From time to time I get requests to host guest articles. This excellent article is from John Hoyte, an Upper Balcony season ticket holder for nearly 20 years………
Evertonians everywhere, myself included, breathed a collective sigh of relief this week. The Toffees limped across the finish line of another insipid season that’s raised more questions than answers and we have reached an opportunity for the club to start to address what increasingly seem to be deep-rooted issues within the organisation.
There are a lot of problems at Everton; too many to cover in a single article. These problems are multifaceted and intersecting, which make them particularly difficult to offer solutions to, but understanding the contributing factors to these problems and finding the solutions is essential for the future prosperity and stability of the club. It also involves some cold critical analysis of the club that can be unpalatable to many.
On the pitch…
The obvious starting point in identifying where the problems begin is on the pitch. It goes without saying that the performances over the last 5 seasons, barring occasional fleeting runs of 5 or 6 games of form, have been far below expectations and, at times, unforgivable. A lack of character has been endemic throughout the squad for far too long and addressing this will be the first step towards rectifying the plodding, tentative football we’re becoming increasingly accustomed to.
I think it’s worth recognising that, while frustrating, some players just don’t have certain attributes to their character. Michael Keane will never berate a bad refereeing decision. Gylfi Sigurdsson isn’t likely to commit to a blood and thunder challenge any time soon. This doesn’t absolve the players of culpability. The application and attitude of not just current players but ones who’ve since moved on has been contemptible and these are certainly things that can and should be worked on. However, acknowledging the reality of these limitations helps us identify the way towards remedying them.
This segues neatly to probably the most discussed aspect of Everton’s woes: recruitment and transfer policy. Many articles before have examined how and why we’ve got recruitment so wrong and I could easily write another on this topic alone. Since becoming the beneficiaries of Farhad Moshiri’s immense wealth, the club appear to have abandoned shrewd, rational recruitment strategy in favour of muddled firefighting.
There are gaps in our squad that have not been adequately addressed in the 4+ years since Moshiri became majority shareholder. That’s not to conflate the two things. There were gaps to fill in an ageing side before he became a part of the club, but given the amount of resources spent on expensive acquisitions, it would be fair to expect that we would have more depth than depending on the very impressive Mason Holgate, Anthony Gordon and Jarrad Branthwaite to carry us through the latter half of the season. That’s before mentioning that we now have no second choice left back following the retirement of the talismanic Leighton Baines, adding yet another position to fill, in a summer of recruitment that was already shaping up to be a mammoth task.
The pertinent question that needs answering is: why has our strategy failed so spectacularly year after year? It’s a complicated one and strikes to the heart of the overarching issues at the club. In recent years, we’ve signed multiple players for the same type of role (Klaassen, Rooney, Sigurdsson) and none for other positions. We’ve failed to sign primary transfer targets after lengthy public pursuits that have left us short on time and then panic bought less desirable and extortionate players as a result (the Zaha/Iwobi saga). We’ve pursued a manager in Marco Silva with a dubious track record, for reasons that still haven’t quite become clear. Each time I presumed, or more accurately hoped, that the people in charge knew more than I did and had done their due diligence before making these decisions, but with hindsight it doesn’t seem to have been the case.
The organisational structure of the club appears to be problematic. I say appears to be, as none of us really know what’s happening under the hood of Everton. A cursory glance around Twitter will highlight one of the main issues is transparency and accountability. Many have started laying blame at the door of Marcel Brands for our haphazard transfer strategy. This may be justified, and while there are certainly hard questions to be asked about the performance and injury records of many of the players brought in in the last couple of years, it’s difficult to know where exactly to direct criticism. I’d like to believe that Marcel Brands has been quietly effective and needs freedom from interference to implement his vision, but I fear we’ll never find out if this was the case. If certain rumours are to be believed, Farhad Moshiri, possibly with some involvement from mysterious “trusted advisors” and football agents, covets certain players (and in the case of Marco Silva, managers) he’d like us to sign and bypasses whatever recruitment policy is in place in order to acquire these players. I can’t say this is based in fact, but I’m led to believe this may have been the case to some extent with the Zaha pursuit and subsequent Iwobi signing. While the reality is unknown, based on Moshiri’s erratic public statements it certainly sounds a believable version of events and would offer some explanation into why the club have deviated from the supposed policy of signing relatively cheap young talent to develop. Further to this are rumours that Bill Kenwright still has a prominent role in player procurement and also the debate over whether recruitment falls under the remit of the Director of Football or first team manager.
Regardless of the above, the lack of clarity on who is really calling which shots is a concern. The simplest explanation can often be the correct one and I wouldn’t be surprised if the club is as chaotic on the inside as it appears from the outside, with several different entities pulling in different directions. There is no apparent robust chain of command, no clearly defined hierarchical structure and, in my own opinion, a deficit of individuals who are highly competent in their field involved in operating a business with annual revenue of nearly £200m. I think it’s fair to point out that while our majority shareholder has certainly matched his and our ambition with financial backing and his commitment to Everton Football Club cannot be questioned; his decision-making has not been industry leading and has at times been naive. If this naivety and desire to be involved are contributing to our lack of progress, Farhad needs to either develop the requisite skills or, more reliably, hand responsibility to someone who excels in them.
Reasons for optimism?
While it may not feel like it at times, there are definitely reasons for optimism. Farhad Moshiri has been a benevolent owner compared to many and has expressed his continued commitment and ambition to helping Everton achieve our goals. The prospect of a new stadium is exciting; despite the inevitable hurdles we’ll have to overcome before completion. The appointment of an unquestionably world class manager in Carlo Ancelotti has been by far the biggest step in the right direction during Moshiri’s tenure. But we can’t be complacent that these individual sources of hope will be solutions on their own, they must be part of a collective improvement in all departments. The stadium analogy I’ve used is that building a fancy new office does not keep a sinking business afloat. It will also need to be decided how much input Ancelotti has in transfer policy. From what I’ve gathered, he’s worked with a DoF at the majority of clubs he’s managed. This may prove advantageous and his insight into how successful clubs operate can be invaluable, but we need everyone else to be on the same page.
Until the off-pitch operations are clear and focussed, it stands to reason that the on-pitch performance will continue to be hindered. That’s not to say it won’t improve, but the true ambition of being successful domestically and internationally will always remain out of reach if our peers are more effectively run than us and their resources deployed with more wisdom. We currently live in hope that this summer will be different with Ancelotti’s influence, as not much else has changed at the club. If we do get it right and use this close season as an opportunity to bring some much needed stability to the entire club, then maybe the following summer we can start to dream again. UTFT
By John Hoyte
Categories: guest article