I’ve been waiting to write this article ever since Everton fired some spirit into their season by thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to the soundtrack of the Goodison roar. However, I held myself back, given that nothing would be more stereotypically ‘Everton’ then to underperform in the following run of games against bottom-half-of-the-table opposition, with the buzz from that now iconic win against Man City fading into mediocrity. In a league where Manchester United began their longest unbeaten run since the Alex Ferguson era in sixth and yet still remain there, it has been a credit to our squad’s determination to persist in breaking into the seemingly impregnable European places, showing consistency against so-called ‘weaker teams’.
Far from basking in the City win, against Crystal Palace, Stoke and Bournemouth, the team have played with an intensity and aggression that was notably lacking under Martinez last season. Possession was admittedly painfully lethargic at the Riverside a few weeks ago, and ponderous at times when playing Stoke. But against Palace the relentless barrage of attacks we used to pin Sam Allardyce’s men in their own 18-yard box, fully deserved a hammered finish by Seamus Coleman in the 87th minute.
Ronald Koeman has often spoken of ‘intensity’, or a lack of, in press conferences. But it is another word which springs to mind when analysing both the second halves against City and Bournemouth, that is ‘swagger’. A word murmured in hushed tones by both British pundits and managers, a word which never sees the light of day when it comes to analysis of British players on MOTD. Yet what other adjective would you use to describe the combination of confidence and flair which resulted in three stunning goals by Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies and Ross Barkley? During spells against Bournemouth; we knocked the ball around effortlessly, as well as I can remember in fact, with new lad Morgan Schneiderlin dictating the tempo in midfield we rarely lost the ball and always seemed to look in control. However, Everton have always traditionally been a side who will work hard for each other and retain a decent amount of possession (Winning 4-0 with 30% possession against Man City was criminal.)
What has really impressed me in recent weeks has been the ‘swagger’ of certain individual performances. 18-year-old Tom Davies's skilful running and chipped finish is already burnt onto the memory of every Evertonian, a goal so perfect at times I’m unsure whether it actually happened. 19-year-old Ademola Lookman may even have the potential to replicate Dele Alli in seamlessly making the ‘hyperspace jump’ between League One and the Premier League, displaying impressive decision making, a rarity for such a young winger. Often compared to the electric Dele Alli who appears on a fast-tracked route to becoming a Premier League great, Ross Barkley has looked very ordinary so far this season, however recent games suggest a maturity in his link-up play which has been long overdue.
Under Martinez it seemed as if Barkley and Lukaku couldn’t let their quality performances coincide, they just flipped a rusty coin prior to every match and decided who was actually going to turn up, resulting in either misplaced passes from Ross or a dismal work rate from Rom. Although Barkley has only directly assisted Lukaku once in the past month, across both major victories they’ve scored a combined six goals with Barkley assisting a further three, proving that, when Everton’s two main attackers turn up together, we win big. In fact, Ross’s confidence is on such a high that when he was through on goal against Bournemouth, blinded by ecstasy, he committed English football sacrilege celebrating before scoring!
Although probably a weekly occurrence in the Brazilian Third Division. It sent a shockwave through the league which resulted in everyone and their Grandad, who was probably tucked up watching the Six Nations, having an opinion on whether it was ‘disrespectful’. Frankly we need to be careful in criticizing a young English player whose high on confidence. After every gut-wrenching summer tournament exit there is a national cry for more of our homegrown players to play with a certain arrogance which other teams thrive on. Whether it be Dele Alli’s quest to become a nutmegging demigod or Ross throwing his arms open sending the Gwladys Street End into frenzy, English football needs more of these flair players brimming with confidence to give the national team some hope.
The Gwladys Street also loves nothing more than a local lad performing well in royal blue (Take for example the threats to carry Lukaku out of Goodison if he’d nicked Davies first goal) and so that kind of risk taking from Ross, although a little naïve, only cements his backing from the fans.However, credit for this consistency must be given to Ronald Koeman, who has capitalised on the injection of spirit into the squad after the mid-season turning point against Man City. Both the Manager and Steve Walsh (Director of Football) masterminded the best January transfer window of any Premier League club with the signings of Lookman and Schneiderlin. Particularly given how highly rated Morgan was before he joined Man Utd.
