Our long winless run is a soul-destroying experience, and it’s not that long since Ancelotti’s false dawn saw us top the table with some scintillating football. Why is the football now so dire?

Dyche will get blamed for hoofball tactics; others will point to the severely weakened playing staff after 3 years of negative investment and sales with the  departures of key players. There are elements of truth in all of this.  But I think there’s a fundamental issue with a squad that has had to be cobbled together on the cheap as we tread our financial tightrope.

At the top level, football is played by footballers of exceptional technique and ability.  In the modern game, the centre-backs and even goalkeepers will ideally have the footballing ability of midfield players.

However, you can get away with having low-quality footballers if you have pace and athleticism, especially down the flanks and in the attack. Athletes can often outrun and overpower footballers of superior ability.

One glaring issue for us is that we are desperately short of anyone I would consider to be a real footballer.  Only McNeil and Onana fall into that category in my book. And only McNeil plays in an area where you can use your talent to hurt the opposition and he’s not even that good. We are badly missing the likes of Digne, Gomes, Allan, Iwobi and Sigurdsson who were all actually good at football despite having their (justifiable) detractors.

Therefore, we must rely on our pace and athleticism. We certainly do have athletes – Godfrey, Gueye, Doucoure, Beto and Calvert-Lewin. I think it was Barry Rathbone who described them as appearing to fight with the ball, rather than control it.  Good description.  Although they have physical qualities, these are not natural footballers. Godfrey looks more like a rugby league player and Doucoure is an abysmal Number 10 despite the goals. Both terrible footballers.

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Tellingly, none of our athletes play in the wide forward positions where other teams use pace to stretch the play and hurt the opposition.  Harrison and McNeil are very slow indeed, an attacking hindrance which is exacerbated by our total lack of penetration from full-back. We are missing Gray and Townsend and haven’t seen enough of Danjuma (or arguably Dobbin). Bournemouth by comparison are very well stocked in this respect – with Kluivert, Sinisterra, Ouattara, Tavernier and Semenyo (five players who would transform us as an attacking team).

Making up the numbers are a bunch of players who are somewhere between the two, steady enough players who are neither technical nor dynamic: Tarkowski, Garner, Harrison, Mykolenko and Coleman.  They are all good at digging in defensively, but these players have neither the ability nor athleticism to affect games in an attacking sense – or at least not without being surrounded by real footballers (especially on the flanks or at Number 10) or athletes (especially in attacking wide positions). Pickford and Branthwaite might be superior players but again they do not really affect the game in an attacking sense other than at set pieces so sort of fall into this category too.

This all combines to make it incredibly difficult to work the ball up the flanks or through the midfield in any constructive way. We have neither the speed and dynamism of, say, Brentford – nor the footballers of, say, Fulham.

What has changed since our run of wins pre-Christmas?  Not a great deal really.  We are playing much the same way.  Indeed the defeat at Old Trafford was probably a better performance than the home win against Newcastle.  And but for a lacklustre penalty shout and a bizarre own goal we’d have come away with at least a point yesterday.

It is, unfortunately, very difficult and there is no easy way out of it. 

Reader Comments (16)

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Charles Ward
1 Posted 02/04/2024 at 13:38:07
If you want pace and skill just look at the problems Adringa of Brighton caused the RS.

22 and a snip at £7m.

Why aren't we picking up this talent?

Paul Tran
2 Posted 02/04/2024 at 13:52:39
Because we do things 'The Everton Way', Charles.

I'm not sure what that actually means, other than it not involving planning, governance, competence and success of any measure outside Teary Bill's head.

Charles Ward
3 Posted 02/04/2024 at 13:58:28

So Gentlemen versus Players then?

Dave Abrahams
4 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:10:43
Robert, good article, couldn’t argue with most of what you wrote, except I think McNeil keeps hold of the ball looking for support which rarely happens, I’d like to see him in the No. ten position, I think he would do well there.

The other point which might seem boring to yourself and others but seems obvious to me: You never told us what Onana actually does, if he is a real footballer.

Paul Tran
5 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:13:25
But who are the Gentlemen, Charles?
Tony Abrahams
6 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:13:26
I thought that Old Trafford performance was horrible Robert, but we all see a different game. (Especially me because I gave up and went to work at half time)

We had chances, but it was horrible to watch our players trying to take care of the football, and not showing any in game savvy, whatsoever imo, mate?

The title of this thread is very interesting, and as always you write with a lot of sense Robert. It actually makes depressing reading, because if people say the game is won and lost in midfield, then I’d counter that by saying it is also won out-wide, but only if you have got the ability to stretch teams?

My own view is that only for the incredibly cynical ten point deduction, Everton would have been a comfortable mid-table side, but it hasn’t transpired this way, so Dyche and the players have got to find a way to get some points on the board, before whatever confidence remains, totally evaporates.

