The Silva Lining of a Quiet Window

Adam McCulloch 02/02/2019 2comments  |  Jump to last

Everton are a club in crisis. Following a dreadful December, the season is essentially over in January after an embarrassing cup exit to a struggling Championship side. The very best that fans can hope for is to finish 7th, the blessed purgatory of being too good to go down and helplessly cut adrift from the top six. Cue transfer panic on Deadline Day…

Or so the media would have you believe. Instead, Marcel Brands did a little more wheeling and dealing to soften the monstrous strain on the wage bill, and we brought no new faces in. Many of us have called for a new striker, and options have been available – most notably Batshuayi from Chelsea.

But even with the difficult circumstances, we have found ourselves in on the pitch, Brands’ strategy has not shifted. He had said prior to the deadline:

“I don't like to sell in the winter, I don't like to buy in the winter. If you see, statistically, they are not the best transfers and you have to be careful.”

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And he’s right. We are still paying the price for the mistakes of Steve Walsh, something I have written about in the past. The influx of television money into the Premier League has left clubs like ours with spiralling wage bills, and with mediocre players such as Ashley Williams and Morgan Schneiderlin on staggering sums that others cannot match.

Unfortunately, when we were finally granted the funds from Moshiri and the improved TV deal, we blew most of it. Walsh and Koeman had no joined-up strategy – both in the transfer market and on the pitch — and we were left with a bloated squad that would require a major clean-up job.

Wages are the real factor here. It’s easy to talk about “£75 million for Lukaku equals Sigurdsson, Rooney and Klaassen” in terms of fees (and the structure of the Lukaku - Rooney deal), but it does not equate to the wage structure. Three huge wages, appearance bonuses, image rights, agent fees… the list goes on.

This is why Brands has had to shepherd players out on loan or, in the case of Klaassen, take a huge financial hit on the transfer fee. Without even going into the quagmire that is Financial Fair Play (FFP), the wage bill has to be reduced before we think about adding to the squad.

A good indicator of this strategy was in one of the more surprising elements of our transfer window: the return of Yannick Bolasie. Yet another expensive mistake of the Walsh & Koeman era, he is on wages of £70k a week. Silva clearly does not rate him, the Director of Football agrees and wants rid of his wages, and he sorts out another loan in a matter of days.

And it’s a clever move. He will play in a league that should show off his talent; on his day, Bolasie has got the technical ability to stand out and light up a game. It removes him from the English game and opens up the possibility for interest from further afield. And it removes a chunk (I presume not all) of his wages, ahead of a (hopefully) permanent transfer in the summer.

The Moshiri era began with the need for a strategist, a Director of Football to shape transfer plans, to ensure stability and allow the manager, head coach or Fat Sam’s milkman to concentrate on the training ground and pitch. Unfortunately, we ended up with Steve Walsh who, like Moshiri, was naive and probably out of his depth.

With Brands, there seems to be an approach that is widescreen, that takes into account not just the present transfer window but the coming campaign and beyond. He has certainly been given a tougher role than if we had managed to snag him upon Moshiri’s arrival. With our inflated wage bill, our failure to qualify for Europe, and the Academy ban, plus the potential spend on a new stadium, he has been given some difficult plates to spin.

I have found myself comparing our club to Chelsea quite a lot this season. My future brother-in-law is a Chelsea fanatic (we try not to hold it against him, plus he despises Liverpool). There are a number of similar issues between the clubs. On the pitch, the football is often dull, full of sideways passing, and we are both toothless up front.

The beleaguered Jorginho could easily pass for the despondent André Gomes, pressed because sides have figured out that’s the only way that moves can start. Shaky at the back, with flair players up front who find themselves crossing to no one. Both on poor runs of form, and both with managers who appear unable to turn things around.

This comparison would have seemed unfathomable a few seasons ago, with the Abrahmovic era bringing a level of spending (along with managerial turnover) that brought or bought success but lacked stability. We might not be in the same financial bracket as Chelsea, but were we to sack Silva at this juncture, we would certainly be doing a pretty good impression of them. After years of the steady stupor of Moyes, there was always bound to be some upheaval. But it would be a damning inditement of Moshiri’s stewardship if he fired yet another coach, and one he so publicly courted.

It was for this reason that I was glad to see the window pass without too much incident. Because what Chelsea have lacked since the departure of Michael Emenalo is a technical director with the nous of Brands. This has left them with a hodgepodge squad assembled by different coaches – see our squad – which has now forced them into rash decisions in the transfer market to try and change tack.