In fact, it's baffling that Jose Mourinho would let Schneiderlin leave given that Michael Carrick’s form must be a ticking time bomb, but Jose is notorious for quickly forming opinions on players he rates and players he doesn’t, take Lukaku for example. It is this assertive quality that I’ve grown to admire in Koeman, his ability to create an atmosphere in which anybody’s place in the squad is for the taking. He took a disliking to Niasse so he cut him, Barkley wasn’t performing so he got benched, our Captain was costing us point so he was dropped. Koeman hasn’t grown up surrounded by English football and so feels no emotional connection to British talent because of that he viewed Barkley’s pre-Christmas form for what it was, poor.
Some fans have complained that Koeman is too clinical and not engaging enough but there’s a twinkle in his eye during press conferences, he keeps himself and his players grounded ensuring that he picks the XI most likely to win. The ‘Sunshine and Rainbow Dynasty’ of Bobby Martinez craved the kind of removed managerial approach which Koeman brings. In many ways his tactical knowledge and ruthlessness reminds me, controversially, of former Anfield man Rafa Benitez. It was Gerrard who famously said that all he craved was a ‘well done’ off Benitez, similarly Ronald Koeman dismissed Anton Donkor’s encouraging debut for the U-23s by coldly stating ‘I wasn’t impressed’.
Benitez was also notorious for expertly setting up his teams, especially in Cup competitions, with Koeman’s recent tactical mimicking of Conte’s back three proving very successful in getting the best out of one particular player. Republic of Ireland captain and Everton full-back Seamus Coleman has excelled in the past five matches out wide, scoring two, assisting twice and keeping three clean sheets with his endless stamina surely pushing him to the front of the queue when it comes to selecting Jagielka’s successor. The manager’s consistent selection of Joel Robles in goal, although forced through injury to Stekelenburg rather than due to tactical preference, has also been a revelation. Joel’s the type of player whose form can vary from that of former teammate Davide de Gea, to a drunk Simon Mignolet wearing an eye patch. It has therefore been promising to see him put in big saves and seem self-assured when interviewed.
Koeman has also remained assertive in not allowing fellow Dutchman Stekelenburg to waltz back into the side.Fans of other teams may not realise that appointing Ronald Koeman was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the staffing changes which occurred at the club in last summer’s transfer window. Iranian Billionaire Farhad Moshiri became the club’s majority shareholder, Steve Walsh the man who scouted the unstoppable N’Golo Kante amongst others became Everton’s first Director of Football and Ronald’s brother Erwin came in as assistant manager. However, It is a man who has been associated with the club since the early nineties who has created the real buzz during the 2016-17 season.
David Unsworth, former centre-half, has taken our Under-23’s six points clear at the top of Premier League 2 with a colossal goal difference but Unsworth knows his praise is due to the number of young players who are breaking into the first team set-up. Davies, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all played significant premier league minutes, with Kieran Dowell surely due an opportunity. Everton now hold the league record for teenage goal scorers at eighteen and the strength in our academy is where comparisons can begin to be made to the set-up Mauricio Pochettino inherited at Tottenham and the one Koeman now finds himself in. Pochettino inherited a Spurs side in 2014 who had struggled annually to break into the top four and lacked quality in depth having blown the money from the sale of Gareth Bale on a not so magnificent seven players.
But with the league’s most prolific striker of the past two seasons in Harry Kane waiting in the academy, the rapid development of young talent bought on the cheap and the construction of a new stadium in full flow, Spurs as a club are now in the strongest position they’ve been in a decade. Koeman has similarly arrived at a club with a brilliant academy and a history of developing young players bought on the cheap, take spending just 60,000 on Seamus Coleman. Everton are also desperately in need of a larger modern stadium to generate greater match day income. With links to the Bramley-Moore Docks site on Merseyside being the most concrete murmurs of a move away from Goodison in recent memory. (See Lyndon Lloyd’s article on ToffeeWeb for a thorough breakdown of The Blues expansion options.) If Walsh keeps snapping up gems like Idrissa ‘Gana’ Gueye on the cheap and Koeman gives youth a chance, there is good reason for fans to be optimistic and a Champions League place by 2020 should be achievable.
