Everton's lost identity

Paul Derby 05/03/2018 19comments  |  Jump to last

There has been a lot of debate on these pages about the big decisions facing the board this summer, ranging from a change of manager to a new director of football, transfer budgets and how to finance the Bramley-Moore project.

What happens on the pitch matters most of all though and that’s why in my opinion there is an equally important question the club needs to address before making its next managerial appointment – what is our identity? In other words, how do we want to play? What should an Everton team be all about?

I don’t just mean tactically in terms of formation, but every aspect of the team’s identity when they represent us, the fans. What will it take to make supporters say: “This is a proper Everton team”?


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I raise this point because perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching aspects of watching us play over the past few years is the lack of direction in our style of play. What are we actually trying to achieve? The easy answer, of course, would be that we are trying to win football matches, although there has been precious little evidence of that aim.

If the past four transfer windows have taught us anything it is that the club has no coherent plan for Everton’s DNA on the pitch. The scattergun approach to recruitment – three number 10s, no left-back, the gaping hole at centre-forward – suggest our strategic planning is limited at best. It seems to boil down to ‘sign better players and things will work out’. This is compounded by the fact that, at long last, we have the wherewithal to compete financially. The bitter irony is that the opportunity, so far at least, has been squandered.

Consider too the last three permanent Everton managers. Roberto Martinez preached a possession-at-all-costs philosophy, playing out from the back and a belief that we needed to become perfect at that style of play to join the elite and win trophies. Yet, despite some promising signs, we didn’t have the players to make it work. In any case, aimless sideways passing and a cavalier disregard for defending eventually wore supporters down. It just wasn’t Everton.

So, we turned to Ronald Koeman who I am convinced was appointed by Moshiri primarily as an answer to the big-name managers in place elsewhere in the north west of England, plus his decent track record at Southampton. It was certainly not a decision taken on Koeman’s football philosophy matching that of Everton. The result – complete disconnection with the fanbase and no progress on the pitch.

Then the cherry on the cake, the appointment of Sam Allardyce. Leaving aside the many other objections that supporters felt about him becoming Everton manager, you could not find a style of football as far away from the Martinez philosophy if you tried. Clearly, it was a panic appointment based purely on the fear of relegation, but it also betrayed a deep problem at the club: we don’t know who we want to be.

The next logical step in this chain of events is that Everton will appoint a new manager and then try to adapt the club’s style of play to fit his beliefs. To my mind, this is fundamentally the wrong way round. Some would argue that is what happens at every club and to an extent that’s true. But ask yourself, would Arsenal appoint Sam Allardyce or likewise any other club with aspirations to be the best? It would be a betrayal of how they want to play the game.

So, what should our identity be? For what it’s worth here are my own thoughts on what I would like to see from an Everton team week-in, week-out.

Aggression and pride: I want to us to play on the front foot and be aggressive, both in possession and when we don’t have the ball. In short, a team that is prepared to sweat blood for the cause. In my book the sense that the current crop of players simply doesn’t care enough is the single biggest cause of supporter unrest.

Play to win: This seems an obvious statement but the default position of going away from home in search of a point is just unacceptable. We have won one away game in the last 23, so we can hardly do worse with a change in mindset. I want to see a team that creates chances and takes risks but is still hard to beat.

Pace: We are too slow and predictable in all areas of the pitch. In terms of recruitment priorities there needs to be an injection of pace because it is the one attribute that frightens even the best opponent. A proper Everton side should always play with a high tempo.

Horrible to play against: There was a time when Everton would be the team everyone dreaded playing, particularly at Goodison Park. No more. That requires players with attitude, prepared to grab the game and their teammates by the scruff of the neck and never give an inch. Find them.

Commitment to youth: To be fair to the club, we have an excellent record of developing and blooding young players. Home-grown players should always be given a chance to shine, regardless of our future spending power.

Is there a parallel out there that we could aspire to follow? The closest is perhaps Atletico Madrid, recently moved to a new stadium of course, continually punching above their weight and built on foundations of grit, self-belief and, yes, talent. Impossible to replicate? It is only a million miles away if there is no plan for how to get there.

Whatever direction the club decides to take, it is vital that the broken connection between team and fans is restored. Understanding who we want to be is as good a place to start as any.

