Everton’s biggest construction project?

Let’s not get distracted.

Everton’s greatest construction project is not what is about to transpire at Bramley-Moore. It’s another project that has spluttered and failed to get off the ground despite the huge resources thrown at it. It’s the project called Everton FC, one of the leading, most significant, most famous clubs in the 150 or so years or organised association football. A football club that, today, has a less clear identity of who it is, what are its goals and how will they be achieved than they did when Moshiri first arrived at the club five and a half years ago.

In parallel, the progress towards a new stadium and the Moshiri version of Everton Football Club have similar characteristics, a somewhat tortuous journey, expensive for the owner, several iterations, a number of years later than anticipated and both several years off completion.

If that sounds harsh, even by my standards, it is in my opinion, the truth. If one removes the blue-tinted spectacles and a supporter’s usual bias towards optimism then that is what remains. Whilst the stadium will ultimately enhance and re-invigorate the heritage of a great maritime city, Everton’s footballing heritage remains as hidden as most of the docks do today to the west of the great dock wall.

I’ve written many times about the leadership vacuum, the lack of governance, the inadequate culture within the club and in project terms, the lack of project management. However for me, the absence of a clearly stated, consistent objective in terms of what to achieve on the pitch is the greatest omission.

From time to time we’ve had objectives articulated to us. However it is the lack of consistency both in terms of message, how we go about achieving them and ultimately who leads us in achieving them that is to say the least confusing and suggests muddled thinking.

I wrote recently about recruitment, but it is worth reflecting on the manager/coach recruitment specifically:

Martinez fired

After three years at the club and within 3 months of Moshiri arriving, the faltering Martinez era was brought to a swift end in May 2016. Moshiri it appeared, was showing the decisiveness and ruthlessness many blues longed for.

Koeman appointed

After several weeks of pursuing a number of big named managers, Moshiri agreed a compensation agreement with Southampton and welcomed the appointment of Ronald Koeman. “Ronald has such a strong track record in the game, instantly commanding respect for what he achieved as a player and for his qualities and accomplishments as a manager,” added Chairman Bill Kenwright.

Within 5 months of being here, and with a decent start to his first season under his belt Koeman spoke to the BBC, identifying his goals as: Year 1 (2016/17) “still best of the rest, possibly qualify for Europe” Year 2 (2017/18) “to improve” and finally in Year 3 (2018/19) “be close to Champions League qualification“.

Indeed Moshiri himself chipped in with this quote in November 2016 “For our club to compete in the north west of England, which is the new Hollywood of football with Guardiola, Mourinho and Klopp, we needed a star to stand on the touchline so we got Koeman.”

This was backed up in January 2017 with another memorable quote “It’s not enough to say you are a special club and a great club, we don’t want to be a museum.”

On the back of an excellent start to his first season, Koeman achieved qualification for the Europa League. Yet, such was the confusion in the 2017 summer, losing Lukaku, not replacing him with an established goal-scorer and seemingly sweeping up every available number ten, combined with a terrible start to his second season and a disastrous Europa League campaign, Koeman was on his way before the end of October.

Koeman fired, Unsworth, then Allardyce appointed

Following a short, emotionally driven but ultimately, unconvincing stint with David Unsworth as interim manager, Moshiri again took matters into his own hands appointing Sam Allardyce at the end of November 2017. There were significant objections, noticeably from Bill Kenwright, but Moshiri justified his selection on the basis that Allardyce was “the most under-rated British manager…I’ve followed him for many years and I’ve been a great fan of him. He will be able to stabilise Everton’s position in the top half of the table”

Allardyce fired

By the end of the season, in May 2018, Allardyce was shown the door in receipt of a very generous settlement package. A loveless relationship and losses to Watford and Burnley, following heavy defeats at Tottenham and Arsenal, brought the ill-feeling to a head. Somewhat comically, this not helped by Everton surveying fans on their opinion, including asking for rating of his performance on a scale of one to ten.

