A small but interesting post note to the close of every season is always the player’s lap of appreciation around Goodison. It offers up an interesting fan bellwether on the current status and direction of the team and manager at the time. Assessed primarily by the amount of seats empty, the enthusiasm towards the staff as they pass, and if the players allow their children to accompany them or not. Let’s call it the Park End Feedback Factor.
For reasons obvious there was no lap this season although after that Bournemouth result and performance I don’t think there would have been much difference in the amount of empty seats if they did, and Jordan Pickford may have been in mortal danger if he made eye contact with anyone over the age of 43.
The thing about reaching rock bottom is that – in the absence of a crystal ball – you seldom know that is your lowest point. We have to qualify this with “first world problems” as finishing 12th in the Premier League is a fucking dream for many, but in the context of modern and recent history Everton, it feels like we’re currently on the sea bed snorting lung fulls of silt.
To simplify the cause of this I’d go with “a ridiculously meek bunch of expensively assembled players who in no way shape or form play with any attributes that the fans desire, therefore alienating themselves from Evertonians who are turning increasingly towards apathy as a weekend saving grace”. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but if you break it down it references the main bones of contention, or despair, you choose your flavour.
I believe I’ve written about apathy being the single biggest danger to the Everton crowd before, in that those going the game in the early nineties would have noticed it creeping in and culminating in that Wimbledon game. Which promptly then acted as a wake up call, attendances and enthusiasm sprang back the following season. For as much as we are prone to lethargy and general narkiness as crowd, we are also a useful tool in agitating players and management sufficiently to prevent a listless decline into damage such as a relegation. You’ve seen many a team sleepwalk into relegation over the years and while we’ve had two dalliances with it, it was due to mainly a terrible standard of players rather than any particular lack of effort. Any player not putting his back into the game or indeed a challenge during periods of peril is left under no fucking illusion that a few tens of thousands of already irritated custodians will not accept any of that shite. There’s a whole other side to this debate like “how much do you think it benefits young players being screamed at” and “there’s often as much atmosphere as once greeted Neil Armstrong” but that’s for another day. The larger point is that apathy is most definitely creeping into the fan base and its roots are in disillusion.
With what? Well the players. Sure we’ve had a whole host of shit players before but the difference is this time is that these ones were recruited at great cost and on ridiculously good wages and contracts. If the finer nuances of football finances are your thing then you can use contextual comparison to show how it’s so chronic compared to our peers and threatening to our future. However keeping with a simple speaking theme it’s mainly because it riles the fuck out of the fans that these wasters should have far less excuses to be getting bullied 3-1 at home to Eddie Howe’s relegated Bournemouth on the final day of the season. It’s not as if Paul Holmes is our only option at full back or Moyes has taken an economically needed punt on Jacobsen who’s getting raped by whatever shitehawk Chelsea play that game, no, we’ve had four and a half whole years of uncle Moshiri splurging his hard fought/illicitly gained wealth onto player recruitment and we’ve ended up with a collection of 11 strangers who can’t do basics like – oh I don’t fucking know – work cohesively as a unit, put a tackle in, bust a gut to assert dominance in the game. Stuff like that.
A simple root cause analysis can point the finger at previous incumbents in the Director Of Football and Manager’s chairs, but right now there’s a lot of people in senior management and playing staff earning as good as they will ever in their career and if I was Moshiri I’d be wondering what he’s getting for it. This can’t be a time for their grand plans and smart interpretation of KPIs to show perceived progress. No fuck that right now, earn your money as you’re being benchmarked every single day until it’s fixed to satisfaction. The general premise of being paid market + income is that you’re keenly aware that under performance is less tolerated and that there’s a host of would be suitors willing to take the enjoyable benefits package you got going on there. Players won’t leave too easy? Agent is playing up? Fuck you, find a solution. The players you identify don’t want to come? Are stalling on making a decision? Fuck you, find a solution. Wage bill needs reducing by X? Commercial income needs to be raised by X during a pandemic? Fuck you, find a solution.
You’ll have to excuse the abrasive nature of those last sentences, there’s been a lot more failures than solutions of late, and that’s just my impolite way of saying “NSNO lad”. The club has hired, tolerated, a whole host of bum dossers in the Moshiri years and a line has to be drawn to stop this damaging malaise we find ourselves trapped in.
It’s not too hard to work out – as Manager or player – what will resonate with Evertonians when you are employed in the playing side. Put a good tackle in, compete as a team, perform with intensity, play on the front foot. There’s your bedrock of every decent Everton side, adhere to these basic principles and the fans will still likely clap you off even if you get beat. Any Manager, coach, Director coming in aches for the most precious commodity in the modern Premier League; time. Displaying the aforementioned attributes on a consistent basis will give you a guarantee of time. Moyes got 11 years out of it.
Instead, well since Moyes really, we’ve been hijacked by a succession of Managers who’ve been all about “their” project and vision, instead of one entwined with ours. As soon as the bad times have started to roll, and they’ll always roll at some point, the goodwill hasn’t been there and Moshiri is not shy in back-of-a-taxiing our leaders when fan discontent grows. An appreciation of the market you’re serving (used in the loosest terms) is a usual first step for senior management in starting to enact positive change. We’ve had lip service at very best.
