The contrast was inescapable.
Duncan Ferguson, in front of the away end, bellowing out songs in unison with the travelling support. The lads in blue on the field, embracing and revelling after a well-earned point. Everton, bristling with spirit, as they had done a week earlier against Chelsea. All together.
And earlier—Moise Kean, shellshocked, shunned by his manager and striding off towards the tunnel. A long walk down the sidelines. An excruciatingly lonely one.
If Old Trafford had more traditional dimensions and a tunnel on the halfway line, the moment may not have felt so significant. But with the entrance to the field tucked away in the corner, Kean’s trudge was prolonged. The sense of isolation intensified with every step. All eyes were on him.
Being in the stadium, it was awkward to see. And unsurprisingly, it’s a call from the interim Everton manager that has polarised opinion in the club’s fanbase and the watching footballing world.
For many, Ferguson was justified. Whether or not you buy his post-match assessment that time-wasting was the motivation for the change, he made a bold decision with a view to getting an injury-ravaged and exhausted Everton side over the line for a point.
For others, more consideration was needed for Kean. A lad with sparkling potential, low on confidence and still a couple of months away from his 20th birthday deserves better treatment, you could argue.
There are merits to both standpoints. But Everton, despite the recent positivity Ferguson has injected into the club, are where they are. And when a team has an interim manager in charge and are in 16th after spending a shedload in the summer, there’s inevitable collateral.
Ferguson’s duty seems clear—to rally the Everton players, improve performances in the short term and help the side move up the table. At the moment, the Toffees can’t look beyond the next game; they can only confirm who the manager is going to be for each match a couple of days before each fixture.
As such, if Ferguson saw an issue on the field compromising his team’s chances of getting a result, he’ll feel entitled to make a call to protect what are now sacrosanct points.
Would he have made the same decision in hindsight? Perhaps. Should he have handled the situation better? Possibly. But this is a man in charge of just his second game. A man, for all the fantastic work he’s done so far at the helm, who said himself that he isn’t ready to be the manager of Everton.
Of course, none of this is ideal.
In an ideal world, Everton are higher up in the Premier League table with an established manager who has a better read on these players. In an ideal world, the man in charge could look at the situation through a longer-term lens, with Kean’s footballing progression and wellbeing in mind.
But Everton aren’t in that place.
Situations like these are the product of a succession of poor decisions. They’re the product of changing managers, underachievement, altering styles and not having a clear transfer strategy—Paddy Boyland of The Athletic reported that Kean wasn’t actually on Marco Silva’s shortlist of players in the summer.
When these crucial facets of the club are not aligned, short-term thinking flourishes. From there, it’s the young players who suffer.
Ademola Lookman did, Nikola Vlasic did, Sandro Ramirez did. Patience and forward planning go out the window when you’re living hand to mouth. That’s where Everton are.
There’s no doubt we’ll learn more about the now infamous change in the coming days which may add more colour to the situation. It’ll also be fascinating to see if Ferguson does include Kean in the squad for Wednesday’s clash with Leicester City, a call that will likely reveal more about the dynamic between the player and manager than anything the coach could say post match.
For Kean, these are challenging times and there’s no doubt he’ll be questioning the decision to trade Turin for L4 already. This may yet be the making of him, but it’s just as likely to push him closer to the exit door.
If it’s the latter then it’d be a huge shame. And you suspect fingers would be pointed at Ferguson given the focus that’s fallen on the coach following Sunday’s game.
But a litany of poor choices from senior figures at the club have led us to this point, where another precocious talent appears close to slipping through Everton’s fingers.
If the club doesn’t get its act together, he won’t be the last. If the club doesn’t get its act together, these lads might stop coming altogether.
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