As I reflect on the disappointing defeat Everton suffered at Wolves away, a myriad of wider questions were thrown up. As has often been remarked, football games are individual events but often symbolise much wider themes. While the defeat at Wolves is only one game, it comes at the end of a 3 week where Everton picked up 1 point from 3 winnable fixtures. It was a run of 3 fixtures where (to use boxing parlance) Everton barely laid a glove on their opponents. Once again, any outside hopes Everton had of sneaking into Europe were closed and the pattern of lifeless performances after a manager has settled is seemingly re-established.
The poignancy of the opponent has also not been lost on many supporters and seems to rub an unwanted salt into a live wound. While fans have almost become deconditioned to expect surrender and defeat to sides in the traditional top 6 when playing away from home the repeat of that performance against Wolves rankles to a far greater degree. This is a team who were languishing at the bottom end of the championship when Moshiri arrived 4 years ago. There was always a defence that when he arrived we were far behind the top 6 and the charge sheet was merely we had failed to catch them (or increasingly close ground on them). The defeat at Wolves seems to cement the charge that we are now in the slip stream of sides who were in the division below when Moshiri first arrived. If the Spurs performance and defeat made clear there were problems, the Wolves display put that statement in bold and underlined the point to good measure.
When one takes a step back-which is always important in such moments- what is as clear as the proverbial needle in the eye is that Everton have made no forward advances in 4 years. While within that time there have been moments where forward progress appears to have been made (notably Koeman’s first season) taken in it’s totality Everton will likely end around about the same position they were in 2016. In that season it was 48 points, 11th and two semi-finals in domestic competitions. It was also a manager and club who had been operating on a relative shoe-string budget compared to what has now followed. Under Moshiri we have seen 5 permanent managers (as well as 2 temporary ones) but ultimately a similar end result is what is followed.
The comments from Ancelotti, and indeed Captain Coleman were instructive after the defeat. Coleman stated openly that the performance against Tottenham and Wolves didn’t seem to mean anything to the players with the wider suggestions of a lack of professionalism and endeavour from the players. These were we-enforced from Ancelotti who was scathing in his post-match reflections. For Ancelotti, who was relatively calm and thoughtful following the defeat at Anfield and throwing away two goal lead in stoppage time against Newcastle to be so candid again seems to synthesise with what we have seen emerge on the pitch. There appears to be a far deeper structural problem than just losing a single game.
From afar we appear to repeat similar patterns under each manager since Moshiri came into the club. Generally a positive start of 5-15 games then followed by a reversion back to a level that is commensurate with a lower half of the table point’s total. While I had some hope that Ancelotti may have cracked this pattern (given the positive start lasted a bit longer) he too has succumbed to the same pattern. There are many questions I would be asking if I were Farhad Moshiri, but this would be absolutely central to any discussions I would be having with board members. Why do positive early signs only last for a period of 2-3 months? My own internal conclusion would be that the players were not only prepared to cheat and put in effort during an initial spell to impress a manager, but that those entrusted to guide a workplace culture had done precious little to tackle the culture over the last 4 years.
In truth, unless the club backs Ancelotti over the next transfer window, not just with incomings but also with outgoings you would have to conclude the same pattern will again be repeated. Given the ferocity of his words after Wolves it’s hard to avoid the conclusion he feels certain players are cheating the club and will likely have angered the players that fall into this camp. The difficulty for Everton is that many of those players have seen off 2,3 or in some cases 4 managers. The learnt experience they have seen is that if they are asked by a manager to maintain performance levels for any sort of prolonged period they ostensibly give up and wait for the manager to lose his job. In crude terms, we reward unprofessional behaviour again and again and as fans then seem frustrated when the same results play out over and again.
It is undoubtedly a difficult summer regarding FFP and there is little doubt that there is the potential of fines, or even a ban from European competition if we partake in certain actions (such as moving players on for heavily reduced fees). However the question does perhaps need to be what is the cost of allowing for players who go through the motions for long periods of time and deliver precious value to the club? Surely a corrosive culture has to be more toxic for a club than any fine UEFA may or may not impose for any potential breaches of FFP? With the risk of being overly dramatic, it would feel that Everton would be condemning a very good manager in Carlo Ancelotti to a repeat of the failures we saw with previous incumbents if the club were not brave enough to act upon his words post Wolves. There need to be certain players, who are seen to be moved out of the club-as an exemplar to others about what will happen if you don’t seek to maintain performance levels.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, that sitting on our hands, not investing, not moving players on for fear of auditing penalties (from an organisation who have just lost a landmark case where they attempted to impose such measures) would not just be very short sighted business practice but also amount to complicity in the process of condemning Ancelotti in the same manner his predecessors were.