Reflections on Koeman

A year or so has passed since Ronald Koeman was removed from his position at Everton. Given the whirlwind 12 months that have followed his departure it is perhaps only now that we are able to gain a reflection of his 15 months in charge of the club. When trying to sum Koeman up I do find the challenge more difficult than with most other managers I had grown up with. Moyes instilled a puritanical work ethic but ultimately lacked any of the cavalier spirit that leads to greatness. Martinez to a swashbuckling approach that produced initial eye catching displays but would ultimately implode in the unique physical demands of the Premier League. Yet for Koeman it is hard to summarise his regime an approach in just a sentence.

I don’t think he ever truly got the club. For a manager who had played for (and managed) some of the biggest names in European football this is perhaps understandable. For most fans though it meant any benefit of the doubt was not afforded to him. While the cold, ruthless side he had was perhaps welcomed initial by Moshiri, very much attracted by the pulling power of his name and the harsh medicine he could impose on an underperforming team, it soon transpired that the manager came across as arrogant, aloof and unable to motivate his team adequately.

I can see the thinking Moshiri had in 2016, that we needed a suitable name to compete in the “Hollywood of football”. He gambled that an initial (sizeable) investment in a playing squad alongside an opportunity to play for a huge name in football would be enough to attract some marquee names. Witsel, Mata and Koulibaly were targeted yet none of the deals were closed. On reflection it is not unreasonable to assume that Moshiri overestimated the pull of Ronald Koeman and we didn’t have much of an answer as to how to re-approach the football side of the business when the initial emergence of top players didn’t materialize. In the void that was left, we would scramble around for signings, the majority of who proved to be expensive mistakes. The chaos of August 2016 never really left the club in Koeman’s time and a more harmonious, collective and consensus based approach to recruitment could never really be found to replace the case.

There does have to be some sympathy for Koeman in this situation. While he is left to carry the can for many of the mistakes it would be very interesting to speculate as to the basis he was brought to the club. Was it outlined to him that he would have a central and important role in trying to attract marquee names? Was this something he wanted? Is this really the role of a modern manager? My suspicion is he was promised big names but maybe not told of his role within it and both sides would grow frustrated when they didn’t materialize. If this is the case, the fault lies more with the management than the coach.

For Moshiri it must have been a disappointing start and I wonder if there was a moment in that summer when he perhaps questions what role Koeman could play if it were not to attract top players? There is also a legitimate question to ask as to whether the plan was ever achievable? Had Koeman been more decisive in joining Everton earlier it may have allowed more time to find the right players? Ultimately we can only speculate on those questions. However Koeman was seemingly a central figure in trying to enact a policy that did not (and quite likely could not) work and a central figure in the anarchic policy that followed it and is guilty of at least some naivety if not something more serious.

It is always important to note that it was not all bad under Koeman. We had threatened to make a push for the top 6 and there was a period in the middle of the first season where we went for a number of games unbeaten. The 4-0 defeat of Manchester City was one of the best Everton performances in recent years yet it didn’t act as the springboard it should have done. A combination of a number of the players at the club were clearly coming to the end of their careers, an over reliance on Romelu Lukaku and an inability to develop the younger players to step into the space vacated by older players under performing sowed the seeds for the subsequent problems. They flourished in ripe conditions of an early start to the Europa League and the continued botched approach to recruitment that we have outlined above. By the time Arsenal had beaten us 5-2, we already had heavy defeats against Atalanta, Spurs and Manchester United to add to a convincing loss. What had begun as a worrisome trickle of doubt was fast becoming a waterfall and most supporters were relieved when he was removed from post following that defeat.

I am not sure he was ever the right manager for Everton and I am equally unsure if the reasons for identifying him were the correct reasons. For me the appointment of Marcel Brands to run the football side of the business has ensured that Farhad Moshiri now has a layer of bureaucracy between him and the football decisions within the club which has been essential. Football remains a unique industry where patience is very difficult to practice but often rewarded handsomely. Owners becoming too involved making too many decisions rarely ends well. Had Koeman been selected by a DOF who had a clear and achievable remit of what his objectives were, there remains a possibility that he could have done so. His work at Feyenoord and Southampton, working to a budget indicate he was clearly capable of doing so. Yet without that scaffold around him he seemed to get a little lost and the team looked unsure of what they were trying to achieve during the 2nd season.

He seemed to embrace a pragmatism upon his arrival and this led to him getting the best out of Romelu Lukaku (arguably his crowning glory at the club). This ruthless pragmatism made a lot of sense, in that Everton had a maturing goalscorer who could get 20+ goals and Koeman made it his business to ensure he did so. Yet it was arguably a contributory factor in what undermined Koeman. Rather than arriving with a clear vision of how he wanted his team to play and make attempts to emulate the high press game employed by his Southampton team he ended up with something of a strategic fudge where the teams needs were bent to the requirements of Lukaku. Lukaku paid the team back with the goals that secure a comfortable 7th place finish. Yet very little consideration seemed to be put into the question of what to do when Lukaku would leave the club. At times in Koeman’s 2nd season we looked to have the same slower approach to attacking but lacked the presence and skill of a Lukaku figure to maximize the strategy.

In Koeman’s defence he may well say that there wasn’t enough time in that pre-season to embed a new football approach given European games came around quickly. I am unsure if this is a justifiable defence other than to say it certainly looked that way when you watched the team. The problems intensified when not only did we not find a replacement for Lukaku and his goals that we couldn’t find a replacement that even emulated his power and physique. When you factor the strategy didn’t seem to change it’s easy to see how it fell apart quickly.

While it is unfair on Koeman it is easy to see how his appointment was a central factor in the club being able to implement a strategy that could see them begin to satisfy the objectives of their owner and fan base. This is not wholly Koeman’s fault, or a comment on all of his behaviours but just a comment on the reality of his role within the club. Removing him from the club sparked a turmoil and period of painful transition that has allowed us to get to a point where most supporters can see we are moving in the right direction. Importantly we now look to have a young coach working under the direction of a Director of Football and a DOF who views his role as working alongside the coach to get the best players for the football club. These developments have been in no small part affected by some of the mistakes Koeman made and for that he has helped move the club forward in a positive direction- albeit in an indirect way. For that, and the 4-0 triumph over Manchester City (and the subsequent period of football around it) we should wish him well with his career moving forwards.

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