If you can remember the last time Everton Football Club was relegated from the top flight of English football, we congratulate you on your longevity. Most people reading this article will have no memory of the event. Nor would their parents, and possibly not their grandparents either. The last time an Everton season ended in relegation was 1951. That’s more than seventy years ago now. Seven decades in the big time are coming to an end at Goodison Park, and Frank Lampard will have the unfortunate distinction of being the man who took them down. This isn’t entirely Lampard’s fault, though. It was a mistake for Everton’s board to appoint him, but it was the second such mistake that the board had made in the past twelve months.
Getting to this point has been a long and painful road for Everton under the ownership of Farhad Moshiri – ownership that began in 2016 with such grand promises about investment and ambition. Since then, Everton has spent beyond its means on poor acquisition after poor acquisition, and the decisions Moshiri and his fellow board members have made about managers have become worse with every passing year. This past summer, though, they reached their nadir.
The Benitez Disaster
We’d never call a man as accomplished as Farhad Moshiri an imbecile, but only an imbecile wouldn’t have seen the problems with appointing Rafa Benitez as manager of Everton. The Spaniard once described Everton as “a small club” during his tenure as Liverpool manager, and that’s on top of the fact that he managed Liverpool at all. Benitez was Liverpool’s finest modern-era manager other than Jurgen Klopp and led Everton’s bitter rivals to Champions League glory. He’s still loved in the red half of Liverpool, and he was never going to be accepted by a significant proportion of Everton fans no matter how the Toffees fared on the pitch.
The Everton fans who didn’t want Benitez didn’t have to wait long to get their way. Benitez quickly admitted that he’d underestimated the size of the task awaiting him at Goodison Park, and results dropped off the edge of a cliff after an initially bright start. He should probably have been relieved of his duties before Christmas. Instead, Benitez was allowed to remain in command until January 2022. By that time, the Blues were already sliding towards the relegation mire – and it’s becoming apparent that his successor won’t be able to extract them from it.
Limping on with Lampard
Frank Lampard is, for the main part, a likeable character. He’s a Chelsea legend as a player, and he’s undoubtedly one of England’s finest-ever midfielders. His qualities as a coach, however, are unproven. Lampard was expected to get Derby County promoted to the Premier League during the single-season he spent at Pride Park in his first managerial role. He got them as far as the playoffs but was unable to get The Rams over the line. Despite that fact, Chelsea came calling when they found themselves suddenly needing to replace Maurizio Sarri after the unloved Italian decided to go home to Juventus.
Lampard arrived at Chelsea during a time of transition. Expectations at Stamford Bridge were lower than they’d been at any point during the past decade, and Lampard would probably have had the luxury of time had he not overachieved during his first season as Chelsea manager. Defying most pundits’ expectations, Lampard dragged a young, inexperienced Chelsea team to 4th place and a spot in the following year’s Champions League. That performance raised expectations, so when it became apparent the following year that Lampard would be unable to repeat the trick, he was fired. That’s why he was free to take the Everton job when it was offered to him.
By this point in Lampard’s young managerial career, we understood that he could do reasonably well with a team expecting to achieve positive results. What nobody knew was how he would fare in charge of a team battling against the drop. We now appear to have an answer, and the answer is “badly.” The club’s bruising loss at home to Wolves was it’s fourth in a row and leaves Everton 17th in the table and above Watford only by virtue of goal difference. At the risk of stating the obvious, things do not look good.
Best of a Bad Bunch?
Are we being too hard on Lampard? Possibly. One of the possible reasons that Everton took so long to dismiss Benitez is that there was – and still is – a lack of quality candidates for the role elsewhere. Changing managers mid-season is always a metaphorical trip to the casino, and any e-gamer will tell you that you should always read reviews about casino sister sites before you take one for a spin. Before you place your bets and set the wheels turning, you need to know what your alternatives are. Did Everton do their research about the available casino sister sites in this metaphor, or did they go straight for Frank Lampard because he’s a household name? Would a trip to a sister site review website have provided them with a viable alternative? Possibly, but also possibly not. Tony Pulis might have been a better candidate in the circumstances, but fans would have been furious. Garry Monk has experience of competing at this end of the table, but fans may not have liked him either. Lampard was welcomed by the fans when he arrived. He was the popular choice. It’s just unfortunate that he was also the wrong one.
Everton’s league games for the remainder of the season don’t favour them. Their next fixture sees them at home to a resurgent Newcastle United. From there, they play away at high-flying West Ham United, at home to Manchester United, away at Liverpool, home to Chelsea, away at Leicester, home to Brentford, and away at Arsenal. Based on their current form, only the Brentford game looks likely to end in an Everton victory, and even that isn’t a sure thing. They might pick up another couple of points elsewhere, but two or three points isn’t going to save a team that currently has just 22. The writing is on the wall for Everton. The club’s long-standing presence in the top tier of English football is coming to an end – and so, too, might Frank Lampard’s once-promising managerial career.