Amidst the chaos and confusion of the modern world, trust Neville Southall to have his finger on the pulse. Whether it be expressing his curiosity regarding social issues or relentlessly bashing the Tories, the legendary Everton goalkeeper has unwittingly become a social media superstar in recent months. On Sunday, he took a break from politics to tweet about his former club. “This November and December may be the most important time in Everton’s history.”
Southall tweeted this in the aftermath of Everton’s chastising 2-0 defeat away to Leicester City. The Toffees have now lost nine of 13 games this season and are in the relegation zone. They are without a manager and simply staying afloat in the Premier League appears to be the extent of their ambition. It’s a far cry from the top six aspirations their board anticipated having poured close to £150 million into new signings.
Given their history of success, Evertonians can be a demanding bunch, but a simple and not unreasonable expectation is commitment. Commitment to the cause and a desire to work hard while at Goodison Park. There was a sense that Ronald Koeman never fully embraced the challenge on Merseyside and his assertion that he envisioned himself managing Barcelona in the future was a source of irritation for supporters. The one rule of Everton is that, even if it is a stepping stone, don’t mention it as a stepping stone.
Another person who viewed Everton purely as a vehicle to take his career to a higher level was Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian scored 25 of their 62 goals in 2016/17 and was largely responsible for a seventh placed finish in the table. Everton are experiencing a similar problem to the one faced by Tottenham and Liverpool when they were stripped of comparably dependant figures Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez respectively.
Like those two clubs, they attempted to compensate for the loss of one high calibre star by signing a mesh of inferior footballers, the equivalent of replacing a pristine mahogany table with furniture from Ikea. There was a narrative from some that Everton had “won the transfer market”, but apart from the names in question appearing exciting, any detailed analysis would’ve raised alarm bells.
Despite pinning the blame for Everton’s start to the season on the failure to bring in Olivier Giroud from Arsenal, Koeman obviously had a large say in their transfer activity. Between himself and the club’s director of football Steve Walsh, it is not particularly clear what their wider idea was. Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramires and Nikola Vlasic are all fine footballers, but they don’t look like they were brought in with specific role in mind. And why break a transfer record on Gylfi Sigurdsson only to fill that slot in the starting eleven with Wayne Rooney?
Some semblance of continuity and consistency was always going to require time having essentially put together a new spine. The situation at Everton is somewhat akin to what AC Milan are confronting on a different scale, with numerous new faces and no real identity. On the whole, their squad is woefully imbalanced. There’s the over-the-hill 30 plus brigade – such as Rooney, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams fighting against the dying of the light – and the promising crop of young players still finding their way, but not enough guys in their prime years. They lack pace as well as a natural goalscorer and desperately miss Seamus Coleman’s energy from right back.
Everton have essentially put themselves in this situation with their recruitment, so the objective for the next few months is simply to stabilise. Already, they’ve been deemed too good to go down. Famously, the same was said of West Ham in 2003 and they plummeted with a similarly composed squad, so Everton must thread carefully.
So who do Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright appoint next?
Caretaker boss David Unsworth has expressed his desire to take the job on a permanent basis. The club’s former central defender has worked alongside many of the academy graduates now in the first team and probably feels entitled to an opportunity. The grave scenario the club finds itself in means it’s unlikely they’d go for someone so inexperienced at the top level though.
The potential for a relegation dogfight may see them lean towards a Sam Allardyce or Sean Dyche figure. Dyche would be an intriguing one. He’s turned water into wine given the status and restrictions imposed upon him at Burnley, yet it remains to be seen how he would fare at a club with genuine expectation.
Of course, they could go for a more ambitious strategy and try land a coach of greater pedigree. Ex-Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel was receptive when asked if he would be interested. Convincing Tuchel to take the job is another thing, but the Premier League’s riches has ensured there are more coaches willing to take a gamble below their station, such as when Jurgen Klopp favoured a struggling Liverpool over biding his time for a major job on the continent.
Yesterday, Nuno Espirito Santo – coach of upwardly mobile Championship club Wolves – was approached. The Portuguese has experience working and succeeding in two high pressured jobs (Porto and Valencia) and is currently transforming the style and substance at Molineux. There is the Jorge Mendes factor though (Nuno’s agent and close friend of Wolves’ Chinese owners) and Nuno might be reluctant to leave without finishing what he started.
Everton’s board are planning on having a new coach in place towards the end of the international break and one hopes they’ve done their due diligence at that stage. If their transfer business replacing Lukaku mirrored Tottenham post-Bale, then surely Spurs are the template for steadily building and outperforming their budget since. Their progress is largely a consequence of making the right managerial appointment, so Everton should take lessons and choose as wisely. The forthcoming couple of months are indeed pivotal.