I love skill, but I genuinely think athleticism takes you further in the EPL, and believe our lack of pace, and players interlinking out wide, has definitely caught up with us.

Ray Robinson
7 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:14:06
Godfrey is the ultimate example of an athlete not a footballer. Osman was the ultimate example of a footballer not an athlete. In today’s game, you need to be both and, as you say, Robert, we’re so deficient. Only McNeil and Gomes are good footballers but too slow. This is why Dyche has so little room to manoeuvre. The team as a whole is not up to it.
Tony Abrahams
8 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:22:18
Ben Godfrey = A player who simply doesn’t want the ball.

The kid might go on a marauding run sometimes, (possibly because he finds this a lot easier than opening up his body and quickly moving the ball on?) and he his also not scared of working hard or getting hurt, but I find it painful watching footballers, who don’t really want the ball, playing at any level, never mind the top level.

James Marshall
9 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:26:52
I've been banging this same drum for years - we never buy actual footballing footballers. You can count the decent footballers we've had on one hand in the last 20 years. Right now who do we have that has a footballing brain? Gomes, the lesser spotted Dele, McNeill occasionally and that's about it - you mention Onana in the OP but I don't see him as a proper footballer - he's like a poor mans Busquets, which is probably why Barca are allegedly interested in him.

Another things that's wrecking us as an attacking outfit is width, or lack of it. I saw a heat map the other day of our attacking positioning this season and our we play so ridiculously narrow, and our full-backs sit back and don't overlap or attack - these are key reasons we score bugger all goals.

Also, another set of stats showed us making 177 crosses, with 138 unsuccessful, and 39 successful, with only a 22% accuracy rate. Basically our crossing of the ball is mostly aimless and thus we (again) score bugger all goals.

Sean Dyche loves stats, and appears to base his team performances on stats for the most part - but for whatever stats he (and I) spout(s) about the fact remains we've only scored 3 goals more than Sheffield Utd and they have a minus 50 goal difference.

I firmly believe it comes down to shit tactics (playing too narrow with no full-backs attacking) and a major lack of ball-playing footballers as per the OP.

Duncan McDine
10 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:32:14
I had this conversation with the bloke sat next to me at the Bournemouth game... pretty sure he was called Rob come to think of it. Are you the Rob from Nottingham (MK Everton Supporters club)?

Anyway, I couldn't agree more with the original post.

Ray (7) absolutely nails it.

Christopher Timmins
11 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:33:40
Tony A, Godfrey would never have got a look at the City Ground under Brian Clough. John Robertson would be the complete opposite to Godfrey.
If you want to go back further, Alan Hinton or if you prefer a bit more recent and local, Kevin Sheedy.

Barry Rathbone
12 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:46:58
It's a universal dropping of skill standards going back to the last team to make you purr in appreciation - Brazil 1982. Since then the athlete has supplanted the footballer we now have players like Raheem Sterling (the most awkward looking footballer I've ever seen) earning top dollar at major clubs for simply being rapid.

I asked years ago where the young princes to replace Ronaldo and Messi were but quite simply none exist. Even Mbappe is a speed merchant rather than a beautifully skilled technician. But it's a mad hobby horse of mine because each generation thinks their heroes are the best ever.

It was almost amusing when Martinez and Ancelloti brought Etoo and James here and fans suddenly realised what proper footballers are about. It's why I've lost interest in the game generally the players are simply not very good.

James Marshall
13 Posted 02/04/2024 at 14:58:17
Absolutely, Barry. I have zero interest in players like Mbappe who is all pace and not a lot else (OK he can finish). Give me Zidane or Andrea Pirlo any day of the week. I want to see skill, balance, poise, grace and finesse but we get none of that anymore. If you're talking Premier League, I was also a massive fan of players like Bergkamp, Zola and Berbatov who played with freedom, skill and grace.

There are so many players these days playing top level football based on athleticism & pace alone. I can't really think of anyone in world football who excites me the way players of the past used to. Maybe it's an age thing as well (mine not theirs).

Mike Doyle
14 Posted 02/04/2024 at 16:04:59
Barry 12 ] Good call on the 1982 Brazilians. I have memory of Socrates gliding across the pitch while smoking a fag. I expect this didn't actually happen, but if any player could have done it - he could.
Barry Rathbone
15 Posted 02/04/2024 at 17:34:33
James 13

Now you're talking, real footballers with complete mastery of the ball there's nothing like them now

Mike 14

When Brazil beat USSR 2-1 and Socrates didn't so much dummy the ball for Eder to score but nonchalently stepped over it was pure theatre. What a player what a team.

Tony Abrahams
16 Posted 02/04/2024 at 18:33:18
But at the business end of the tournament, those cynical Italians, suddenly came alive, and just had to much for that very good Brazilian team.

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