By Doug Wood
I used to joke that you could put 50 Everton fans in a pub and come up with 50 different opinions on what was best for Everton FC in terms of manager, tactics, players etc. However, that scenario wouldn’t seem to apply to Everton’s current malaise and while social media isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator on majority opinion amongst fans of all ages there is clearly a growing groundswell of support for the view that Koeman needs to be replaced as our manager – and the sooner the better. Personally, I was of that opinion at half-time in Atalanta but maybe my anger that evening was added to because of the time and money I had unwisely invested in being there.
The on-field problems are so blatantly obvious to everyone (and it does seem like everyone bar Koeman) that there is no need to list them here. We all know and we have known it all season. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the point gained at Brighton was some sort of magical turning point. Our play remains dull, uninspiring, toothless and lacking in passion. And with games coming at us every 3-4 days across three competitions, the remainder of October is going to disappear very fast.
Improvement will have to be both significant and immediate for Koeman to keep his job although for many fans that sacking should have occurred a fortnight ago. I like to pair off games and set a minimum points’ target as a reasonable return. For Burnley and Brighton, that was 4 pts from 6, absolute minimum. We got one point. If we go back to the end of last season and a dismal set of performances in April and May, we have managed just 5 wins from our last 17 league games. The rot has well and truly set in, there will be no magic turning point. Those wins….Leicester, Burnley, Watford, Stoke and Bournemouth. Wow! Fans remain baffled as to the treatment of Barkley, Lookman and Kenny, baffled by the unnecessary signing of Martina and baffled by the selection of a past it Williams.
The one mitigating favour in Koeman’s defence is the club’s collective failure to sign a quality striker in the summer, an act bordering on gross negligence given that Lukaku had signalled his desire to leave a long time beforehand and that we were so heavily dependent upon his goals. Are the players totally blameless in all of this? Of course not. Are they withholding some of their labour, are they showing their unhappiness with Koeman out on the pitch? Probably. Or are they shorn of confidence, struggling with the style of play and formations unfairly and stubbornly thrust upon them? Either way, the fact remains that Koeman spent around £150m this past summer on players he wanted to bring to the club, his choices, and we have gone backwards. Accountability for that stops with him.
Alas, we know little about the dynamics of the key working relationships within the club, I’m thinking here Koeman-Walsh and then Elstone-Kenwright-Moshiri. Are there tensions, poorly defined over-lapping roles, ineffective channels of communications or are all structures and systems completely geared up and working at maximum effectiveness to the betterment of the club? As fans I doubt we will ever know! We all have our suspicions of course!
Moshiri remains a mystery to me with his bizarre ‘off the cuff’ comments and statements. He clearly has very serious intent to push Everton forward both on and off the pitch. I’m sure his business plan would be for Everton to be having, at the very least, one season of Champions League football prior to the expected opening of the new stadium in the 2021-22 season. Serious intent brings with it serious responsibility to keep driving forward, not dithering, not letting things pan out and see how they go. The ‘new’ Everton still seems very much like the ‘old’ Everton, cautious, risk-averse and happily knowing our small plucky place in the bigger scheme of things. This mentality will not bring sustained success nor will it fill the new stadium.
I had expected more from Moshiri in modernising the club, maybe shifting Kenwright into some cosy life president sinecure with no influence on matters, replacing Elstone etc. and bringing in his own team of dynamic and proven leaders. The expensive funding of the Martinez sacking and the costly pursuit of Koeman definitely suggested a man who meant business and whose financial clout now ruled the club. Maybe Moshiri lacks the will and resources to engage in another round of sacking the manager and coaching staff, attracting a new team in from other clubs. Somehow though, I doubt it as a sharp business mind would be aware of the lost revenue opportunities from a lower than expected league position (at over £1m a place), a failure to have decent cup and European runs and the reduced attendance, commercial and TV income as a result.
What to the future, which is what really matters! Personally, I think Koeman is very fortunate indeed to still be in a job and would shed no tears for him if he left tomorrow. His rather blunt and dour demeanour strongly hints at someone who is here to fulfil a business transaction and see out his contract with little or no emotional attachment towards his employer. Do the job for a while then repeat elsewhere. Nine clubs in 17 seasons says it all about his journeyman attitude and a lot about his actual prowess or otherwise as a manager.
Is Unsworth the man to replace him? Bringing in any new manager carries a certain amount of risk, but some appointments could carry more risk than others. Only a personal view of course, and Unsworth has many admirable traits and attributes but is ‘someone who gets Everton’ enough in the way of a requirement for the job? Would we like to be certain about a lot more? What do we know about tactical acumen, flexibility on changing formations to suit the circumstances, an ability to cajole and motivate big name players in performing at their highest level? That said, it seems clear that Unsworth is a more accessible and sociable individual than Koeman, more likely to throw an arm around a discontented soul, more likely to engage directly with fans’ expectations.
If there is an answer, then maybe it is to replace Koeman with Unsworth on a short-term deal to the end of the season, allowing time to assess his longer-term credentials while sounding out possible alternatives. Any manager, whether Koeman, Unsworth or anyone else is likely to be well-supported in the January transfer window.
What we can’t do is dither, sit back and hope for the best. By 25th October, three more crucial games would have ticked by. If we perform poorly in those games, then surely Koeman is gone? The club simply could not afford to be standing still and doing nothing.