This is the key difference between our clubs, besides their larger financial muscle. We have not panicked and caved into the now-familiar refrain of spending to get out of trouble. It may be early days, but can we honestly say that our squad would be better with a questionable striker on astronomical wages, like Chelsea have found themselves with in Higuain?

The lack of new arrivals has given Marco Silva the chance to demonstrate the coaching ability which made him so sought after in the first place. There is no buying his way out of this position (and in fairness to him, he has not complained over a lack of transfers).

Players like Tosun and Calvert-Lewin need to be given a chance to lead the line. The forward players need to be rotated, to keep our side fresh and to keep opponents guessing. Our wide players is one area we are well-stocked but, without a focal point, they are rendered null and void.

It will also give us the option of going direct when needed. We have not created enough chances for any of the options at centre-forward: unless we had bought a player in the Lukaku mould who fashions his own opportunity, I do not believe a new addition up top would have changed things.

The midfield also needs different options. André Gomes appears exhausted, having been pressed and marked out of games since every side we faced realised that all of our best football goes through him. The impressive performance by Tom Davies against Huddersfield, admittedly the worst side in the division, showed that Silva can change his approach in this area. His movement in forward positions is exactly what we need against the more stubborn sides who know that if they allow us to play possession football, we will do little with it.

Keeping Gueye (for now at least) is a plus, and gives Silva a full squad to choose from. The Huddersfield game was not great, but players such as Siggurdson did show so some much needed aggression and passion, something lacking long before Silva’s appointment.

At the back, our passing between defence and midfield needs to improve. Drastically. We also need to settle the zonal marking system once and for all. Silva seems to have given confidence to some of our defensive unit, namely Michael Keane. But the individual errors, silly free kicks and our obvious flaws in defending set-pieces has to be addressed before the season is out.

Better communication and leadership at the back is the player’s responsibility, and our side probably lacks someone with that edge. This is where Silva needs to coach, cajole and bring confidence and steel.

It is very rare for a side to not have any obvious weaknesses. Many of the best teams contain players who are unfashionable, who have to adapt their game, who may be willing placeholders who do a job until better upgrades are available. Tony Hibbert, Lee Carsley, Leon Osman, Marcus Bent... that (relatively) successful Moyes side may not have looked great on paper but getting the most out of what is in front of you is the position we are in now.

 

Will Jonjoe Kenny, Theo Walcott and Calvert-Lewin go down in Goodison folklore? Maybe not, but getting a tune out of any of them is better than throwing more money at the problem. It may even put some of our more expensive transfer mistakes in the shop window.

Patience is required. Not every evolution of the Moyes era went swimmingly — big-money signings like James Beattie failed to impress, serious injuries or transfer interest from other sides often left the squad looking threadbare. But sticking with the current manager and allowing him to mould a squad will be vital to our long-term success. Marco Silva deserves at least a full season to warrant our pursuit of him and the football he has promised to deliver.

But with this patience also must come a realisation from Silva that he too must be malleable and that a different approach may be required. A quote from Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ahead of this weekend: “I don’t think I can change at the moment” — is the kind of stubborn statement that has to be matched with tangible progress on the pitch. As we saw with Roberto Martinez, unflappability and tactical rigidity can be a dangerous game to play.

After the long, tumultuous pursuit of Marco Silva, his sacking this season seems unlikely (despite the better efforts of the gossip columns). I’m sure most Blues crave some stability. The vast sums required to remove the previous three full-time managers and their backroom staff is reason alone. I can sympathise with a number of the fan base who do feel that a change is required… and yet I think it would be much more logical for this change to come from within.

 

With plenty of games still to play, we can hopefully start to enjoy our football again — away from the distractions of endless transfer rumours and speculation. Silva must play the hand he has been dealt, just as Brands has played his in the transfer market.

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Reader Comments (2)

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Adam McCulloch
1 Posted 02/02/2019 at 17:00:43
Note. I penned this article just prior to the appalling performance against Wolves. The worrying lack of cohesion, motivation, desire, quality... you name it.
Jim Bennings
2 Posted 02/02/2019 at 18:49:19
We’ve got strikers that don’t score nor even look remotely dangerous.

We’ve got wingers that don’t go down the wing, don’t cross, don’t shoot.

We’ve got no strength or athleticism in midfield.

We’ve got defenders that seem to hate defending and possess the aggression of a butterfly.

So why did we really need to bust a gut trying to add something in January’s transfer window?

Everyone seems to have written this season off as per usual as another pile of shite in the Everton record books.

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