There is a thought process that says there is never a good time to ask difficult questions. There’s always a reason to postpone addressing the issues causing a particular problem. Yet, just like those that willingly refuse to address medical issues in the early stages of a condition in the belief that things will sort themselves out, the truth is that almost every problem in life, business or professional sport increases in size if ignored or not properly addressed. At best a problem ignored remains a constant. But in doing so as your peers grow, in relative terms your ability to compete diminishes. As your ability to compete diminishes the rewards for participation reduce as does the attractiveness of your proposition to players, managers, coaches, and staff.
At worst, the damage created by not addressing the problem or problems becomes so great that you lose your status and drop out of the elite leagues. A path of decline might be initially, failure to win a trophy, then failure to win a European “spot”, failure to maintain mid-table status, a brush (serious or otherwise) with relegation, and ultimately relegation itself.
These are symptoms of a business (or in this case a professional sports organisation) with considerable problems. Problems that the current management teams and owners are failing to address, or do not have the awareness, capacity, experience or knowledge to resolve.
So, what are Everton’s problems?
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” Warren Buffett
In simple terms, the people making decisions at Everton have made too many poor decisions for too many years. A trend accelerated with Farhad Moshiri’s acquisition of shares and control in February 2016.
The cumulative effect of these poor decisions is a build up of risk within the business. What does that mean? It means performance falls away, it means finances suffer, it means a lack of long-term strategy, it means poor governance, it means making bad recruitment decisions, it means being a less attractive organisation for the most talented to be recruited into. It means addressing growing problems from a reducing base with increasingly scarce resources. As each of these issues grow the risk to the business and what it hopes to achieve become greater. As this happens the solutions required are greater and need to be more radical.
If the management or ownership do not recognise these risks, then each subsequent poor decision compounds the previous decisions. The problems just continue to mount.
This is the situation Everton find themselves in. There is no room for denial. The escape from relegation by the narrowest of margins screams at anyone with the slightest interest in football but particularly Everton, that the business has major problems.
Addressing the problems
But what of the strategic football review I hear you ask? The review that was referenced in glowing terms since Premier League survival was assured by local media and correspondents close to the club?
The review in which the people directly responsible for creating the chaos and carnage of recent years, are now the saviours, the solution providers, the people to take us to the promised lands? Think about it for a moment. To get to this position, having spent £500 million + on players, £800 million + on wages in the period, the people who got us there are now the people to lead us out?
To get to this point, the people and processes were either horribly flawed or wholly negligent. Systems, governance and controls could not cope with an errant owner and an inadequate board, all of whom individually, possibly collectively at times were making very poor decisions.
The idea that the same cast of people, the owner, the Chair, CEO and others close can review their own actions of previous years and then create a solution that does not involve enormous change in personnel in those positions, a change of governance structure and the input of new, adequately talented, knowledgeable, ambitious individuals and at a comparative level equal to the boards of competing clubs is absurd.
The idea that the same group of people can learn the lessons of the last season and what led to this and not only stop the rot of decline but get us improving relative to our peers is incredulous. It literally (in my opinion) defies belief.
The recruitment of a new director of football in Kevin Thelwell, the recruitment of Lampard, Edwards, Clement and Cole suggest an improvement in the recruitment process at the highest level – it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, but having better people is only part of the solution. Giving them the autonomy, the responsibility to make their own decisions especially in relation to player recruitment, retention and trading is absolutely vital. The idea that this assembled group of experts then have to rely upon the board and owner for approval, discussion and possible alterations to recruitment suggests no lessons have been learned or that delegating responsibility to experts is not within their management processes.
So, what happens next?
The close relationship between the board, Chairman and owner makes it difficult to differentiate the approach to each or all parties. However, given what is required, the only realistic approach, however difficult, is to Moshiri himself.
A remarkable thing happened in recent months at Everton. Something that I believe will be written about and studied in the years ahead. It is the rise of the people, the fans, the true custodians of the club, the people most heavily invested in the future of Everton Football Club. It is the action of the fans, the realisation that the club, manager, and players were not going to achieve safety without the significant intervention of the fan base.
Numerous individuals and fan groups came together to make changes in the relationship between fans and players, and as the movement developed changes to the relationship between the fans and the club. The club, belatedly, but to be fair, wholeheartedly embraced the passion, desire and sheer determination of the fanbase to pull us to safety, “to get us over the line” as was often quoted.
The past months demonstrate the effectiveness of proper fan co-operation. It demonstrates the passion but also the knowledge (acquired through years of attending Everton matches home and away) of who Everton are, what this club is, and what standards are expected.
This unity of purpose, this planning, this ambition and ultimately the remarkable actions and atmospheres created at individual games, coach arrivals and Finch Farm has to be translated into a strategy, plan and actions which gets Moshiri, as in the original words of the #27years campaign to Listen, Engage and Act.
We the fans proved our value in getting us over the line. We created an environment in which the players felt more valued, trusted and appreciated than at any time in their playing careers. As a result, individual performances and moments of brilliance were the difference between safety and relegation.
The same must now apply to Farhad Moshiri. I have often held the view that there is an alignment of interests in that both he and the fans want a successful, trophy winning football club. We have asked for engagement before. We have offered ideas as to how to improve the club, we have made suggestions born out of the true custodial role fans have. All of this is now backed by proof that properly engaged fans can improve the outcome of football clubs.
That has been amply proved on the pitch, it can also be proved off the pitch in areas of governance, control, management and ownership of the club. Let the lessons of recent months be that the club is stronger with the involvement of the fans even if the message may be unpalatable to some involved and necessitate change.
“The real mechanism for corporate governance is the active involvement of the owners ” “Lou” Gerstner Jr.
Farhad Moshiri, we ask for you to listen to the fans, engage with us, and having heard our input, act. The club is in a better place because of the fans, allow us to assist in getting us back to where we need to be by asking and addressing those most difficult of questions.
This is the first of a new series of articles, looking at the club following the most recent (2021/22) season. The next article looks at our finances including the profitability and sustainability situation.
Categories: Ownership & Leadership