English Premier League

Groundhog Day on Merseyside

Another crisis has arrived at Goodison Park…

(Edit: since this was written, Everton pulled out a gritty 1-0 win over Arsenal, their first win since October and first game under Sean Dyche. New Manager Bounce? Signs of revival? We will have to wait and find out.)

Everton are, once again, staring into the abyss.

2-1 loss to Wolves. 4-1 loss to Brighton. 2-1 loss to Southampton. 2-0 loss to West Ham. At the halfway point of the season, Everton currently sit 19th on only 15 points, four points less than what the Toffees were on at this point last season. Everton have not won a competitive match since their 3-0 win over Crystal Palace in October, a run that is unmatched by any team in the top six leagues within England. It was only a year ago that Rafa Benitez was sacked as manager. He was replaced by Frank Lampard, Everton’s seventh permanent manager since Moyes’ departure nearly a decade ago, and a year later Lampard’s tenure has also met its end. Now, as of time of writing, we are 48 hours away from the end of the January Transfer Window. Everton have not announced the hiring of their next manager, despite the entire world knowing who it is, and have since sold Anthony Gordon to Newcastle. Their one assumed signing, Villarreal winger Arnaut Danjuma, left the Toffees at the altar and joined Tottenham instead. There is little sign of other incoming signings.

Off the pitch, the crisis deepens. Rumors of a financial takeover by American Maciek Kaminski have died out. Everton’s golden stadium project on the Bramley-Moore Dock now seems to be near standstill, with the club currently lacking outside investment to fully pay for the project and allegedly have only been able to pay out of pocket for the construction to continue until the summer. Everton’s sponsorship deals with USM and MegaFon, companies owned by Alisher Usmanov, a Russo-Uzbek oligarch and associate of Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, were canceled upon the sanctioning of Usmanov following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Everton narrowly survived a challenge against their financial records under Premier League Profit and Sustainability rules, a challenge that would have resulted in a points deduction and likely relegation last season should they have been found guilty, but are still left under the pressure of Profit and Sustainability rules and unable to be competitive in the January market to improve the team. Meanwhile, Wolves have signed Atléti’s Matheus Cunha and PSG’s Pablo Sarabia. Southampton have signed experienced winger Mislav Oršić and exciting midfielder Carlos Alcaraz. Nottingham Forest have signed Palmeiras wonderkid Danilo. Leeds have signed Salzburg’s Max Wober and Hoffenheim’s Georginio Rutter. Bournemouth have signed Lorient wonderkid Dango Ouattara. Everton have signed no one despite incredibly glaring needs within the team.

Everton have not been relegated from the top flight of English football since 1951. That streak looks to be in terrible danger this season.

Everton have, over the last several years, continued to dig themselves further and further into a hole, one that is becoming increasingly difficult to climb out of. Years of mismanagement under majority shareholder Moshiri, as well as club chairman Bill Kenwright and CEO Denise Barrett-Baxendale, has racked the club with debt and saddled them with a team lacking a coherent playing philosophy while still having a large wage bill, one that will likely drag Everton down should they be relegated. Everton’s managerial struggle is the proverbial “rock and a hard place” situation. While I do believe Frank Lampard means well, I do not think he has demonstrated the managerial ability, and tactical nous most importantly, needed to succeed at this level and certainly not the level needed to drag this team away from the fires of relegation. But on the other hand, removing Lampard for a replacement would mean hiring Everton’s eighth permanent manager in ten years. That is a ridiculous number, one that is likely going to put off many available managers who are asked about the Everton opening. It is also very possible that whomever Lampard’s possible replacement is would not accept a six month contract, meaning Everton could be saddled with yet another mediocre-to-bad manager that would need to be sacked should the Toffees find themselves in this exact situation next season. It becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy. The cycle that never ends.

