Understanding and Positioning The Impact of Ancelotti’s Departure

It has already been an astonishing week for Everton. On Tuesday is what felt the space of a working day the club had gone from expecting Carlo Ancelotti to continue as their manager to having him formally announced as the Real Madrid manager. It was allegorical that his twitter feed thanked Everton for his time at the club and exactly one minute later loaded up an image of him joining Real Madrid with a picture of himself dubbed onto a Real Madrid banner. The minute that passed seemed to give some indication for the level of thought (or lack of) that was given to Everton the club and it’s supporters. It also seemed to underline the swift transformation that had occurred and one which as supporters it still feels we are coming to terms with.

There appears to be an anger towards Ancelotti which borders on a betrayal in some quarters. Given how he had spoken about the club, the city and the area he had lived in and how he was fully engaged in the process that is fully understandable. While his defence is that he remained true to those values until the call from Madrid came, the swiftness by which he made the change has to call into question the authenticity of his earlier statements. To some extent this is the strength of Ancelotti, he has an aura of confidence and assurance that few can man and he is convincing when he speaks. It’s partially what makes him the manager he is. I can easily imagine players fully believing what he says, even if at times that is not always true. As supporters we certainly believed in his words. The end point of this will be a more guarded fanbase- which perhaps in and of itself is not a bad thing. I suspect a more transactional approach to how we view managers would do no harm.

Every club has it’s own quirks and peculiarities but you do sense there is a uniqueness to Everton. It is a club that has been greatly damaged by modern football in no small part due to it’s inability to adapt to modern football. There is an enormous nostalgia amongst the fanbase and keen desire to preserve the history of the club. In spite of potentially compelling alternative evidence, the clubs supporters still regard the club as one which should be competing for honours and expect that from it’s paid custodians. This jars with an increasingly London focussed media who view the club as increasingly a regional club with fine traditions but little chance of competing for top honours.

For a lot of fans, Ancelotti represented a credible chance to change that narrative not just with performance on the pitch, but with his presence off the pitch. He was every inch the hollywood manager- having won trophies in each of the “big 5” European leagues and had an enviable total of 3 Champion League successes in 2 different countries. Even some of the great managers, Guardiola, Ferguson & Mourinho can’t match this. To some extent Ancelotti offered the prospect of redemption against the brutal vagaries of modernism in football yet the expectation that one man could singularly turn back time and restore Everton to it’s place at the tip of the football pantheon never felt realistic. The experiment has ended with something of a whimper.

I am partially reminded of the Scott Fitzgeralds novel of the Roaring 20’s the Great Gatsby,. While modern interpretations of the text have revolved around the wealth and glamour of the book (which Fiutzgerald was looking to critique as opposed to endorse) the main key theme is actually about time. The protagonist Jay Gats (Gatsby) longs for a time for a time that has passed and is under the misapprehension that via money, success and influence he can effectively turn back time to win a woman’s heart. What is cruelly exposed within the novel is this is a forlorn hope and ultimately ends in tragedy. To a certain degree Evertonians hope that a highly decorated and successful manager can turn back time to a more successful and simpler are equally untouchable and absurd and have been eviscerated with the latest developments.

In trying to move beyond this bind- that it is only 1 big managerial appointment we can begin to shape a more positive future. The club needs to stop looking for exotic and exciting short cuts and deal with the mundane- that building successful organisations is about hard work, consistency, planning preparation and perseverance. If you’re not willing to go through those stages you are unlikely to get to the destination you want to arrive at. While we would all prefer a single figure to click their fingers and make everything ok the more complex reality is that in modern football no single person can resolve all of your contradictions- you need an organisation and team of people pulling together.

This appears to me a bigger concern than Ancelotti leaving. It still seems unclear if the board has a singular vision between it’s key adherents. In one corner you have owner Farhad Moshiri who seems to hold the view that throwing money at problems can do away with the structural obstacles that are faced (and to a degree this is true, but Moshiri as yet has simply not thrown anything approaching enough money at the problem to begin to do this). In another you have the former owner and current Chairman Bill Kenwright who seems to want a more old fashioned, stable, bluntly realistic but also risk averse approach to building the club. Finally you have Marcel Brands who have a more European, potentially risky but dynamic approach. You don’t ever feel that the 3 are consistently on board with one another or that anyone has really sat down and had the argument as to what they want Everton to be. To a certain degree Ancelotti held together these factions under the guise of “get behind Carlo”- which was something they could get (and hide) behind but with him leaving you sense such divergence may become more apparent again.

