In an interview with Ronald Koeman in November 2016 on the BBC, Gary Lineker asked Koeman to describe the “project” as it was fondly referred to in those days.
His answer was very clear. Year 1 (2016/17) “still best of the rest, possibly qualify for Europe” Year 2 (2017/18) “to improve” and finally in Year 3 (this year) “be close to Champions League qualification“.
Such was the expectation and belief at the time that the ambitions seemed neither absurd nor unrealistic.
Although Koeman went on to achieve the first objective of the project, a cataclysmic summer and early part of his 2nd season saw him released by Everton within 12 months of that interview.
Off the rails
The Moshiri project was off the rails, huge damage done to the squad, selling our best players, very poor or no replacements, a huge amount of money wasted and an incredible wage bill aligned with long contracts.
What has happened since is, of course, well documented Unsworth, Allardyce, the Silva saga etc. However, I’d like to put a different analysis forward.
No change of thinking
The thinking at Everton hasn’t changed in more than two decades, even after 3 years of Moshiri’s involvement (the one exception to that is likely to be Brands – more on that later). Yes, we’ve had more money by our own standards, not huge relative to our competitors. However that’s not the issue.
The fundamental problem at Everton goes well back to the days of Moyes. I should state immediately that the problem is not that of Moyes doing, but the Board and leadership within the club. Let me explain.
Moyes spoilt Kenwright and the Board. He alone had the discipline, the work effort, the belief to make an Everton team, for nearly a decade, unreservedly the best of the rest. Astute purchases, pragmatic football, sometimes stylish but always with a purpose and except against the very best when playing away, a heart and belief. He sold well too, usually making good the gaps in the squad and continuing a self funding existence.
He made it incredibly easy for Kenwright, Woods, Earl (who wasn’t bothered anyway) and Elstone. Whilst he might not have been every fan’s cup of tea, he was the Board’s dream manager. He accepted that this Board would never provide the resources of others and got on with it.
As a result, apart from the occasional demands from a nervous bank manager, the Board (who collectively were the majority shareholders) were under no pressure to increase commercial performance, secure additional funding for new players or fund a move from Goodison. Nor did they have to manage Moyes, he did his job relentlessly, he was remarkably self-sufficient.
They coasted; they coasted through the late 2000’s and the early part of this decade, content to be nearly men, secure from the threat of relegation. Any competitive or commercial edge was dulled by years of absolute complacency and lack of ambition.
When Moyes left, the signs should have been noted and acted upon, but given the aforementioned complacency never were. Martinez had an very good first season although in truth, performances were aleady tailing off towards the end. Supported by the Board in his second summer with the permanent signing of Lukaku and notably the free signing of Gareth Barry, unbelievably in his time at Everton, the next most expensive signing was Niasse! Typically he was not supported when perhaps on the cusp of a break-through.
When Martinez struggled in his second and then his third and last season, there was no-one on the Board to help him. No-one qualified, and given the behaviour of the previous decade and more, motivated to assist. Kenwright who was then seriously ill in the beginning of his 3rd season was very much focusing on Moshiri’s interest, and the Moores and Noell bid.
Moshiri arrived in February 2016, and in due course, despite reaching two semi-finals, Martinez was shown the door on the afternoon of the club’s Award Evening, hastily cancelled if you recall! At the time it was thought to be a demonstration of the incisive behaviour most felt the club had been seriously lacking for many a long year.
The above is all context, and I believe identifies with hindsight, the major problem that Moshiri has failed to recognise – the Board and executive team have not been up to the task of supporting/monitoring the footballing side of the business let alone growing the business commercially as all our competing peers have done.
The single largest error of Moshiri’s reign to date has been that failure to recognise the shortcomings of the Board and management teams employed by the club.
That was self evident in the behaviour of the club in the summer of 2017. Koeman and Walsh, buoyed by a 7th place finish (in line with the objectives of the “project”) ran amok, spending money and offering contracts which continue to damage and impact the club today, nearly two years on. Where were the checks and balances that said a wage bill of £140 million+ on turnover less than £190 million would present problems, especially as the Bramley-Moore funding was being sought.
It is self evident in the delayed progress and various iterations of the Bramley-Moore stadium. A year’s delay costs more than £30 million in terms of lost turnover and increased costs. Whilst now perhaps under control through the project management of Colin Chong, worries persist that the project is compromised by delay and cost constraints.
It is self evident in the failure to recruit fresh and proven management talent into the Board and executive teams. Brands being the notable exception to date. Brands however is not a miracle worker, and cannot be expected to single-handedly reverse years of stagnation and neglect on the footballing side. To believe that drops right back into the same mindset that pervaded through the Moyes era.
If this seems an untypically harsh or blunt piece of writing, well I’ve just got to the point where I believe someone has to say it. It’s not a personal attack on any individual, it’s an observation of the fundamental difficulties the club faces, and which Moshiri has to date not addressed.
There are some positives to the Moshiri reign. His re-capitalisation of the business with his £250 million injection came at a key point in the club’s history. It has allowed the move to Bramley-Moore to advance to the point of near-certainty (with the qualifications stated above), it allowed unprecedented (by our standards) spending albeit it very poorly executed. It has also through Ryazantsev brought a professionalism to our fund raising and commercial progress not seen before at the club.
Brands is perhaps the biggest positive, but I reference back to my earlier comments. With all of the limitations addressed above, he has his work cut out.
So the question is, is this enough? As I tweeted we will have seen around £920 million arising from turnover, capital inflows and player trading profits, flow through the club in the last three years by the end of the season. It has resulted in a more valuable (on paper at least) but less effective group of players, more external debt than we’ve had in our history, huge sums spent on former management compensation, a very poor footballing side. Given our expenses and poor non-broadcasting income we have a loss making business currently. Finally, I believe we are suffering serious damage to our reputation.
For Evertonians brought up on sustained periods of success and a glorious history of firsts, the School of Science, the Holy Trinity and many others, being only “the best of the rest” at the end of the Moyes era was galling enough. Six years on, and three years into the Moshiri era we are no longer even that. Long respected by others, that’s increasingly less evident.
Time to act
If we are ever to recover our position in the game, if we are to take advantage of the huge opportunities globally the name Everton represents whilst football is still expanding, if we are to see the most iconic stadium on the banks of the River Mersey, if we are to provide a decent return on his investment, then Moshiri has to act.
He must put in place people on the Board, in the key leadership positions in the executive team to take his project, but our club, forward. There’s no point in pretending any longer, without these changes we are destined to repeat the failures of the past and not take advantage of the opportunities still available.
Three years is long enough to evaluate, long enough to move on those associated with the past, long enough to know that regardless of the resources thrown at them, businesses are only as good as the people leading them.
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum – that’s our club motto, it needs to be our recruitment and retention policy also.