And while I do want to give Sean Dyche a chance in this role, I cannot help but believe that we will be having this managerial discussion once again a year from now. Dyche did quite a bit of great work at Burnley, and keeping that team up on a (relatively) shoestring budget does deserve plaudits, but he is not exactly the type of hire that can carry a club out of the mire and into contention for the European places. Teams like Brighton and Brentford have offered the exact blueprint to follow when it comes to building a project, and Everton have seemingly ignored it completely, opting instead to go after a shiny notable (at least within Premier League circles) name without really thinking beyond the immediacy. The alleged alternative choice here, Marcelo Bielsa, certainly shows more long-term thinking but is just as risky given the Argentine’s demands for control and desire to play in a very specific way. And given the ability for fellow bottom-half strugglers Aston Villa and Wolves to hire notable foreign managers, Unai Emery and Julen Lopetegui, respectively, it is yet another episode of insufficient imagination from Everton, once again reducing themselves to choosing the best of two bad options for no particular reason aside from their own ineptitude. Had the board chosen to remove Lampard following Everton’s consecutive significant defeats to Bournemouth before the World Cup break, the moment when everyone outside of the club recognized Lampard’s position had become untenable, then maybe this discussion would have been different. But they did not do so.

The appointment of former New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Kevin Thelwell was seen as a step in the right direction when it comes to the sporting development of this team, but it still feels as though there are multiple different parties pulling in multiple different directions when it comes to the trajectory of this football club. It feels as if there is no clear, coherent organization at the top and within the hierarchy of this football club. There are simply a few people in a room talking about issues, with the loudest voice in the room being the person who dictates the direction on a certain issue. Thelwell has a voice, Lampard had a voice, and Kenwright has a voice. It is unclear how much of a voice Moshiri has retained, but it is clear that his past appointment of Rafa Benitez and signing of Anwar El Ghazi was driven by him and his propensity to seek advice from agents, notably super-agent Kia Joorabchian. The saying about the results of having too many cooks in the kitchen comes to mind here. Everton are in deep trouble, and they have gotten themselves here due to them being ran in a baffling way by people who are either oblivious to their ignorance or aware of it but simply enjoy being the big name in the room too much to step aside in favor of someone who does know what they are doing. While it is too early to truly tell what Thelwell’s influence is within this club, this is certainly not directly his fault, as this issue has existed for years now.

It must be frustrating for Everton fans to see the success Marco Silva is having with Fulham. Sure, Silva had his flaws as Everton boss and maybe sacking him at the time was still justifiable, but it is noteworthy to see how a more mature Marco Silva can succeed with an undermanned team but a logical and supportive hierarchy around him. The same could be said for the young players Everton have had walk through their doors in recent years. Ademola Lookman was thrown aside by the Merseyside club but now, playing for Atalanta in Serie A, looks to be the exact type of player that Everton could use. Moise Kean, Antonee Robinson, and Mohamed-Ali Cho certainly are in that category as well. A few times where steps in the right direction were taken only for them to be thrown out for no reason. When you string several years of that together, you get this shambles that Everton are fighting to overcome.

I understand this has painted a very grim picture, but it is far from a settled affair. Everton still have 18 games remaining this season, and with the gap between 14th and 20th only three points, there is plenty of opportunity for Everton to climb out of this hole. This Everton team, much to the disbelief of some within the fanbase, actually has talent on it. Even with Dyche not being the best manager out there, he could string together a few positive results if he is able to line the team up in a more logical way than Lampard did. Even add a signing or two, shape up the defense, and maximizing the performances from the likes of Alex Iwobi, Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucouré, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Everton could still easily attain safety. The issue is that the trend is going decidedly downward. This team is struggling, and something needs to be done to jolt them back to life. With no signings through the door this window and questions over the effectiveness of the manager, it is unclear if this can be reversed. If nothing changes, Everton will be playing in the Championship next season, accepting all of the financial consequences that come from it.

It is unclear whether the governance of Everton would change at all until Everton are sold, which appears to be in progress. Farhad Moshiri has allegedly put the club up for sale, and rumors are turning up of negotiations with private equity firm MSP Sports Capital, the American firm with an ownership stake in the McLaren Formula 1 team as well as football clubs FC Augsburg, Estoril Praia, and Alcorcón. Everton’s saviors might be right around the corner, either bringing in capital and a board seat to right the ship or outright buy the club altogether, but the question remains…

…will it be too late?

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