There seemed to be a real sense of optimism around Everton when the club from Merseyside blew off about £140 million on roping in a host of quality players from other fellow clubs from the country and those from abroad. The signings didn’t just satisfy the need for quality reinforcements but also raised expectations among the Toffees faithful, who expected their club to give the mighty top six a run for their money. You can’t blame the fans, can you? When you bring in players with quality, be it Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea, Wayne Rooney from Manchester United or former Ajax skipper Davy Klaassen, expectations are certain to rise.
Things in football, though, hardly pan out the way one expects. With the club lingering in the bottom three, Ronald Koeman was sacked at the Everton boss, paving way for David Unsworth to take interim charge of affairs at Goodison Park. The Dutchman’s yet-to-be-fully-ascertained-why efforts at replacing Romelu Lukaku with number tens rather than with a proper number nine and the inability to connect with the fans on a specific level left many confused and left the board with no other option but to part ways with the former Feyenoord boss.
As names such as Diego Simeone continue to get linked and with the Paradise Papers engulfing Toffees owner Farhad Moshiri, the real question at the club shouldn’t be about who should be the man to take the club forward, but whether the club must be scared for what is left of it.
It would be worth pointing out that very often and their win against Watford doesn’t count in this, that this is the worst Everton side in recent memory. If not in recent memory, then before the now West Ham boss David Moyes boss took over the reins back in 2002. The amount of lack of balance that this side oozes and the lack of pace that glints from the very first impression just testifies for as to why the club has been struggling near the bottom of the division.
Despite the acquisition of Michael Keane from Burnley, Everton have the third-worst defensive record in the league, letting in four against Manchester United and conceding three at home to Tottenham earlier in the season. It isn’t just Keane whose start to the new campaign has been frustrating, but almost every single summer signing has failed to make an impact, excluding Wayne Rooney, who has scored four of the club’s ten goals of the campaign. And the very fact that someone like Oumar Niasse has scored four times shows how much the club needs a striker. It isn’t to put down Niasse’s tally, but you can’t imagine him playing for a side that aims to finish inside the top ten.
There have been instances this season when the presence of multiple players of the same type has led to the likes of Rooney, Sigurdsson, Klaasen and Nikola Vlasic making runs into the same areas, with no on up front to target while attacking. And when that lack of a focal point to the attack combines with the lack of pace, things get worse.
And while it never became clear what Koeman was up to by bringing in multiple number tens, the club will have to bear the brunt of it till they don’t get someone in January. And the imbalance of the squad will make every potential next Everton manager wonder whether it is a job worth taking over before the club gets a striker in and Ross Barkley’s renewed absence after recovering from injury hands the club a boost. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored in the England U20s World Cup final win over Venezuela in this past summer’s U20 World Cup, has shown promising signs of holding the line up front, but you can’t expect a youngster like him to do so throughout the season.
Considering the managers who are being linked to the vacant post at the helm of affairs at Goodison Park, it seems very easy to point out what their prime reason for rethinking might be. Be it Sean Dyche or Sam Allardyce, even Diego Simeone, have always had sides that boast of having big, burly strikers up front. Strikers who can act as target-men and allow the players around them to join the attack on the counter.
Big Sam Vokes, who is currently doing a very good job for the Clarets as a target man, is an example. How Dyche used Andre Gray over the past two seasons in the 4-4-2 around Vokes is another example of how Dyche has to deploy strikers up front to make his system work for a side. Even for Allardyce, whose last managed club was Crystal Palace, has always had big forwards up front in the sides that he has taken over. Be it Andy Carroll or Christian Benteke, the examples are clear.
Olivier Giroud was very close to joining under Koeman during the summer transfer window, but a move never materialized. Having the Frenchman in the side could well have kept Koeman in the job would have made the targeted managers feel confident enough of coming in and doing the job since day one.
And the job has to be done since day one, considering the position that Everton are currently stuck in. The club bosses have a decision to make: to aim for a top half finish or escape relegation. And that would have a bearing on who they appoint. The side may look good on paper or from the outside, but it would take a lot of effort from any manager to get things right from day one. The problems that crop up once the side takes to the pitch, or as evident as they are, would deter managers from coming in.