Everton, Arsenal, Emery and the ridiculousness of reputation…

Date published: Thursday 12th December 2019 9:38

Earlier this week, when news broke of a meeting between Everton and former Arsenal boss Unai Emery, the word ‘Eberton’ began trending on Twitter. This was a thinly-veiled attempt to continue the nationwide mocking of the Spaniard for his accent and pronunciation when speaking English, referencing in particular the way in which he said “good evening” at the beginning of his post-match interviews. Rather than acknowledge his constant politeness to reporters, regardless of the result, or the fact that he never shirked the responsibility of speaking a foreign language he had not yet fully grasped, both Arsenal fans and neutrals have consistently pointed and laughed in his direction.

Results didn’t help him, particularly with those in the stands at the Emirates Stadium. Perhaps if they were better, not only would he still be in charge of the Gunners, but the ridiculing would not have been quite so intense. Links with Everton have raised another interesting question over the perception of a manager’s quality and reputation; Emery’s appointment as Arsene Wenger’s successor was questioned by some, but others pointed towards his impressive trophy haul and past work with Valencia, Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain; all those positives have been ignored since it ended so poorly in north London. And yet Emery has the kind of record and reputation that dwarves most past and potential Everton managers.

This is a common theme within football; an inability to look at the past logically when the present or most recent events don’t correlate. Rather than looking at how he could organise Everton and help them punch above their weight – as he regularly did in Spain and Europe with Valencia and Sevilla – his failings at Arsenal have already been used as reasons not to pursue him at Goodison Park. This isn’t to say Emery should be the new Everton manager, but he has fallen into the trap that many others in a similar situation have before him; he is now viewed as a figure of fun and all the respect he has gained in previous years is being ignored for no real reason. Nobody has matched his achievement of winning three straight Europa League crowns, but it seems as though you’re only as good as your last job. In his case, the mocking of his English has accelerated the fall in stock, but coaches get tarnished so much more than players.

Potentially the saddest thing is that it can take no time at all to restore an original reputation. For somebody like Jose Mourinho, sacked by Manchester United a year ago, his standing in football had never been lower; once a game-changer, both tactically and in terns of his façade in the media, viewed as the ultimate master of his craft, he departed Old Trafford as a washed-up has-been who refused to move with the times, according to popular opinion. While there was a school of thought which suggested he’d never get another top job, rumours linking him with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Arsenal wouldn’t go away until he turned up at Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks ago. His history with Chelsea and preferred style of football meant the appointment initially jarred, but winning four games from his first five has already galvanised the belief that he is back to his best; happy, exciting, innovative and almost guaranteed to end Spurs’ 11-year wait for a trophy. These were the qualities he had supposedly lost forever just 12 months ago.

It can work the other way, though; Arsenal, still looking for Emery’s successor, and Everton are both said to be keen on hiring Carlo Ancelotti, who was sacked by Napoli on Tuesday night despite a 4-0 win over Genk, which secured their progression to the last 16 of the Champions League. Ancelotti is undoubtedly one of the greats, but his record of trophies is being taken purely as a reason to appoint him, regardless of whether he appears a good fit for the club or not. His ability to win with a team that is already fit for purpose is rivalled by few, particularly at AC Milan and Real Madrid, but he hasn’t really built a team himself, which is exactly what he’d have to do at the Emirates, while the blue half of Merseyside will first have to stave off the growing threat of relegation before they can even contemplate the challenge for glory. This would surely have to come into Emery’s thinking, too; but he appears a much stronger fit than Ancelotti.

There had been some rewriting of the history books at Arsenal in the last few weeks and months of Emery’s reign, with some suggesting Arsene Wenger’s exit was wrong. But just because another struggles to fix the problems, it doesn’t mean problems weren’t there to begin with. At Newcastle United, with Steve Bruce performing well above expectations, there has been a shift in the fanbase’s opinion of his predecessor Rafael Benitez’s work, which was miraculous under the circumstances. If Benitez returns to England – which he said he won’t do until his contract runs out in China – he will do so with a good job, where he could build and achieve more than he was able due to constraints at boardroom level on Tyneside. He, too, hasn’t ruled himself out of contention for the Everton job one day.

Whether Emery, Ancelotti, Benitez or anyone else takes the Toffees post, they have to be the right fit for the club; the same goes for Arsenal. But managers deserve to be respected and viewed on their credentials over their entire career, not written off after a bad spell and ridiculed over trivial nonsense. Football needs to be able to look at the bigger picture, not just the narrow view through the latest frosted glass.

Harry De Cosemo – follow him on Twitter

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