Given that currently only four points separate second and sixth in the league it has never been more competitive in the Premier League to qualify for Europe but the modern fan is quick to forget that The Blues have won the fourth-most League titles in English football history. That’s ahead of Chelsea and Manchester City. So, forgive fans of Everton for getting hedonistic in craving a crack at Europe’s elite competition but were a club on the rise and the 1995 FA Cup isn’t enough to satisfy the thirst for trophies. There is however obvious weakness in squad depth at centre-half and cover for Lukaku is pitiful but what is more sobering is that it took the squad until January, match day 21, to kick start our season. Both these issues are resolvable given time, once Moshiri has backed more quality signings and the manager has another full pre-season with the squad, but I would urge patience amongst fans to avoid a haphazard rise to the top.
There is no point rushing a process which may take up to ten years, if in the end nobody is happy with the result (That is why it was so important retaining Kenwright as Chairman, who has been on the Board since 1989). Everton football club have always prided themselves on being pioneers, making decisions with longevity in mind and giving managers time. I’d hate to see the club labelled soulless like the Al Mubarak era Manchester City, overpaying for players and not only lacking in England internationals but also genuine fans. Noel Gallagher, full-time Man City fan, part-time rock genius, once met Gary Neville for an interview in which he said of fellow famed fan Ricky Hatton, he ‘would want the old city back’. Gallagher goes on to mention the fans ‘apathy for the Champions League’ as well as his personal adoration of former ground Maine Road.
It would be shameful if we looked back on Everton’s current position with nostalgia and a longing for a return to being one of the only top teams left with a beating heart. On match day 21, Manchester City’s team taught us a valuable lesson, that Everton can dominate the best but as a club they also heed a warning, to be careful in lusting after trophies at the cost of growing a side organically. An exciting new dawn is rising on Merseyside, we have a classy manager, an exceptional academy and a team capable of consistency in the world’s best League! From Goodison Park to the admirable work of Everton in the Community it’s clear the club has soul and it is crucial that during this new dawn those in charge of The Blues aren’t blinded by the sun. At the expense of fans and the club’s values. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.
Reader Comments (19)
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1 Posted 25/02/2017 at 22:16:37
Next up: Spurs away. Massive acid test. Win that (huge 'if' of course, but we certainly can) and I am very hopeful that my punts on us for top 4 this season at 50/1 pre 'Boro and 100/1 post Boro could be money wisely invested. COYB.
2 Posted 25/02/2017 at 22:54:05
They are hoping to secure a £400m naming rights deal towards the £700m cost of the stadium but the banks are becoming nervous about the risks associated with up-front loans. It would appear in the short to medium term they will be constrained in the transfer market and will be heavily dependent on Champions League qualification to stay on track.
3 Posted 26/02/2017 at 10:01:22
In the AGM interview with Kenwright, he said "we have a window of opportunity", which suggests to me that he has a shorter (as opposed to short) term vision for the club. I have a feeling he sees it as a 3-year project.
I hope so our great football club has played second fiddle for long enough.
4 Posted 26/02/2017 at 13:05:18
5 Posted 26/02/2017 at 13:15:40
6 Posted 26/02/2017 at 13:28:32
7 Posted 26/02/2017 at 13:50:04
We all want to win the league again but it takes time and lots of hard work. After we won the '66 FA cup we finished 8th, 5th and 3rd (correct me if I'm wrong) before winning it in the 69-70 season.
Unlike the Mancs or Chelsea, we can't buy a league title so we have to do it the old fashioned way.
8 Posted 26/02/2017 at 14:12:56
Great lad, of course.
9 Posted 26/02/2017 at 14:21:20
Unlike the Mancs or Chelsea we can't buy a league title so we have to do it the old fashioned way.
Colin, we did it the Mancs or Chelsea way in the sixties, we were the Mersey Millionaires when we were buying the likes of Alan Ball & Gordon West for record fees.
