This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on Saturday 28th January 2023.
Everton’s 94% owner, Farhad Moshiri, in a heavily edited video published this week, with the Chair of the Fan Advisory Board, Jazz Ball, called the period in which Everton find themselves “the most critical time in our history, almost an existential point”.
Whilst not confirmed at the time of writing, if Everton’s search for a manager concludes with Sean Dyche, then at least there’s a greater prospect of Premier League survival – the removal perhaps of one of the existential threats. His appointment may be treated with scepticism and even dread from some Evertonians, but it is, in my opinion, a pragmatic, sensible decision.
Dyche will inherit a club employing their eighth “permanent” manager in seven tumultuous years, 19th in the Premier League, bereft of form, confidence and competitiveness. Hamstrung by appalling recruitment at player level, still constrained by financial regulations and seemingly not having the resources for additions without stripping a wafer thin squad even further.
Yet also a club that is ever present in the Premier League, amassing huge broadcasting revenues, and with a shareholder, who according to the accounts has committed close to £700 million on both the football club and the building of the Everton Stadium on the banks of the River Mersey. A club with one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases, lauded last year for their critical role in maintaining that ever-present Premier League status. In a glass half full world, still a club with enormous potential.
The club, board and owner, will claim mitigating circumstances which (in their eyes) have contributed to the existential threats the club now face. They claim that the pandemic dramatically impacted the business financially. Indeed according to the accounts, far more so than any other Premier League club. They will point out (with some justification) that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequential removal of USM as main sponsor (worth £20 million a year) and significant contributor (£150 million plus) to the capital costs of building a £760 million stadium.
But the truth is that the club has been appallingly owned and run for many years, a situation accelerated by the wildly undisciplined and careless ownership under Moshiri, a period that has gone unchecked by a hopelessly inadequate and outdated board.
The existential crisis stems from Moshiri and his board. Even this week in the aforementioned interview he sings the praises of his executive board and fails to recognise the absolute need for senior level recruitment and change. He says he won’t be pressured into change, he won’t run the risk of disrupting the business. Excuse me, what risks of disruption come from eight permanent new managers, three directors of football in seven years, financial regulatory constraints, unsustainable losses and a stadium build that has gone from £500 million to £760 million with at least £250 million still to be funded, plus the greatest potential disruption, the threat of relegation for the second season running?
The contradictions in what is said, and the reality of the situation, are staggering. Moshiri talks of the Director of Football model – which makes huge sense, virtually all modern clubs are run on this basis. Yet with the ongoing recruitment of a new manager, all talks are with Farhad Moshiri, the director of football seemingly completely out of the decision-making process. He talked of a player recruitment model, with reports and analysis more akin to a 1990s football club passed up the chain, from director of football to board to Chair to himself the owner for sign-off.
He claims the club has laid the foundations – his exact words – for success, to “be among the elite, always….. to play European football”. There is no evidence of that either in the current structure, the planning, nor the current results.
He asks for “step-by-step progress together” (referencing the fan base). He says the “fans are beyond criticism”. This, the owner of a club whose board threw the fans under the bus with their disgraceful slurs before the Southampton game on January 14 regarding claims of a “real and credible threat to their (directors’) safety and security”. The official statement called it “a profoundly sad day for Everton and Evertonians.”
Yet no such threats had been reported to Merseyside Police. This was doubled down a couple of hours before kick-off with anonymous briefings of a physical attack on club CEO Denise Barret-Baxendale in the directors’ lounge area in a previous match – again unreported to Merseyside Police.
Why? Because of the large scale and entirely peaceful demonstration of fans (a sit-in after the game attended by several thousand on a very cold evening) organised by the umbrella group NSNOW under the #AllTogetherNow banner. A campaign representing over 70 fan groups and more than 25 official supporter clubs around the world.
If this all sounds like an unstructured rant against the owner and his board, it is not. These are examples of the sheer dysfunctionality of Everton Football Club. It’s evidence of the disconnect between the owner and reality, his inability to address major problems.
Talk of minority investor interest has grown in recent days with references to US based, multi-sport holding investment group MSP, owned by the American-Iranian investor Jahm Nafaji and the former sports agent Jeff Moorad. Moshiri, despite his claims about the qualities of his board, is also looking for greater sports input at board level and critically greater commercial expertise. Any investment by MSP would come with a board seat and no doubt a shareholder agreement committing Moshiri and his directors to a greater commitment to good governance and financial reporting (as an example). This may be beneficial in the short term in curbing some of the poorer practices demonstrated at board level in recent years, but it doesn’t alone solve the existential threats to the club’s future.
Sean Dyche or no Sean Dyche, MSP or no MSP (or any other potential investor), Moshiri, while mindful of what needs to be done on the pitch in the remaining 18 games of the season, needs to address his biggest problem – putting in place people familiar with corporate recovery, people who can fix the many issues relating to the appalling governance, management and ownership of the club in recent years. Without that, the existential threat will tragically become a reality.