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Reader Comments (19)

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Dave Loweth
1 Posted 05/03/2018 at 17:29:19
Paul – I think your analysis is pretty much spot-on. I would add that we also need the players on the pitch to constitute a team. I never thought I would agree with him, but Jamie Redknapp made that point in the TV coverage of the latest debacle at Burnley. Like him, I can't see how the players fit together on the pitch. We continue to play an iffy right-back at left-back (to be fair to Martina, he tries his best, but...). God knows what is happening in midfield and upfront, well...

We need someone in the team who can get a grip in midfield and provide a bit of oomph and aggression. Oh for a Lee Carsley or a Tommy Gravesen, never mind a Peter Reid or a Paul Bracewell.

I never thought I would write this, but it's interesting that the word from Middlesbrough is how well Mo Besic is doing there. Now we can all debate how good Mo is, but you can't deny he's a trier (even if “over-enthusiastic” at times) and he shows that he does care, unlike too many of the shower wearing blue these days.

I also think you're right about following the Atletico Madrid model. The mad transfer activity of the club shows that you can spend loads of money and make things worse.

There needs to be a balance between developing players through the academy and clever recruitment (along the lines of Tim Cahill and Seamus).The emphasis has to be on players with the right character coming into the team, not just the fact that they cost £27 million (or more).

All of which makes you wonder just what the hell Steve Walsh does all day!

William Cartwright
2 Posted 05/03/2018 at 17:43:08
Interesting perspective; I'm sure there is a psycho-babble technical term for a collective identity crisis and that does seem to be what the Everton, 'we' are suffering from.

Most business corporations want to put out a 'mission statement' and wrap it up in a nice glossy set of photos or promotional video.

I think we as a club have a history which is rich in tradition, but one that we also suffer from. "Only the best is good enough" is a wonderful mantra, but it becomes a bit of a stale one -liner if it is clear to all and sundry that we do not live up to it. In fact it becomes a big millstone which we can't get out from under.

Next time there is a wizzo presentation opportunity, AGM or end of season bash, there should be a concerted effort to draft a 'mission statement for the club which really covers all bases.The skill then becomes the Shakespearean Salesman's input; with the gimmicky, catchy sound-bites that stick in the mind, or on the bottom of your shoe if you don't get it quite right....

As a start point I think Paul's message is as stated, very interesting. For my input, I suggest the following 'key points' which could be rolled out as needing to be captured in any promotional message :-

1. School of science – beautiful footy, where football skills, strategies and intelligence come together.

2. Play the game – pretty obvious on the face of it, but a commitment to fair play (no diving), no time wasting, respecting the refs decisions, delegating communication through the Captain, all contribute.

3. Home grown talent – Appreciate the qualities that the youngsters bring to the squad, namely a sense of family, respect / love for the Club that does not diminish with age (no matter what the cost) but understanding that if youngsters don't make the grade then they can usually make a living for themselves in football (or out of it) as the case may be.

4. EitC – Job being well done and should be maintained, but not at the expense of the Club's first priority – developing a winning mentality and the football it creates.

I think you get my drift; the mission statement should be updated and expanded on with due deference for our history as well as a charge-up for getting us out of the difficult situation we are in at present, for example will this be the season when our run in the Premier League finally comes to an end?

Any ideas...?

Dermot Byrne
3 Posted 05/03/2018 at 17:51:17
A brill article, Paul. On another post, I asked what makes us special to tell a new manager. You at least recognise that we should tell them what we expect. (And more than just some idea of "getting us.)

Otherwise, we stay like lonely folk on a dating website that will become anything for a date or a quick "win".

Mike Allison
4 Posted 05/03/2018 at 18:38:35
A manager or coach who shows signs of understanding what the fans want is quite a big deal. Too many of them think they ‘know better' as if football is akin to quantum physics and only the experts know what's really going on.

How many times over the last few years has everyone in the stadium known what needs to happen except for the man on the bench with the power to actually make that decision? Martinez literally talked about ‘educating the fans' and the other managers have shown the kind of arrogance that suggests they either don't care what the fans think or they think the fans don't understand the game.

Oh, and will anybody, ever, pick a team of eleven players all playing in their natural positions?

