Will Everton fans want to keep Sean Dyche brutalist football after survival?

John Nicholson
Everton boss Sean Dyche

After being appointed at Everton, Sean Dyche was hailed by the usual suspects as the man to sort Everton out. Ex-players nodded sagely and declared it a good choice, as they usually do when the appointment is a British man. To be fair, there were writers on this site who agreed.

They won their first game against Arsenal and some people were falling over themselves to utter the Dyche cliches about how he has somehow been denied a seat at the top table on a xenophobic basis and that this proved he can be as sophisticated as anyone, if given the chance. Yeah, well there’s no sign of that at Everton yet.

If you saw the game against Nottingham Forest, it was a throwback to when Dyche was playing.

If anything, Everton are playing worse football than the worst Burnley team. He’s got the Tony Pulis habit of picking all the biggest boys in the class available to him. On Sunday, they played a brutal lower-league mid-90s style game, tried to disrupt Forest with fouls, aggression, pushing, throwing the ball away, provoking fights, squaring up to the opposition and play-acting. It was ugly and it fitted perfectly the cliche about Dyche that he and his pals have for so long denied is true.

James Tarkowski, the former Burnley player was almost comically Dyche on the pitch, charging around like a wounded stag, clattering into people and looking shocked to eventually get booked for doing so, one of five yellows Everton picked up. There was nothing to praise the manager for after this display. It was awful. As our Twitter feed described the Abdoulaye Doucouré goal:

No surprise they were taken apart by Arsenal back at the Emirates; no surprise Villa put them to the sword at Goodison; no surprise that Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest were the better side on Sunday. When the Everton players tried to do anything skilful, they looked like an elephant in tights trying to do ballet.

Everton do look a bit better organised under Dyche than they did under West Ham’s next manager, Frank Lampard, but that’s a very low bar. If they can’t bully their opponents, if putting 10 behind the ball doesn’t work, is there a plan B? They couldn’t find a way to beat Forest, who are resilient at home. Steve Cooper has got them playing some nice football at times. In Brennan Johnson they certainly had the best player on the pitch.

But will we hear any criticism of Dyche for this unsophisticated physical approach? Certainly not in the mainstream football media where he appears untouchable. Like Harry Redknapp before him, a narrative about Dyche has been established and is adhered to, even in contradiction to the facts. Dyche is the Brexit manager, forever being underestimated, always cheated out of his rightful inheritance by foreigners and snooty elitists.

But Dyche does talk a good game. He’s got the middle-management patter down to a tee. He’s developed a fast, off-hand way of talking, as though this interview is all a bit beneath him but he’ll try and explain in simple terms to a layperson. He sometimes uses business jargon, as though he’s managing a small print unit in Skelmersdale. Jargon is often a marker for a bluffer, someone who thinks it makes them sound more authoritative to talk about ‘one-on-one strategies’ or ‘cross-pollinating learnings’. He is self-reverential and will tell you that he’s been here and done this before and it doesn’t bother him in a “yeah she’s left me, but she’ll be back when she realises what she’s got here” sort of way. But it all seems somehow fake. An act he’s worked up for the cameras. A shell. A hard shell, yes, but a shell all the same.

The pro-Sean brigade point to his success at keeping Burnley in the top flight and there is no denying that achievement. But it came to an end because it had stopped working and he hadn’t evolved any other strategy that did work. Football had moved on and the old ways were no longer as effective. And with a win ratio of just 35% how long could anyone hope to hang on for?

However, he was replaced at Burnley by Vincent Kompany. Who do you think is the more modern, progressive manager? Who has more ideas, who is more creative? Or put another way, do Burnley fans wish Dyche was still in charge as they’re on their way to winning the Championship by a country mile? Of course not. That answer is significant.

Pitchside at the City Ground, Dyche was doing his best building site manager impression. All that was missing was a hard hat and high viz jacket as he waved his arms around, held up fingers and kept pushing at thin air, like a mime artist trying to climb out of a box. All the while he was in a state of permanent if faux indignation at the officials, as though the football world had set out to sabotage his every effort. But he looked like an actor playing a football manager. Doing all the right gestures, striking alpha male poses, casting cynical looks at officials and shouting loudly at players. It’s sometimes entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes ridiculous but it is all very knowing, all very performative, in order to look like he knew what he was doing and belonged where he was standing.

Meanwhile, Steve Cooper, who didn’t need to prove himself so demonstrably, just stood there impassively for most of the game, looking like a sleepy owl, eyelids thick and heavy, yet his team was playing better football without putting on a Sean Dyche show.

Times change, people change, what worked at Burnley six or seven years ago isn’t relevant to what works in 2023 But that appears to be all Dyche has got. Get up their bracket, get under their skin, see if they’re up for a fight and then see if the big lads can bundle one in.

If this scorched earth football works in the short term and Everton stay up, then what? Does anyone want to pay handsomely to see this brutalist football? One way or another, Dyche will be forced to show us he’s the more sophisticated operator his advocates have always claimed. Can he do that? There’s no evidence yet to say he can.

Will there ever be?