Silva appointed

June 2018 saw us conclude a bizarre pursuit of Moshiri’s next desirable candidate, Marco Silva. Moshiri’s interest in Silva started following Koeman’s dismissal in October 2017, an interest which caused Watford to claim Everton were tapping him up. Watford made a formal complaint, the matter finally resolved months later with Everton paying Watford compensation. Moshiri however was convinced that Silva was the right man. Indeed he was backed with the words of newly arrived director of football, Marcel Brands “He’s a guy who has proved already that he wants to work with young players, make them better and he has performed very well with the teams he’s worked with. He will be a very good manager for Everton.”

Chairman Bill Kenwright enthused “It is a pleasure to welcome Marco Silva as our new manager, as the posters outside Goodison have proclaimed for many years, DNA is important to Everton and Evertonians.”

Unfortunately for all concerned, Silva failed to deliver, finishing 8th in his first season and with two early cup exits. By January 2019, with Everton 11th and having gained only the same number of points as the previous season at that stage (18 months into his tenure) the writing was already on the wall with Moshiri expressing the view at the general meeting of shareholders that the club’s league position “is just not good enough” while still claiming his latest managerial appointment retained the board’s total support.

Not only had Silva received the dreaded “vote of confidence” but despite the evidence apparent to most Evertonians, Moshiri told Everton’s 2019 general meeting he was confident the managerial team of the director of football, Marcel Brands, who has been appointed to the club’s board, and the chief executive, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, would deliver on his long-term project. That aim, according to the CEO, was “to win Premier League titles and compete regularly in the Champions League in a world-class, world-renowned football stadium”
Moshiri, who admitted “bad luck and poor judgment” had featured in his £250 million investment at the time, said: “We did our homework and we put a big bet on Marco and we stick with him. He has our total support and we have a professional in Marcel Brands who monitors the progress. Consistency has been an issue but we have had some terrific performances and the challenge in the second half is to have more of those performances. The football management team are totally focused on it. We know what we are and I’m comfortable.”
Silva fired, Ferguson takes interim role
By early December 2019, a 5-2 defeat at Liverpool and three successive defeats left Silva’s Everton 18th in the Premier League. Silva was fired and Duncan Ferguson was given the unenviable task of picking up the pieces, administering some life-maintaining first aid until another doctor was found to treat the patient.
Our Chairman, most-likely unwittingly, put the situation and lack of strategic planning into perfect focus, quoting John Lennon “Life is what happens when you are planning other things”
Ferguson to his credit, never slept a wink in the sixteen days he was interim manager, treating the Goodison faithful to one of our most passionate performances in many years versus Chelsea. I suspect he’s a man of rare faith because prayers were answered with the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti rescuing Ferguson from his Herculean task.
Ancelotti appointed
Incredibly, following his dismissal from Napoli and despite Ancelotti’s desire to spend recuperating time in Vancouver (who wouldn’t?) Moshiri got his man. Negotiating from a position of relative weakness, Moshiri had to pay a high premium for Ancelotti’s services and as we were to discover all too soon, clauses which frankly made contractual obligations a one way street.
Understandably, Everton effused over his appointment with Marcel Brands saying “He is the perfect appointment for us. He embraces our vision for the Club and we are sure that his enthusiasm to take the helm at Goodison together with his tactical abilities and well-renowned man-management will make him successful in this role. This was a clear and exciting decision for the Board to make. It was a unanimous choice and one we were all fully united behind throughout. Carlo has proven time and again, he knows how to build a trophy-winning side and we share the excitement of our fans at the prospect of him leading our team in the years ahead. We’re all greatly looking forward to working with him.”
Ancelotti’s 2019/20 season was badly interrupted by the Covid lock-down, but a thrilling start to his first full season, followed by tremendous away results kept us in the hunt for European qualification despite the horrors of playing at Goodison in the absence of a crowd. The season fell away badly with Everton and Ancelotti it must be said appearing to run out of ideas, discipline and motivation as the season ended.
Ancelotti’s departure

Within twenty four hours of declaring his ambition to lead Everton out at Bramley-Moore in three years time, Ancelotti was gone returning to Real Madrid. Whilst Ancelotti provided the usual thanks to his now former employers there was more than a reflective hint in his final comments “while I have enjoyed being at Everton I have been presented with an unexpected opportunity which I believe is the right move for me and my family at this time.”