Pat Kelly
5 Posted 05/03/2018 at 18:52:27
It's laudable to have high-minded objectives about style of play but they can quickly evaporate on first contact with the opposition. Style and formation have to be tailored to counteract the nature and gameplan of the opposition, injuries, suspensions and out of form players. With a threadbare squad it's all ad hoc.

We need a manager who can command the respect of the squad, motivate them and get them to express their talent and enjoy their football. Parking the bus and long-ball tactics breed negativity and quash creativity. The game has to be enjoyable for the players and fans.

Lawrence Green
6 Posted 05/03/2018 at 19:14:31
Mission statements, identities, blah blah v the game is a very simple one, no need for reams of paper identifying this stat or that stat, players are either fit or they are not and unless they are injured or recovering from injury, they have no business being unfit at any time of the season.

The manager, whoever he may happen to be only has to identify which eleven players plus substitutes are fit for purpose and players that suit his particular system for any given matchday, Drill them during the training days leading up to the match day, and tell them what their jobs are individually and collectively. If they fail to do their jobs as an individual for a few games then drop them and draft in the next in line to do that job.

Management must stop picking the team by numbers, ie, if your best left-sided defender is not quite as fit as the makeshift right-back playing left-back, is that really a good enough reason to continue playing the makeshift player?

Likewise, if you have a winger that isn't quite as fit as the young forward who finds it difficult to play on the wing is it not worth risking playing the bona-fide winger, even if he can't last the full 90 minutes. Just two examples why the team is losing too often and failing to win far too often.

I get the feeling that too much information is being fed to the players, who on the whole tend not to be rocket scientists. So crowding their heads with mind-boggling stats and complicated plays cannot be of much help if they are struggling to master the basic principles of the game.

But the overall message from the manager should be "Go out on to the pitch, do your best and for God's sake enjoy the game." Too many of our players look as if they would prefer to be anywhere else but out on a football pitch, that's no way for any team sport participants to be and it certainly isn't a demeanour that suggests they will win very often.

Obviously confidence is in short supply and has been for a good while, but even when this group is winning they don't seem to be enjoying it. There is something wrong with the whole set-up on the playing side and it'll take more than mission statements etc to put it right.

Football should be fun even for the highly-paid professionals and at the minute there is absolutely no fun on view from the players or the fans. If there's a person out there who has the gift to help the Everton players to enjoy the game once again and can get those players to produce their best in a professional manner, then please write to Mr Moshiri c/o Everton Football Club.

Substance and style are not mutually exclusive – at the moment ,we have neither.

Chad Schofield
7 Posted 05/03/2018 at 21:31:16
Great article.

Our next manager is crucial, and unfortunately may take time to establish and mould the club. We can't go back to Moyes but he did set out his stall. It's a pity he never had the proper bankroll and then started talking about himself in the third person.

I feel like I'm writing the same thing over, but Moshiri will have hopefully learned from this expensive Goldilocks approach to recruiting a manager.

I never thought we were in danger of the drop this season... but another mess like this next season, and well it would be far from impossible, regardless of what we spent so far. Let's just hope he doesn't brick it and get in Big Ron or Harry Rednapp a couple of games in if we aren't in the top 6.

Peter Gorman
8 Posted 05/03/2018 at 22:22:09
I'll be brief; the way Unsworth got the U23s playing on their way to the Premier League 2 title was exactly how I want Everton to turn out. Playing as a team, looking for the forward pass and defending as if the badge on their shirt meant something.
James Inglis
9 Posted 05/03/2018 at 22:29:20
Terrific article. I have thought along those lines for quite a while. It would take change from the very top. You never know, based on the rumours that Neil Quinn supplied!

I think this is where a good strong Director of Football (ie, not our current one) would come in to his own. Establish a style of play that is used across all teams from juniors through to the first team.

Appoint managers based on the style of play the club chosen and embraces, rather than appointing managers with such varying philosophies as we have over the past few years.

Finally, sign players that will fit in with how we play – not a scattergun approach that we use currently.

Jack Convery
10 Posted 06/03/2018 at 17:51:01
I feel as depressed about EFC as I have ever been – 57 years and counting. Something about the present situation makes me feel we are truly fucked. What's gone on before and during this season does not add up.

