By Paddy Boyland
Every so often in life, you come to a crossroads moment that defines the future.
For Everton Under-23 manager David Unsworth, that time is fast approaching.
Interviewed for the Oxford United job along with Craig Bellamy and ex-Liverpool second-string coach Michael Beale, the 44-year-old eventually ruled himself out of the running altogether to stay on Merseyside.
On this occasion, Unsworth decided not to take the plunge. The lure of a top gig in League One seemingly not enough to tempt him into swapping Goodison Park for the Kassam Stadium.
Only here’s the thing: Unsworth’s reality is more Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium than the Grand Old Lady of L4. Despite a temporary spell as Everton’s caretaker manager, the Chorley-born coach is still to become a fully fledged number one in the game. At the moment, his focus centres more on youth development than anything else.
And so, regardless of his palpable affection for the club he has represented as a player, coach and caretaker manager, there will no doubt come a time in the near-future when Unsworth needs to sit down and weigh up his options. What comes next? And how best to achieve that end?
In many ways, the first part of that question is much easier to answer than the second. Having previously placed on record his desire to manage Everton at some point in the future, it doesn’t seem too much of a logical stretch to imagine that the same goal remains in place to this day.
Yet in the hypothetical- and slightly unrealistic- scenario of Sam Allardyce receiving his marching orders tomorrow, Unsworth would still no doubt find himself behind the likes of Marco Silva and Paulo Fonseca in the running to replace the former Bolton manager. His status as the best Under-23 coach in the country both in terms of results and player development mattering little when it comes to convincing Everton’s hierarchy to snub others with significantly healthier CVs.
Where Silva can point to varying levels of success across multiple leagues and Fonseca notable scalps in his time as Shakhtar Donetsk manager, Unsworth would be left selling untapped potential at the top level to Farhad Moshiri and Co. A patchwork resumé- also containing a chequered spell as caretaker manager- serving to evidence that little-to-no progress has been made in moving closer to his dream job since Sam Allardyce took the reins.
Indeed, asked about the Unsworth to Oxford links last week, Allardyce expressed surprise that his second-string equivalent had turned down the opportunity to take the job. “David has expressed his will to be a manager,” he said. “If David feels he has to take the opportunity to be a manager then there’s a lot of people who have worked with me and had that same desire and have gone on to be managers and been good managers.
“David has got a great position at the club at the moment, that’s a very difficult decision for him to give that up, I’m sure about that. Everton Under-23s is a very privileged position and he has done very well in it. But if his desire is to be a manager then somewhere along the line he is going to have to take the plunge.”
Whatever his motives, Allardyce has a point.
During his temporary time at the helm, there was a sense that Unsworth was almost learning on the job. Tactical shortcomings such as the high defensive line used away at Leicester and the decision to allow failing players in Kevin Mirallas and Morgan Schneiderlin too much leeway showing that such mistakes should be ironed out somewhere else before he stands a chance of his dream post.
In the short-term, of course, it would be a huge blow to Everton to lose someone that has so successfully managed the transition of a whole plethora of exciting talent into the first-team ranks while at the same time preserving the young Blues’ place in the upper echelons of Premier League 2.
Whoever comes in to replace him would have their work cut out even getting close to replicating the achievements of the last two seasons. And most importantly, clearly Unsworth, too, doesn’t feel emotionally ready to cut the umbilical cord with the club just yet.
But as Barnsley and other Football League clubs continue to circle, the 44-year-old’s ultimate aim of managing the Blues should override any instinct to stick with the status quo. A painful divorce may well be the only way for Unsworth to eventually become the main man at Goodison.