“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”
No crisis is ever anticipated. No club expects a manager to struggle or fail in their job. Yet worryingly for Everton the difficulties they face run the risk of going beyond the remit of just the manager. Deeper and more difficult questions begin to rear their heads. Why have 3 managers failed in little over 2 years? Why has so much money been misspent? To what extent are the board, or the owner culpable in what’s emerging as a sorry mess? The situation Everton find themselves in is slowly morphing itself from a singular crisis into what 20th century Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci noted as an organic crisis, whereby multiple layers of difficulties submerge together to deepen the challenges faced by the ruling elite. For fans of Everton, it is not only the immediate difficulties of sitting in the relegation zone, but the more structural questions as to how exactly we plot our way out of difficulty becomes an increasingly immersive endeavour.
If we take a moment to consider Moshiri, you can only guess how he feels at seeing a club several hundred million down once again sitting in the relegation zone. In truth it can’t have crossed his mind as a possibility. Even under the darkest epoch of Roberto Martinez’s Everton there was no time I remember being in the relegation zone. The season he left, Everton collapsed in a manner not seen by the club in 15 years, yet they were within a minute of extra time in one semi final and a goal away from making another. With the influx of substantial funding available the potential to launch a crusade for trophies did not seem wholly unrealistic in the summer of 2016. I like to try and evaluate as honestly as possible the fortunes of Everton, but I feel perplexed as to explain just how the same loop seems to keep playing without any tangible answers of what to do to turn the tide.
For Everton the current situation is a particularly damaging one not just for the manager but for all aspects of the club. In comparison to previous sackings it’s not unreasonable to say the sacking of Martinez was broadly and fairly standard for a new owner taking over a football club. The removal of manager Koeman can be explained away as a the result of a rash initial decision in employing him (where doubts had already surfaced at the point he belatedly agreed to join the club). The removal of Allardyce can be explained away to him being viewed as a temporary manager who’s job it was to steer the club away from relegation disaster (though the calls of “never again” strike a worryingly retro 90’s feel to the same statements following repeated relegation escapology). Yet Silva has few of these excuses. The structure of the club has been completely shifted to allow him to deliver and he was a manager coveted by owner Moshiri to great financial expense and difficulties for the club. The failure of Silva will undoubtedly open wider questions into the judgement of Moshiri who will struggle to limit the contagion in a manner he has wit previous managers.
That is the context with which Moshiri has to make his next decision- namely one where the decision to remove Silva will likely have some reverberations back to himself. It is perhaps this factor that may earn Silva more time than managers previously had enjoyed under Moshiri.
That being said, such runs of defeats rarely end well for a manager. In the last 25 or so years I can only find 9 occasions where we have lost 4 league games on the bounce. On 5 of those occasions the manager was removed from his post within a year and on 4 occasions the manager was removed within 20 games of said run. Even if Silva can turn the tide with a win, history is not on his side and the lingering damage of such a poor run stays cemented in supporter’s minds.
One manager who escaped such a fate was David Moyes. In an 18 month period he had 3 separate runs where he lost 5, 6 and 4 games consecutively (at the end of the 2003-4 season and the start of the 2005-6 season). However he sandwiched such poor runs of form with the Everton’s highest placed league finish in the Premier League era. There was also an immediate improvement in form following each defeat. In 2004 he picked up 40 points from 18 games following a 5 game losing run. In 2006 he after losing 6 straight league games he picked up 13 points from 6 games and following another 4 straight defeats would pick up 33 points from 19 games in the 2nd half of the season. Following that season he would not finish below 8th in any of his next 7. The only other example was Walter Smith who having lost 4 straight games would win 4 of his next 5 including substantial victories at home to West Ham (6-0 ) and Charlton (4-1). He too would pick up 60 points from his next 40 league games which was the most consistent performance from an Everton team in over 3 years.
So while some patience has been afforded to Silva what is clear is that he really has very little time to turn the situation around and that the process of turning Everton around needs to be quite stark and sustained. A 5th straight defeat to West Ham would mark the worst run of defeats since David Moyes in 2005 (and the only time in the PL era where more than 5 were lost consecutively). The transformation that is required also has to go well beyond just defeating West Ham. You feel to win back the trust for the supporters in the longer term, he either needs to finish in the top 6 this season or win a trophy alongside avoiding defeat for the foreseeable.