No Football Club would sell its best Centre Forward in a generation and not have secured the services of a competent replacement.

No football club would start the season without cover at left back, never mind loaning out Galloway and consigning Garbutt to the U23s.

No football club would have stated the season without getting in a left sided Centre Half and finally no football club would have gone out and bought numerous No 10s as we did.

Why did we do this. It was and is madness. It has leal us to the most embarrassing season I can remember. The seasons when we dallied with relegation had their excuse – no money to spend. Money is no longer an excuse.

Why is it always EFC? We all knew Burnley would beat us – when I heard the stat that they had never won from a losing position for 54 games – it was obvious we would oblige. "It was ever thus", to coin a phrase from Oliver Hardy.

Something is going on at Goodison and it stinks. I don't know what it is but the smell is getting stronger by the minute.

Jerome Shields
11 Posted 06/03/2018 at 22:29:59
I agree with you that Everton played in a certain way, when at their best. They are the most traditional English Club in playing style in the Premier League. Based on a strong defence and offensive play in support of relentless forward play.

Moyes got it partly right, but was never able to produce the tights and consistency of Kendall. I blame this on the Board who allowed him to have a glass ceiling; The People's Club with little finance, supported by pundits.

Martinez developed the offensive tactics, but defensively he was naive and didn't realise the necessity to move inconsistent and comfortable players on.

Koeman was a fraud, who bought in players for a god knows what system. He hadn't a clue. The Youth development policy started to breakdown.

Allardyce has been a complete disaster, with his short termism mind set. Not interested in coaching and has dismantled the youth policy. I think only Unsworth can redeem the Everton Way, but where is he going to get the support.

Most Everton supporters on ToffeeWeb can identify with style of play you crave, but the Board and Management haven't a clue unfortunately. A lot of the problems are because of this and repeatedly on ToffeeWeb the contributors identify the weakness according to the traditional template.

Dave Abrahams
12 Posted 08/03/2018 at 09:23:29
Jack (#10),

"It was ever thus", never knew that saying came from Oliver Hardy, I always associated it with Joe Mercer the old Everton player, maybe Joe was a Laurel and Hardy fan.

Ray Roche
13 Posted 08/03/2018 at 09:28:30
Dave, "'Twas Ever Thus" is the title of a 1915 silent film. The title has clearly been purloined by Laurel and Hardy and become their/his catchphrase.
Matthew Williams
14 Posted 08/03/2018 at 13:54:38
Until every person employed at Everton Football Club starts singing from the same hymn sheet, nowt will change.

Sky presenter asks:

Q. What is this club's ambition for the new season ahead?

A. To play entertaining football throughout and win the League Cup !.

To me... nothing else matters!!!

Dave Abrahams
15 Posted 09/03/2018 at 14:46:47
Ray (13), thanks for that information.
Lev Vellene
16 Posted 09/03/2018 at 17:43:29
As was just mentioned in a comment on the Echo, when the DoF role was first brought up, it was said that he would be the one with the long-term view in mind, identifying players that fit within the Everton ideal of playing style. So what if that is how Walsh is identifying his targets? But we never bothered to hire a manager who wants to, or can, play that way? Neither Koeman, nor Allardyce, will ever be accused of even trying to play the School of Science style...

So maybe the next step is to take the rest of the season to identify a manager who also fits our long-term needs and wants in that regard? If there is no experienced manager of that type available, get a younger one who has shown the right intentions!

I'm still not a fan of Walsh's efforts so far! But there could be differences between what the scouts are asked to find, and what Koeman or Allardyce are capable of using...

James Hughes
17 Posted 09/03/2018 at 18:32:02
Just want to add this headline. We should be the biggest game

Jurgen Klopp: Man Utd v Liverpool is 'biggest game I can imagine'

Michael Penley
18 Posted 09/03/2018 at 19:22:49
Jerome (#11),

"Moyes got it partly right, but was never able to produce the tights and consistency of Kendall."

Thank god for that. Moyes in tights is not a pleasant thing to imagine.

Joe McMahon
19 Posted 09/03/2018 at 19:28:55
Michael (18) just to add the thought of Howard Kendall in a pair of 40 denier is not a pleasant image either!

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