By James Laing
I know that to those avid and, dare I say, more ‘hipster’ football fans the question posed in the title of this piece may seem ludicrous. I have recently found however that the question seems relevant given the criticism that Everton’s current (and still relatively new) manager has faced over a very inconsistent period for the on-field matters at the club. I shall nonetheless try to provide somewhat of a biography of the man himself moving towards some of the difficulties that he has faced in his first 6 months (ish) at Everton Football Club.
Ronald Koeman began his playing career at the age of 17 for FC Groningen. It’s safe to say that he made quite an impression early on after scoring 33 goals in his first 90 games for the club. Perhaps it would be pertinent to mention that Ronald Koeman was a centre back! It was his unusually impressive goal scoring prowess as well as his calm and collective demeanour on the ball that saw the young defender called up to represent the Netherlands’ national side. It was also at this time when he achieved a move to the then Eredivisie champions, Ajax. Imagine if John Stones was actually a good defender and then you can begin to imagine the talent that Koeman had as a footballer. I have your attention now, don’t I?
From Ajax he controversially joined PSV Eindhoven before eventually reuniting with his old Ajax manager, Johan Cruyff, at Barcelona in 1989. It was at Barcelona where he became known throughout football as an integral part of Cruyff’s ‘dream team’ that saw the Catalan giants dominate La Liga for a number of years to come. This was the Barcelona side that had produced Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, and Pep Guardiola and subsequently further highlighted the peaked ability of Koeman.
After six years at Barcelona he returned to the Netherlands to play for Feyenoord and even featured in a European Cup Winners’ Cup tie against our very own Everton after their FA Cup triumph in 1995. He eventually retired in Rotterdam having won 15 major honours, including Euro 1988 with the Netherlands, and scoring 193 league goals in 533 games. Again…. He was a defender!
His playing career would make some of the great legends of the game envious but his managerial career has had its fair share of ups and downs. He began his coaching career under Guus Hiddink for the Netherlands in the 1998 World Cup. He then subsequently became the assistant coach at Barcelona before landing his first managerial post at Vitesse. His ability to lead the club to a UEFA Cup spot on a very limited budget then allowed him the chance to manage his former playing club Ajax in 2001.
Koeman won a domestic double in his first season at Ajax however his time managing the club was viewed more as a managed decline. He did win the league title for a second time in 2004 however the following season proved to be his last. Ajax fell eight points behind PSV and saw themselves knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Auxerre. He joined Benfica in 2005 after he resigned from his position at Ajax.
There’s not a great deal to say about Koeman’s time with Benfica. He won the Portuguese Super Cup (Community Shield essentially and is not, nor will it ever be, a major trophy) but only stayed for one season after seeing the Portuguese champions finish third. He joined PSV in 2006.
Koeman had more success with PSV than he did with Benfica as a manager. He led the club so an Eredivisie title in 2007, thereby pipping Ajax and AZ Alkmaar to the post. Once again though he only stayed for a full season and was offered a position at Valencia in 2007. Are you starting to see a trend?
His only season at Valencia was interesting to say the least. It saw the club win the Copa Del Rey in 2008, its first since 1999. The league performances during his time in Spain would prove to be disappointing however. The season saw Valencia slip to 15th in La Liga, just two points above the relegation zone. The club had also finished bottom of its group in the Champions League. In April 2008, less than a week after the club’s Copa Del Rey success, Koeman was sacked.
After Valencia, Koeman managed AZ Alkmaar in 2009 but ‘departed’ after losing 7 of the first 16 games. He would then not return to management until 2011 where he managed Feyenoord. This would see Koeman become the only man to have both played for and manage the ‘big three’ clubs in the Netherlands in PSV, Ajax, and Feyenoord. He remained at the Dutch club until the end of the 2013-2014 season where he left ‘to pursue other ambitions’.
At this point I feel that there’s no need to continue on as we know he joined Southampton in 2014 (where he was highly praised for his work with a veracious selling club) before leaving to join Everton in 2016. His managerial career has been a mixture of success and disappointment and one concern for Evertonians now may be his short-term stays at a number of different clubs. This being said, many of the Everton faithful have questioned whether his appointment was the correct one in the first place.
After the departure of Roberto Martinez many different names were touted as his potential replacement to take the reins at Everton and lead them into a new era of prosperity. There were the good rumours such as Unai Emery, the reasonable rumours such as Frank De Boer, and then there were the bad rumours such as Mark Hughes. There was even the possible suggestion that Everton would take steps backwards and ask David Moyes to return after 11 years of winning the square root of zero during his tenure. Koeman was an outside favourite but there were whispers he was the favourite indeed. He was Everton’s main target and the club set out to entice him to make the switch to Goodison Park. I personally pulled no punches in suggesting that Ronald Koeman was the man I wanted to take charge at the club. For me, Koeman represented something that Everton have not had for 21 years – a winning mentality. Even in a managerial career of mixed fortunes he has won five major trophies in the Netherlands and Spain. For me it was a simple decision, Ronald Koeman was a must for the club.
After a good start to the season Everton have dipped somewhat to a level of inconsistency that has seen the fans become very frustrated. After poor defeats at home to Norwich and Leicester that saw the blues fall out of the League and FA Cups respectively it has become clear that Everton will now endure 22 years without winning a major trophy. The club currently sit 7th in the league and most would probably believe that is where they’ll finish. The best of the rest and outside of the top six which appears to be impenetrable this season. This has amounted to a level of scepticism towards Koeman and a very small minority have even called for his head.
It is important to remember that Everton had a very disappointing summer in 2016 that saw a spineless squad that lacked leaders negligibly improved. This has meant that Koeman has had half a season to work with a squad very similar to that of his predecessor through no fault of his own. His predecessor however was the man that assembled that squad and over-looked Everton as they slipped to two consecutive 11th placed finishes. Koeman has taken that squad and has it in 7th place. They’re not in the top six because the top six are currently better than them and they’re out of the cups because the players are not winners. What I’m trying to say is that this is not Koeman’s side and it will take more than 6 months to tailor it to the way that he wants it to be.
The January transfer window has already shown that the manager is willing to remove the deadwood from the Everton side and has clearly identified his targets to replace them. He is now also demonstrating a willingness to put faith in some of Everton’s talented youngsters and even led the blues to a 4-0 drubbing of Manchester City at Goodison Park on 15th January (I’m not calling in Merseyside v Manchester… It’s not happening). With a strong finish and two good transfer windows there is no reason that Everton cannot look to next season as the season to push on and challenge for major honours.
One further note towards Koeman is his ‘no nonsense’ attitude. While the former manager would have you believe that everything was perfect despite consecutive defeats, Koeman is honest and straight to the point. He is even critical of his team when they win comfortably if certain periods within the game were not to his liking. This has come as a shock to some within the fan base and seems to be something that divides opinion. I view this as a refreshing change to what we as Evertonains have become accustomed to pre Ronald Koeman. I would rather hear the manager be critical of poor performances and poor results than try to dress them up as something that they’re not. People will generally see through this and at least there can be a confidence that something will be done to alter disappointing results in the long run.
Ultimately, time will tell with Ronald Koeman. If he is allowed to spend money and does not improve the side to a stage where it can achieve bigger and better things, then I’m sure that his position within the club will be reviewed. As a fan base however we can collectively give him a fair chance. After all, Ronald Koeman is a legend and Ronald Koeman is a blue (even when his Christmas tree isn’t).