaku. While coaching/improvement of young players and tactical planning get you a long way in management it is increasingly a game where managers are reliant upon players being a success, and a success quickly. Tosun, along with Walcott have both markedly improved Everton’s attacking output while Mangala looks to be one filed under a poor signing (even for a loan). This ratio compares far more favourably than the summer recruitment when weighing up how many of Sigurdsson, Pickford, Keane, Vlasic, Martina, Rooney & Klaassen have been a success. Buying players who make your team better is the easiest way to improve your team.
While there is a calmness on the pitch the same is not the case off the pitch. From the moment we knew there was an initial 2 year period whereby the shares of Kenwrights and Woods’ shares could not be purchased it led to a general feeling that we were operating within a transitional period. That is increasingly how it feels over the next 2-3 months- where it is very difficult to imagine what the make up of the club will look like in 6 months time. At one end of the scale you have everything looking exactly how it currently is (and the rumours of Elstone’s departure remain just that-rumours) Allardyce is kept on, Walsh is kept on and Kenwright remains in situ with Moshiri taking up share options. At the other end of the scale, you have a new manager, a new director of football, a new CEO and potentially the board composition greatly changing with the old guard of Kenwright/Woods being bought out. There is also the potential in this situation that secondary investment from wealthy contacts of Moshiri may become public. It is important to note in situations like this, the two examples above are not the only two examples, and nor are they the likely two situations. The likelihood is we get a resolution that mixes some of both of the outcomes, though it will be a very interesting period to go through and analyse what Everton will look like going forward.
Broadly speaking to statements remain true of fans attitude to Moshiri, the first is that most were very happy at his coming to the club and the second is that, thus far most are underwhelmed or disappointed by what they have seen thus far (though there is certainly a sizeable portion who are content). There is a justifiable defence from Moshiri’s camp that what we have seen thus far is not his vision of Everton, but rather a compromised position to see the club through the initial transitional period while it finalized arrangements for a new ground. His big challenge will be developing a club in his own image and if/when he has complete control of the club being able to make decisions that lead to the sort of outcomes he has outlined as wanting to have.
Of the above two options, my preference is to make a substantial change as possible. My gut feeling is that Moshiri is a well connected and competent businessman who has struggled to get a grasp of football and needs to acquire better people below him to ensure he has to make less big decisions. The pursuit of both Brands ( from PSV) and Fonseca as a DOF/Head coach combination is an enticing one and one that I believe could not just see dramatic improvements on this season, but one that could potentially see us challenging at the top end of the league. You have a mixture of an experience and hugely competent DOF who unlike Steve Walsh has done the job (also for a massive club with huge expectations) and a young attack minded coach, who has an enviable record of winning and working with younger players.
If the club move towards a more youth orientated Coach and tilt recruitment in that direction it will be the sort of joined up thinking that serves organisations and football clubs difficulty. It is of course not without difficulty. Both Fonseca and particularly Brands work in environments where young players are openly sold on for profit rather than being kept to develop a winning team. There will be a legitimate question as to whether Brands can adapt his own practices to account for this. Others may question whether appropriating a Dutch model, of buy young/cheap- sell expensive/older can ever lead to success in the Premier League where all competitors have substantial reserves. However it’s worth noting that to a certain extent, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and increasingly Chelsea work to a hybrid of this model (though for different reasons). Trading in and of itself is not a problem, bad trading as seen by Everton over the last 18 months can present difficulties.
The next 6 months will be an enormous challenge for Farhad Moshiri and you sense it will be after this point we will have some clarity as to the direction the club is heading. I think he greatly underestimated the difficulty in making Everton seen as an elite club. The Koeman appointment on it’s own didn’t shift perceptions enough to do so and the Allardyce appointment was a reflection of the lack of foresight and planning of himself and his board below him. He will not be forgiven another mistake by much of the fan base and it will take the club a long time to recover from another mistake.