Preseason optimism fades to midseason anxiety at Everton
There was a preseason buoyancy surrounding Everton that hadn’t been felt for years at this venerable English club.
A rich financier was injecting lots of money to rebuild the squad and fund a move to a new $385 million stadium. Wayne Rooney made a sentimental return to his boyhood team. Ronald Koeman, a globally respected manager, pledged his loyalty after links with a vacancy at Barcelona.
There was talk of a new-look and expensively assembled Everton side breaking the dominance of the Premier League’s “Big 6,” of bringing silverware to Goodison Park for the first time since 1995.
Three months later, summer optimism had been replaced by midseason anxiety.
Everton is drifting closer and closer to the relegation zone, is out of European competition already, has been without a manager for five weeks following the firing of Koeman, and is seemingly a club searching for an identity.
Meanwhile, Rooney, the supposed savior, is spending much of his time on the substitutes’ bench.
Everton hosts West Ham in the league on Wednesday and could find itself in the bottom three with another loss. That the blow could be inflicted by a side managed by David Moyes, Everton’s most successful manager of the past 20 years, would make it even more painful.
Here’s a look at the issues dogging Everton, an ever-present in England’s top flight since 1954:
Koeman was sacked on Oct. 23, two months into his second season in charge. Everton was in the relegation zone and was on a winless run of five matches at the time.
The Dutchman still hasn’t been replaced five weeks later, with former Everton player David Unsworth — the coach of the club’s under-23 side — in temporary charge but increasingly looking out of his depth. The last two matches, a 5-1 home loss to Atalanta in the Europa League and a 4-1 loss at Southampton in the league, have clearly hurt Unsworth, a loyal and passionate Evertonian.
Everton has failed in a bid to bring in Watford manager Marco Silva, one of the most highly rated young managers in Europe and someone who preaches an entertaining, attacking style of football. Now, sights are reportedly set on Sam Allardyce, a pragmatic 63-year-old coach who has a reputation as a so-called “firefighter” for getting teams out of relegation danger.
It highlights Everton’s lack of joined-up thinking, meaning fans are starting to have misgivings about those in charge of the club.
One is a hard-nosed businessman, new to Everton.
The other is a theater impresario and an old romantic when it comes to football, with links to Everton for nearly two decades.
Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright are proving uncomfortable boardroom partners, seemingly not on the same page when it comes to the identity of Koeman’s replacement.
Moshiri sold his stake in Arsenal to become the majority shareholder in Everton in early 2016 and was the driving force behind a summer spending spree of about $200 million on new players. He reportedly wanted Silva and prefers a big-name European coach.
Kenwright, the chairman and former owner, reportedly favors a coach — preferably British — who knows the Premier League inside out. Hence, the potential move for Allardyce and earlier links with Burnley manager Sean Dyche.
Talks are ongoing with “a few managers,” Unsworth said on Tuesday.
Therefore, the search, and the wait, goes on. It is resulting in a vacuum high up in the club that is harming the team on the field.
Everton has won just three of its 13 league games and sits in 16th place in the 20-team league. The game against West Ham, which occupies the final relegation spot and is in need of a lift itself, is huge in the current context.
The team was eliminated from the English League Cup in the last 16. The Europa League campaign was over after four group games and has been an utter shambles, with the only point after five fixtures so far coming at home to Cypriot team Apollon Limassol.
Everton has conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League (28 in 13 games) while Oumar Niasse, who started the season as an outcast and without even his own locker, is proving an unlikely source of goals at the other end, with five in seven league games before getting a two-match retrospective ban for diving.
Aside from Niasse, it’s difficult to know where the goals are going to come from.
In hindsight, Everton got much of its preseason recruitment wrong.
In signing Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen for a combined 70 million pounds and also luring back Wayne Rooney, Everton strangely brought in three players who best operate in the same position — behind the striker — and all lack pace.
Koeman staked much on Rooney bringing experience and title-winning knowhow, but he has struggled to make an impact after a decent start to the season and been on the bench for the last two league games.
The biggest problem of all was not adequately replacing Romelu Lukaku, last season’s top scorer who left for Manchester United for 75 million pounds ($97 million).
Another 55 million pounds was spent on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and defender Michael Keane, yet Everton’s defense is a mess.
Spanish forward Sandro Ramirez and Croatian winger Nikola Vlasic are already fringe players whose game time has usually been confined to the Europa League.
Despite the vast summer outlay, Everton might need to be busy in the transfer market again. “We need proven recruitment in January,” Unsworth said.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80