F365’s early loser: Steve Walsh, and a failed experiment

Date published: Sunday 26th November 2017 4:01

“The only player I didn’t help bring in was Kasper Schmeichel – Sven [Göran-Eriksson] brought him in – everyone else I was head of recruitment when we signed them.”

In an interview with The Times last Boxing Day, Steve Walsh was understandably keen to emphasise his impact on Leicester’s remarkable Premier League title success in 2016. The Foxes had been led by Claudio Ranieri and funded by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, but one man was responsible for helping deliver a triptych of unearthed gems. Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante and Jamie Vardy were all spotted by Walsh in the lower reaches of the French and English league pyramids, and were signed for a combined £7.1million.

In under a year, Walsh has learned a harsh lesson: if you can take credit for a miracle, you must accept blame for a malaise. One cannot accept the plaudits for success but point the finger of blame elsewhere when the end result is failure.

There are individuals far more culpable for the current mess at Goodison Park. Ronald Koeman was an uninspiring manager, disconnected from both the players and the fans. David Unsworth was seen as the yin to the Dutchman’s yang – a man proud to lead Everton and honoured to be associated with their fans – but he has shown a similar lack of tactical nous and inability to coax performances and results from his players.

Those players themselves deserve censure, for it is no coincidence that two managers have had their reputations dented – if not ruined in the case of Unsworth – by a squad that has horribly under-performed. And Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright should not escape criticism, for it is they who have taken five weeks to replace a sacked manager, and have allowed complacency and uncertainty to take hold.

But Walsh is often conspicuous by his absence when it comes to scrutinising Everton’s numerous problems. The role of the Director of Football is automatically distrusted on these shores – Frank Arnesen, Franco Baldini, Joe Kinnear and Damien Commoli have seen to that – yet the unassuming Walsh is supposedly low on the list of causes when it comes to diagnosing Everton’s chronic woefulness.

“You would have to be daft to think I wasn’t brought in for my recruiting talents,” added Walsh in that interview last December, having left Leicester for Merseyside the previous summer. But those scouting powers appear to have eluded a man living off the discoveries of Mahrez, Kante and Vardy. Far more relevant is a summer where Everton spent £150m to be two points above the relegation zone in late November.

Their latest embarrassment, a 4-1 defeat to Southampton, saw six players Walsh helped sign start, and a further two introduced from the bench. It was the second time Southampton had scored more than three goals since February; it was the second time Everton had conceded four goals or more since Thursday.

Walsh is not solely responsible for finding unknown treasures such as £45m Gylfi Sigurdsson, £25m Michael Keane or £23.6m Davy Klaassen, but his role in those deals is undeniable. “We both have to agree for a player to come,” he said of his relationship with Koeman 11 months ago. “If one of us says no we knock it on the head.”

If reports from earlier this week are to be believed, Everton are considering the same course of action for Walsh’s ill-fated reign. As the common denominator between Koeman and Unsworth’s failures, that is hardly surprising. But Everton have now created a rod for their own back. Few managers entertain the overbearing influence of a Director of Football, and so Koeman’s eventual replacement might well demand a staff restructure. The Toffees braved the unknown and embraced a more modern outlook, but the experiment has completely backfired.

Walsh can perhaps owe his lack of scrutiny to the nature of his role: he works behind the scenes, out of view. He usually embraces the shade rather than the limelight. But on one of the rare occasions he embraced the public eye, one particular quote stood out: “What gets you your next job is what you are good at.”

Walsh will surely have to update his C.V rather soon, but his next job will be to try and hide his Everton failure behind his Leicester success. The flavour of the month a year and a half ago has left a bad taste in the mouth at Goodison Park.


Matt Stead

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