Silence, followed by acceptance by stealth – Benitez appointment

As is usually the case with Everton communications, having notified us of Ancelotti’s departure on 2nd June 2021 there was no word whatsoever as to process, who was leading? Brands? let alone potential candidates and the rate of progress or otherwise. The media speculated on the usual candidates plus managers with Premier League experience. Despite leaks suggesting Nuno Santo was close to being appointed it became obvious that Moshiri had set his mind on Benitez, unthinkable and unacceptable to many Evertonians given his former associations, comments and less than convincing recent managerial record.

Fully ten days before Benitez’ appointment media contacts with established Everton credentials were laying the ground for his announcement. Eventually on the 30 June 2021, in as low a key manner as is possible Benitez was announced. The appointment was very much of Moshiri’s doing, with an exceptionally lukewarm welcome from the Chairman and given the nature of Benitez’ comments evidently little input from Marcel Brands.

Moshiri’s comments are particularly worthy of note, especially in the context of previous comments “We are appointing Rafa because we believe he will bring success to our Club and to Evertonians. To put it simply – we need to be competing at the top-end of the league and to be winning trophies”

So what is the point of this admittedly, lengthy review of the managerial comings and goings?

It’s an observation of the inconsistent thinking of the last five and a half years. It presents the scatter gun approach to recruitment and an inability to build on each individual appointed. To go back to the construction analogy, an architect can only produce on the basis of his or her clients’ brief, his or her clients’ wishes, circumstances and budgets. Having a less than consistent brief and then changing architects doesn’t usually produce great results. The evidence for Evertonians is there in plain sight.

Moshiri has spent huge sums of money, but failed to find and retain the right architects. Furthermore, he has acted alone and he retains a board with an inability (despite having the technical expertise in Brands) to challenge his strategy and management selection. It is worth observing the increase in wages and amortisation costs (squad costs) over his tenure and what it has delivered in terms of results:

£’000s May-16 May-17 May-18 Jun-19 Jun-20
Wages 83,985 104,655 145,479 159,255 163,705
Amortisation 22,398 37,298 66,933 95,057 99,232
Wages & Amortisation 106,383 141,953 212,412 254,312 262,937
Turnover 121,541 171,100 189,500 187,664 185,882
Squad cost v turnover 88% 83% 112% 136% 141%
Wage v turnover 69% 61% 77% 85% 88%
League position FA Cup League Cup
2015/16 11 Semi Final Semi Final DNQ Europe
2016/17 7 3 3 DNQ Europe
2017/18 8 3 4 Group Stage EL
2018/19 8 4 3 DNQ Europe
2019/20 12 3 5 DNQ Europe
2020/21 10 6 5 DNQ Europe

So the question must be, for this latest iteration of the Everton re-development project (on the pitch) what is going to change and improve the chances of success in the coming months and indeed in the lead up to that first game at Bramley-Moore?

Will Moshiri recognise the need for change in the boardroom? Will he recognise that his ownership and governance model doesn’t necessarily serve the club well? Will he recognise that best use of the financial resources he has made available, lies in the hands of the subject matter experts – his director of football, first team coaching staff and his academy. Will he resist the temptation to involve himself not only in managerial selections but player transfers (aided and abetted by his super-agent friends)?

The jury will be out in terms of Benitez’ ability to succeed. What can help though is a corporate environment and culture that makes success more likely and more sustainable. Moshiri has to make the changes in his own behaviour plus the changes in his own board and executive team to provide those conditions.

Having decided upon a new architect in Benitez he must provide a project team that allows Benitez to deliver his best, plus support and develop the latest reconstruction through to a successful conclusion. Continuing as in the past is not going to be sufficient in my opinion.

Moshiri has to make significant changes without hesitating, in order to construct a successful football club, not just a stadium.

4 replies »

  1. Not sure Duncan is doing himself any favours towering over Rafa! I felt uncomfortable with Rafa’s appointment, but it is the team and my club is EFC. We need to move on support the team in the hope Farhad leaves player recruitment to Brands and coaching to the manager.
    I do enjoy your Podcasts with the Chuckle brothers, often chipping in, may by best you can’t hear me!. Keep them coming.

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