This divergence is never clearer when it comes to appointing a new manager. The managers following Moshiri’s takeover have very little in common, Koeman, Allardyce, Silva & Ancelotti. The names linked with the latest job vacancy are similar sporadic, Nuno, Moyes, Benitez, Gerrard, Martinez, Silva, Rangnick, Conte & Lampard all get a mention. I understand people will say they are not realistic names, yet somebody is briefing the media and they tend to go off some information when reporting (even if it’s liberally applied). It doesn’t point to an organisation with a singular focus, and a singular understanding of what it is trying to do and how it intends to do so. One assumption might be to presume there is a state of neo-anomie on the boardroom, with little coherence at all. I tend to shy away from such a conclusion. My sense is you have a system of dual power, with competing spheres of influence creating the illusion of an organisation who is perhaps more chaotic than it actually is.

Each of the 3 protagonists have different visions for the club- which we could loosely define as plucky little Everton, the Mersey billionaires and European efficient Everton. To a degree each camp recruits or seeks to recruit quite logically for what it intends to do. Kenwright’s faction do what they have always done, which is look for attainable managers who have extensive experience in English football- there is also now a premium placed on knowing the club and the nostalgia that comes from this. This is how you end up with a shortlist of Howe, Dyche, Potter and latterly Moyes/Martinez. For Moshiri he wants the “Hollywood Manager” so Conte will be top of that list, though you sense he will speak to both Pochettino and Benitez. Favourable agent connections may also shove certain managers like Fonseca and Nuno to the top. Finally for Brands we are told he has made contact with Ten Haag and Rangnick, and links to Galtier may well emanate from this section, as might younger coaches like Gerrard and Lampard. Of all the other aforementioned names, maybe Potter would fit this camp as well as the Kenwright camp.

What’s become really clear through the process is that the somewhat anarchic impression given to managerial recruitment has filtered through to the support base. A poll on GOT has a list of 9 names, where the leading candidate (Conte) only attracts 25% of the vote and the 2nd (Rangnick) sits at 18%. Everyone else is under 10% with other candidates sitting at 11%. In a knock out style poll conducted by the Southern Californian twitter page Rangnick didn’t feature and Conte would lose in the final to Ten Haag (sitting on the just 6.5% of the vote currently on the GOT poll). I appreciate both have slightly different audiences, but there is no clear and obvious selection as to who people want. This difficulty is exacerbated by most Evertonians being of the view that they will tell you who they don’t want, over who they do want. It seems for many, telling you why somebody is wrong trumps perhaps outlining why somebody is correct. In a managerial race whereby most people will unlikely get their 1st choice, it is going to leave a lot of supporters frustrated. This does need to be factored in when the new manager is appointed. It’s unlikely you will get your first choice.

It’s also worth saying that nobody is wrong in their positions. Objectively I can see merit in all of the names mentioned and can make a case for each of them. While the divergence of views is partially down to the lack of steer and direction given from the board, there are more rooted and structural reasons for it. Everton’s on position in the PL is unique. They are the only club in the PL who have never been relegated but have only managed to finish in the top 4 once. They have essentially homogenised the space between 5th and 12th showing little ability to break through on either end. How you view this is down to personnel outlook but it represents a uniquely consistent performance level and is quite unusual in business and sport. Normally a club that fails to break into the “big time” of regular European competition will at some point be relegated, but at the same time a club that has benefited from 30 years of top division money will have managed to break into the upper echelons of the table at least for a period. If you look at sides such as Leeds, Newcastle and Blackburn, they have all enjoyed top 4 finishes but have also been relegated (some on numerous occasions others on for prolonged periods).

I think this process causes contradictory consciousness within any fanbase. This is before you add in, that in the lead up to the creation of the PL Everton were only recently coming off being the best team in the country and Europe and had won 2 further league titles before the mid 80’s success within most people’s lifetime. Only city rivals Liverpool had won more leagues at that point. Yet this expectation amongst older supporters is not the lived experience of younger fans.

