Sometime after 7 pm on Thursday 5th December 2019, Everton announced Duncan Ferguson as being temporarily in charge of the first team for the Chelsea match.
It was the end of an excruciating week for all Blues. A week that saw a gut wrenching defeat to Leicester City followed by the least competitive showing by an Everton side in any Derby I can remember (including the 2016 Anfield thrashing which saw Jon Woods famously leave his seat in the directors’ box after the third goal).
Then came a quite stupefying 20 hours or so. Late Wednesday evening some senior press members were reporting that Silva was on the brink with David Moyes lined up for a return to Goodison.
Thursday morning, Silva turns up at Finch Farm. Elsewhere, some including myself had been given the indication that Silva’s fate was not yet decided. It was a widely held view that Brands in particular, wished to give Silva “more time”. However, rather than take the training of those not featured in the previous night’s match it was reported in The Athletic that Silva “wandered around the Finch Farm pitches… not speaking to anyone as he contemplated his fate”.
Whatever his fate was to be, it was not clear who was determining it and indeed if any decision had been made. Then news broke in the early afternoon that Farhad Moshiri was travelling from his London residence to Finch Farm. Surely a decision had been made?
As it turns out it hadn’t. When Moshiri arrived at Finch Farm he told Marcel Brands that he wished to speak to the players (who had been asked to remain) before meeting Silva. Incredibly, it has been reported that Moshiri asked the players what more could he do to assist them? This to a bunch of players who with the odd exception, had under-performed by any metric you care to choose.
It is also reported that after the meeting the players were still of the opinion that Silva would resume training duties the following morning (Friday).
Silva’s fate sealed
Moshiri finally met Silva after meeting the players. Marcel Brands was also in attendance. Whatever was said is not known but Silva’s fate was determined. The man who Moshiri had chased relentlessly at some cost to the club’s finances and reputation was gone, almost precisely at the half way point of his three year contract.
So who would lead Everton against Chelsea some 40 hours hence? Who would make the decision and agree with whomever it was to be?
It turns out that the Chairman, Bill Kenwright, asked Duncan Ferguson to take charge temporarily for “the Chelsea game” (in Bill’s own words addressing one of the Goodison lounge’s yesterday).
I put this up as context. Context that addresses what appears to be confused, shambolic decision making and processes. Is this anyway to run a professional organisation?
Not knowing what you’re doing
I ask because I wrote a piece in June 2018 about Warren Buffet’s view that “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing” and how that applied then to Everton. Essentially as an investor or indeed as part of a management team doing things that you have insufficient expertise or experience in is inherently risky to the organisation. Risk is a probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss, or any other negative occurrence.
Put aside for a moment the view that most Evertonians have regarding Ferguson. Whether you consider Ferguson to be a legend or not, let’s make no bones about it, appointing Ferguson even on a temporary basis was and is a high risk strategy. Like every other Blue I rejoiced in the atmosphere, performance and result on Saturday, but there were no guarantees on Thursday evening that a totally untried, untested manager could deliver such a turn around in such a short period of time in highly pressured circumstances.
If the hierarchy of the club thought for a moment that Ferguson could pull off such a feat why wait until now? Why has he been in a largely anonymous, undefined role for so long if what he showed in the 40 hours between being asked and walking out to acclaim at Goodison was what was expected?
Furthermore, even though Brands and others (including Moshiri) wished for Silva to see out the season if possible, what were the contingency plans in the event that his tenure could no longer be countenanced?
Now, it might be that there are well developed plans to being someone suitable in on either an interim basis (although that is not favoured by either Moshiri or Brands) or indeed a long term replacement either currently not managing or able to extract himself from his current obligations.
However given what has gone before, the bluest of blue tinted glasses are required to expect both a speedy and optimal outcome to recruiting a new manager.
Ferguson in charge for a match? We have reached our lowest point.
— the esk (@theesk) December 5, 2019
I called the announcement “our lowest point” – not out of disrespect to Ferguson, but a recognition of the circumstances we found ourselves in, thrashed at Anfield, a terrible start to the season, occupying a relegation place, a terribly managed firing of an honourable and well-liked man (regardless of the abilities he displayed), and the whole unedifying spectacle of it being played out in front of the world’s media with the greatest absence of leadership an organisation can possibly muster.
Another of Buffet’s philosophies is “Chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
We are a club chained to a habitual way of doing things, habitual at least in the context of Kenwright’s grip over the club this past 20 years and most importantly, Moshiri’s failure to provide fresh leadership, discipline and processes.
The dealings of the last few days are a symptom. A symptom of weak management and management processes. A weakness of corporate identity, governance and structure. A failure by the former major, now majority investor to upgrade the running of the club. Moshiri has been involved in the club for 46 months, a not insignificant period of time. It has to be said the overall responsibility for the failures of the board and management team collectively and individually ultimately sit with Moshiri.
The poor corporate practices and decision making processes do not change by themselves. There needs to be a willingness to change, usually led by an outsider placed in the organisation at Chair or CEO level by the new majority owner. This has not happened at Everton. Until such a time as it does, we will not see an improvement in the dealing of critical issues such as this week.
There’s a bigger more strategic question to be asked also. How do we find ourselves in such a high risk position despite the huge (in Everton’s terms) resources thrown at the club.
How at a time when we are due to embark on our largest ever capital project (Bramley-Moore) are our finances weaker than 3 years ago?
How despite a net spend of £190.7 million since 2016/17 has our squad market value only increased by £199.5 million (giving an added value of £8.8 million) compared to, for example, Tottenham Hotspur with a net spend of £110.3 million showing an increase in squad value of £539.6 million (giving an added value of £429.3 million) over the same period?*
How, or why, have we not added significantly to the board and executive teams when on the face of it we are a hugely attractive proposition – the last great undeveloped Premier League football club?
Change is required
These are not just random observations, there are actually many more I could have mentioned (but have mentioned in other articles). Nor are they an attempt to rile individuals connected with the club or indeed fans of the current leadership teams. They’re genuine concerns that demonstrate despite all the investment, the player trading profits, the plans for a new stadium, the club is in a significantly worse position than it ought to be, and that unless the fundamental leadership issues are addressed by the majority shareholder the risks associated with the club will continue and possibly even increase.
Let the events of the last week be our lowest point. But for them genuinely to be so, there needs to be change. Change that can only be instigated by Moshiri.
*underlying data sourced from transfermarkt