As things stand the odds on any of the above are dubious. There is already talk of what manager Evertonian’s would want to replace Silva. At the time of writing on this forum, Mourinho is the front runner with 21.8% of the votes, with a Arteta 2nd at 16% and Simeone 3rd with 12% of the vote. 6 other managers (Moyes, Wenger, Marcelino, Mancini, Howe and Gallardo) all have over 3% of the vote. What is quite telling from such figures is that we now have a disparate set of views from within the fanbase. There is no obvious and clear front runner and in truth there is very little consistency that binds the candidates together.
Only 2 of the front 9 work in England (1 of them as a manager) but 6 of the 9 have had experience coaching in England. The range of ages goes from 37 to 69 (70 in 10 days). What each would bring to the job in terms of strengths would be quite different. It hints at a fanbase that have quite different perceptions of how Everton ought to progress forward.
What’s important to note from the above is that the majority of supporters are not going to get their number choice. It’s also likely the majority would not get their 2nd or 3rd choices given the different characteristics of each manager (it is unlikely the 2nd choice of those voting four Mourinho would be Arteta for example). It’s worthwhile that while there is a broadish agreement about the faults on the pitch there is not enormous amounts of commonality in terms of what a solution should look like. This is perhaps worth noting for fans as we move forward, that just because the club doesn’t necessarily opt for your preferred choice of manager it doesn’t automatically mean they are not showing ambition or are not listening to supporters. There’s an understandable frustration and malaise that has set in amongst the fan base which makes the above difficult in it’s initial stages.
Within that context I would also be cautious of finding a manager with the brief of “uniting the fans”. I saw England cricketer Andrew Flintoff say during the recent Ashes series that the sides with the best team spirit he played in were invariably the sides who won. It is very difficult to engender a sense of spirit and togetherness in teams who are underperforming. This remains as true for supporters as it does for players. There is a risk that you put the chicken before the egg in trying to find a manager who can unite fans on day 1. A manager who performs well in his role, wins games and ideally brings a trophy to the club will be the biggest single thing any manager could do to begin to build unity amongst the supporters. Just as it is no coincidence that the fragmentation in viewpoints has occurred on the back of 3 underwhelming years.
Which direction the club go in is difficult. There seems something of a contradiction to me looking in from the outside of what they are trying to achieve. On the one hand there is much talk of trying to involve and buy young players (and some significant improvements in this area over the last 18 months) but we still feel a long way from most German/Dutch teams (who are perhaps the best architects of this) never mind particularly clubs such as RB Leipzig who are aggressively and attentively leading in this area. However in contrast to that there always seems a sense that owner Farhad Moshiri wants success much quicker than such an approach would deliver. He gives relatively little media briefings, but the little he does provide often references the need to win and win quickly. The assumption appears to be that Silva has 1 season to bed in and the expectation is in season 2 the top 6 is made as a minimum requirement.
While there may be a sweet spot between the two approaches I do feel there are some quite fundamentally differing points in existence between them. If you are looking for the former approach of doubling down on youth development you really ought to be looking to the continent for coaches. Erik Ten Haag of Ajax would be ideal, but Christophe Galtier who has done impressive work at St Etienne and latterly at Lille (fielding the youngest team in the champions league and one of the youngest in Europe) could be a contender as could Mark Van Bommel at PSV. These are not stellar names but are managers who would fit into a system outlined above.
Alternatively if demands for quicker success are to be placed upon managers it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a more experienced coach, who could hit the ground running could be identified. In the above context I reluctantly accept the pragmatism displayed by Benitez during many stints at clubs would likely improve our performance. If there was any possibility of Mourinho he would also have to be a serious contender.
What will be imperative, is if the club make the decision to remove Silva they will need to carry out a recruitment search in a far more controlled and incisive manner than the one that existed after the removal of Koeman. The sensible approach would be to be doing much of the groundwork now, in anticipation of further difficulties experienced under Silva. For Marco Silva to effectively put that process on the back burner would require him to win by snookers, and he will need the sort of turnaround shown by Moyes and previously Walter Smith to begin to win the supporters around.