What this all boils down to is quite a different range of priorities exist amongst supporters. Some supporters want a strong Everton core to the next appointment, while others resent the “jobs for the boys” ethos that seems to underpin this. Others will view the Ancelotti period as successful and to be repeated again but with a loyal manager, others will take the view such big name managers are structurally limited operating at a club with relative scarcity of resource. Some will want to prioritise a style of football or an attacking style of football while for others results and results in the short term have to be a priority. Some will look at what David Moyes gave to Everton and want a return to this, while others can think of nothing that was worse than what surrounded the People’s Club outlook. It is worth pointing out that none of these viewpoints are wrong, or make you any less of an Evertonian, and it is perhaps worth pondering that as you make the case for your preferred choice. If people have an opposing choice and one you’re vehemently against, it’s probably more a reflection of their age and experiences with the football club than any sort of misunderstanding of what it means to be an Evertonian.

In my own outlook I am very much teams Brands in terms of who we should appoint. I would say Kenwright’s vision of what to do is ultimately too cautious and limiting for the club while Moshiri’s is far too optimistic. The club do no have the resources available to blitz it’s way into the top 4- even with Moshiri’s generous funding, but they also have significant resources available to them that go way beyond the Moyes era under Kenwright. Finding a manager who can embed long term thinking into the club, and shift Everton to operating in a manner that European teams (particularly in Germany and Holland) seek to operate would be a notable step forward for the club. Of the managers they have selected, perhaps only Silva could be claimed to fit that process overall, and even that was something of a stretch.

Everton should not be fearful of European football clubs either. In their own way there is a lot more commonality for Everton than is widely reported. Just as Everton have been a bit left behind by the European football financial boom, many clubs on the continent have been left behind by the financial boom in the PL. Big clubs across Germany, Spain and Italy (outside of those who voted to join the Super League) have traditions and histories akin to Everton but have also been left behind somewhat. The smarter ones have reconciled this, and have found the optimum way to maximise this for their own ends. In Germany there is an acceptance you cannot win an arms war with PL teams so they have cultivated strategies that are heavily focussed on youth development and taking a longer view of progress than the year on year churn that is the expectation of top teams in their own leagues and a lot of teams in the PL.

The big downside of this within the PL has always been the fear of relegation. That it’s fine to want to risk a downside of 20% for an upside of 40% until that downside of 20% gets you relegated. The positive that Ancelotti has given Everton is that perhaps for the 1st time in Moshiri’s reign there is a near elimination of that downside risk. Everton finished 30 points above the relegation zone. This is the biggest gap since 2013/14 (Martinez’s 1st season which was 39 points) and on only 1 other occasion in the last 25 years (2010-31 points) has the gap been bigger. With an entire summer to plan (whereas usually appointments occur in the midst of a season) the club has an opportunity to be bolder in it’s appointment and embrace a more long term view of success.

There will be those far more qualified than me to give names as to who fits this agenda. My to choice would still be Ralf Rangnick, not just for his dynamic work he did at Leipzig, but also for what he did at Schalke. There are legitimate concerns as to whether there would be overlap with Brands, but given Brands allegedly wants to talk to him, and that he has been close to the job twice before the hope would be that the 2 would be quite well aligned in priorities. Younger coaches, such as Ferguson and Cahill (perhaps to be joined by Seamus Coleman) could learn under him and cement a clear club DNA (favoured in Holland). He would be my top choice. Of others mentioned I like Ten Haag at Ajax, Galtier who has left Lille, Gasperini at Atalanta and Favre who is now out of work but formally of Gladbach, Nice and Dortmund. I’d say all of these managers have shown competency at working at the sort of clubs Everton can and should want to emulate.

So while there has been an enormous shock at the departure of Ancelotti- there remains a chance to turn a negative into a positive and build upon the things Ancelotti brought the club. It is nice to be in a situation where we are not paying a manager off and nicer still to have a handy compensation package that can be used to either recruit a new manager or pay off some of the older ones still receiving a package. I hope the club can begin moving in a positive new direction with the new appointment.

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