10 Posted 26/02/2017 at 18:14:32
The 1966 FA Cup team featured homegrown lads Tommy Wright (congratulations Tommy), Brian Harris, Labby, Colin Harvey and Derek Temple, and the title winners of 1970 had Tommy, Labby, Colin, Jimmy Husband, John Hurst, Big Joe and Alan Whittle, as well as appearances by Roger Kenyon, Frank Darcy and Gerry Humphreys. The only big buys were Bally, Howard and Westy.
Once again, we did it the right way, and there is no comparison between us and the two clubs who are only buying trophies. Very little achievement in what they do.
11 Posted 26/02/2017 at 18:17:39
12 Posted 26/02/2017 at 18:36:18
13 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:11:05
I was not saying we bought our trophies in the '60s. But we did spend money from an outside source as well as club revenue.
Just like what we are doing now in fact, maybe compared to the likes of the Manchester clubs & Chelsea we are doing it in a more correct manner, slowly and using local talent when possible.
Although there are some Everton supporters who are not happy that the cheque book is not coming out quickly enough at the moment.
14 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:19:38
The rest of your response (#13) is good.
15 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:36:54
Derek, you're right, to a degree, but I don't think we were ever in massive debt like the Mancs (both) and Chelsea.
16 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:37:32
I started going to the game in the mid 70s and idolised our record signing the Latch. If I remember correctly he was £300k at the time? I do recall he was a British record signing at the time.
The RS broke the record when getting Dogleish, Forest broke the £1M barrier with Francis and City with Daley. United have constantly shelled out for players to improve, however it's ironic that their best team came out of a bunch of kids with astute signings such as Cantona to guide them.
The point being that Chelski and Citeh trying to buy success is nothing new, just that the amount of money now in the game is bordering on the obscene.
It's all about getting a balance really between expensive signings who may or may not have any affinity with the club and having players who have grown with the club who understand the core values.
Man City are a great example of how not to do it. They have all the quality in the world and on their day can be devastating. That they are not is, imo, down to the fact that their are no local players/academy players in their team who understand their club. They are all very well paid mercenaries and it showed last season when they were, quite frankly, awful given the talent they have. Chelski were similar also.
I think we are going in the right direction. I would hope it isn't going to take 10 years, but maybe at least another season or two before it pays dividend. We are now building a decent squad with good youngsters and some quality signings. We all know we need a few more.We have got rid of some who just weren't good enough and now we are in the position whereby most of the squad are in contention to start and not just bench fillers.
We have a group of fairly young players. Davies, Holgate, Barkley, Lukaku, Coleman, Gana, Schneiderlin all have many years ahead of them. Add some more quality in the summer and we will start to have a proper team capable of challenging the so called elite. We need to splash the cash to get real quality in the squad but that doesn't mean we lose our soul, especially when we have players who understand the club and everything that goes with playing for Everton.
People accused Koeman of not understanding us earlier in the season, I think he does now. It's all about getting a balance between expensive imports and good young talent. I think we will have the balance right in the future. I am quite excited about the possibility of getting big signings in to compliment what we have and it's nothing to be ashamed of or shy away from now we can afford it. It's just how the game has gone.
17 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:41:29
18 Posted 27/02/2017 at 10:16:49
19 Posted 27/02/2017 at 18:16:35
John Moores had ruthlessly sacked Johnny Carey having given him support with player purchases. By 1963 we had bought West, Parker, Thomson, Collins, Gabriel, Stevens, Kay, Young, Vernon and Morrissey.
Up to 1966 we added Wilson, Pickering and the irrepressible Sandy Brown. After 1966 and before the 1969-70 season we added Kendall, Ball and players who had come through the youth team.
There was an obvious approach to developing winning teams, at cost, paid back over time, whilst a raft of young players were developed and introduced. I don't think that Catterick, a taciturn man who was difficult to warm to and who was strategic in his vision, got enough credit for what was achieved. What he had previously achieved at Sheffield Wednesday is often overlooked.
He was clearly driven and supported in his approach by the business-formed vision of John Moores. I would always maintain that that partnership was the best we have seen at Goodison, ahead of Phillip Carter and Howard Kendall. It certainly lasted longer and grew through the development of three different teams.
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