I find myself wondering how in these times of Everton abundance have we recruited without any sort of attention paid to the actual character of the players we’ve been signing? There’s been a distinct lack of balls and fight to couple with any perceived quality. The cumulation of which is the shitbag performances we’ve been subject to over a number of years, interrupted slightly by “new Manager bounce” and always anxiously waiting for it to fall apart, so we can start again. With generally the same bunch of players as a basis. A boom bust cycle has ensued with all successors coming in and failing to recruit or coach any player old or existing into displaying the things we hold dear for any sort of sustained period.
With the means we’ve got and the lure of playing in the Premier League it’s surely not too much to ask for just a couple of players who can marry running about like a dickhead on the pitch with having actual footballing quality that positively influences the game for Everton. The former is not an either or matter with the latter. It would be a distinct bonus to find a player who has this and also has the notion to pass a ball and then eagerly move into space to receive it back again too, as they seem a limited species in royal blue right now.
I’m in danger of going all populist here with aching simple solutions to complex problems but hopefully you, or them, get the geist. Ours is a simple need really and yet those paid to provide are continually missing basic best practice points. How can the more difficult pieces of the jigsaw be placed if the big fuck off easier ones aren’t?
And sure we can have a constant narrative from club, manager, players through the various media channels to give context of their struggle and all the good things happening we don’t see on the pitch but fuck you, find a solution. You’ll never be able to build a Potemkin Village around Goodison or wherever we may dwell. And since we’re on the subject if I hear one more fucking rallying cry from any of them I’m going Mount Etna them until they block me on twitter. Well, that’s modern protest form isn’t it? If not then the tennis balls simply must come out
There’s a degree of urgency in what I’ve written and perhaps I’ve aligned it with acting before apathy consumes us, but there’s obviously more pressing needs for action from Everton right now. We can start with a positive in that we have Carlo Ancelotti as current Manager. As Napoli will testify that’s no guarantee of success but based on what’s come before him we are unlikely to replace him with anyone more suited to the task. He can help with attracting some players to work under him through prestige alone, or prior working relationships, and do we need some of that right now.
Ancelotti is also a plus because IF we do get a decent set of players then he’s more likely to get a tune out of them compared to predecessors or any likely successors. He’s also very malleable when it comes to how his teams play and he has spoken at length about how Evertonians like their football. Yes lad! Now make it not more lip service. The bad news being he’s in the sunset of his career and is a wealthy man so can you see him hanging around at Everton if this big shit soup he’s presiding over doesn’t start to clear soon? I have my doubts.
On the playing front too the few performing players we have are at a juncture in their career. Richarlison has been speaking about this and is one season of further progress away from teams coveting him that we couldn’t hold him back from. The Holgate murmurs will intensify in the season ahead if he follows a similar trajectory and we have to hope Digne has no aspirations of further Champions League football in his career. Find ourselves in 12th next season and the rebuilding project may get a lot more radical. Add to this that the likes of Leicester and others and competing in the same market for players as us and this task becomes harder and harder, while all the time the clubs we aspire to match are pulling away each season.
I’ve got this far without purposely mentioning once the name of the man tasked to deal with most of the above, Marcel Brands. I’m going to avoid appointing him as bogeyman general just now as I appreciate the task of what he walked into. But them market + rates means basically fuck you find a solution. He’s no stranger to pressure as the formative years of his PSV career weren’t so hot and fan discontent was present, but the Premier League is few steps above in pressure and scrutiny. Our wage bill approaches 85% of income which is economically very unsound and not enough of the players he’s recruited have (as of yet) turned into what we needed. Leaving him with players sat on big contracts and in no hurry to move (FY,FAS) to hinder that task. All well and good but in Brands’ time at the club he’s watched Wolves enter the league as a promoted club and leapfrog us in performance. There’s other examples too, you can take your pick. We’re paying a premium, why them and not us?
With abundant resources and now a world class Manager there can’t be any hiding place or acceptable excuse that sees yet another stalled season from Everton. With Brands being rapidly promoted to the board after just one season I can’t say with any confidence whether this season is make or break for him personally, but for reasons I’ve poorly articulated above it matter not because it’s make or break for everyone. We’re already nearly half of the way through that six week break before the football resumes so I’m sure/hope everyone feels the urgency.
If I’m perhaps painting a bleak, more anxious version of what you consider current reality then maybe that’s me trying to hold a last stand before the apathy consumes me. It’s a personal call to arms, or merely imploring just a basic shake the fuck up of everyone in a position of influence on and off the pitch at Everton FC. That disillusion is permeating and any window of opportunity covered by Moshiri to level us up is shrinking rapidly, we can’t fuck this time up, well we really can and that’s what worries me.
Time is indeed ticking. Season 2020/21 *could* be our third to last season at Goodison and wouldn’t it be pleasant to have at least a few final seasons at home that we won’t be rushing to forget. Never mind needing momentum to take with us into any new stadium. It just all feels really pivotal, and we’re in the hands of the unproven. Everton really can’t prioritise spending most resources investing in potential on the field as we really need delivery now.
I’m fully ready to stare Pickford out early next summer if they fail. If he’s got a child on his shoulders maybe a little less so.