After a disastrous season on the pitch, where huge sums of money spent on players led to an underwhelming finish, many critical things have been spoken and written about the ownership of the club. I had asked, perhaps flippantly earlier in the season how many decisions Moshiri had called correctly in his time here. Keeping Kenwright on? Promoting Elstone to the board? The hiring and firing of Ronald Koeman? The hiring of Steve Walsh? The change of structure that went alongside that? Turning to Sam Allardyce? Keeping Sam Allardyce for so long? While there are undoubtedly extenuating circumstances to each- some may well have been contractually agreements while others were decisions Moshiri would have felt pressed into by plans unravelling it is hard to make a case that any of the above decisions have worked positively for the club.
The decisions above can be grouped into two categories; decisions at board level and decisions at a football level. At board level, it felt like we had a zombie regime split between different factions at board level who were subsequently unable to direct the club in a coherent direction forward. You also had many of the “old guard” being asked to run a club in a fundamentally different way to what they had done previously, working alongside those brought into the club with a different objective. The nadir for this came in the autumn of last year, where the club meandered for 6 weeks unable to make a decision on a manager, and eventually settled on one who they had ruled out several weeks before.
Perhaps as a result of the confusion from above, the football side of the club also seemed to suffer. While I can gather what Moshiri was looking for with the appointment of Koeman, I think there was a gross miscalculation on the speed and ease of what he was trying to achieve. My suspicion is, he wanted a big name manager, to attract big name players and enable us to assemble a squad worthy of the top 4. This approach flatly failed in the first window, where we were unable to secure the services of messrs Witsel, Mata and Koulibaly. More broadly it didn’t acknowledge that some of Koeman’s most impressive (and recent) work as a manager was done at Feyenoord & Southampton who were 2 clubs with a vastly different approach to recruitment as the one outlined above. Like with the board composition we resembled a club trying to fit square pegs into round holes, or be giving personnel objectives they had little evidence of showing they could meet.
The middle man between these two appointments, namely Steve Walsh also fits perfectly into this category. While he had overseen aspects of the recruitment process of Leicester he had never performed the role of DOF previously and it quickly became apparent he was unable to manage the far broader responsibilities the role had.
In each aspect of the club, it looked as if compromise, half measures and no small amount of hope underpinned each decision. When people describe a camel as a horse designed by committee it is an apt reflection of how we looked. It looked as if we compromised between a variety of constituent groups to deliver a strategy, whether that was Walsh, Moshiri, Kenwright, Elstone and Koeman. All will feel hard done by as they were being asked to perform roles that weren’t suited to them.
It is within this context that the radical overhaul of the club we have seen this summer needs to be judged and ultimately credited. The swift restructure of the board, the departure of the CEO and the acquisition of a new DOF before the management team and previous manager were removed is as big a statement as could be made that the previous confusion and underwhelming performance will no longer be tolerated. Each appointment look to have much to give, but also hint at a more unified approach to moving the club forward and should be welcomed by supporters.
For the first time in my years of supporting Everton do we look to have a structure at board level where it is clear who has what responsibility. While I would like to see it padded out with 1 or 2 more experienced additions, the changes in role that have come out of the reshuffle are a big step forward. There are question marks over Harris, who will need to push forward with the stadium financing but Ryazantsev taking a more senior role around the financing of the club should be welcomed. While I would have preferred to have seen a more senior and experienced figure emerge as a CEO Denise Baxendale has a unique opportunity. Her work with EITC is perhaps the only aspect of the club that could be described as living up to the clubs Motto and her challenge will be to transfer the same dynamism and innovation that saw the clubs charity wing become industry leading and the envy of our rivals onto the football side of the club. If she is successful in doing this, few will have any complaints and I’m sure all Evertonians wish her well. Above all else, it’s a compelling story, of a working class woman who left the city during a low ebb, who subsequently returned to a now thriving city, to hopefully awaken a sleeping giant and the club she support.
The composition and structure of the board seems much better, and but for Baxendale looks to be more akin to the structure Moshiri would want. Perhaps for the first time we are seeing an Everton that begins to look the sort of club he envisaged when he bought the shares.
The final appointment that would come in the whirlwind couple of days was that of Marcel Brands. Of all the appointments we have made this summer he feels the most significant. His work at RKC (getting a small team promoted against the odds) Alkmaar (taking a side of equivalent size in the Dutch league to Everton to the title) and finally turning Eindhoven from a club that had not won the league for a few years to one that has won 3 titles in 4 years is an enviable track record. He has evidenced his ability to work in radically outperforming expectations, in taking a side who are not the biggest commercially in a league to league and cup success and to being able to both handle and thrive under the pressure of expectations at a leading club in a league. These are all skills we would put as essential on any CV at Everton.
It is also true that both Chelsea and Arsenal (that we know of) spoke to Brands and particularly Chelsea had wanted him to become their DOF. Given we have been speaking to him to him for a little over two years it remains a major coup for the club. In his early interviews and words, he seems clear on what he wants and very confident as to how he will go about achieving it. It may mean controversial, or unusual decisions are made, some may be unpopular with fans, but a more ruthless approach to recruitment and retention as well as opening pathways for our younger players will only benefit the club in the longer term.
What remains important to me is that not only is the pathway clear for players, but the streamlining of the board allows for Brands to take on the responsibility of recruiting and retaining players. For too long it has looked like a mixture of individuals (Walsh/Kenwright/Koeman/Elstone) have been too involved leading to little clarity and poor execution. This mistake must not be repeated now we have found a top draw DOF.
While the appointment of Silva probably needs more discussion that this article will allow, he too fits the new structure Everton have put in. There is every possibility, that it was Brands not Moshiri who identified Silva originally but what seems very likely is Brands has been in dialogue with Silva and is very happy with him. For a long time it looked as if Fonseca was the man to move the club forward, but given how quickly he faded away and Silva emerged as the clear favourite my belief is Brands made it clear which manager he would prefer. In re-orientating the club towards the “Athletico Madrid” model of buying younger, cheaper players the club needs to find a coach who is able to work with more European players and also one who is adept at improving younger players. Silva, a manager who Brands pointed out is competent on the training field, has a clear attacking mindset and relishes working with young players seems a natural fit for this and should be given the full support of fans. What the last 2 years should have shown, is no matter how good someone is, unless you allow them to do what is natural to them, and give them the right supports to do this, you will not maximize performance. No amount of money can reverse that trend. Silva may not be the best, most experienced or most high profile appointment, but there is every chance he is the one that was best suited for the plan Brands has, which are plans that have been shown to consistently work at his previous 3 clubs.
While there may well be further changes, and tinkering to the club under Moshiri, we are now left with a club that finally resembles one I believed he would look to build. That it has taken 2 years to get to this point can and should be a criticism leveled at him, and we can only hope that he has learnt it is best to avoid too much compromise at the club when looking to move it forward. If what comes from last seasons debacle, is a club from board down who are committed to making Everton the best team in the country then it will remain a small sacrifice.