Everton manager search is like rearranging chairs on Titanic
Everton remain a Banter Club for now, but it feels as though they’re starting to spin out of control. They could end up in a darker place than this…
Only the benefit of hindsight will be able to confirm it for certain, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is something going horrendously wrong at Everton. At this season progresses, it increasingly feels as if the club is coming apart the seams, a train that is threatening to career clean out of control and with the time to get it back on track starting to look very short indeed.
It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, and sometimes an arresting visual or mental image will become indelibly associated with them. With Leeds United almost a couple of decades ago, it was the goldfish. When Chelsea underwent a downturn from the mid-1970s on, it was all presided over by the financially ruinous East Stand, which literally towered over Stamford Bridge as the team fell from being championship contenders to being a couple of games from relegation to the third tier and likely financial oblivion. When might that moment come for Everton, when we come to reflect upon these years of shambles? Have we already seen it, or is it yet to come?
At the time of writing, Everton remain a ‘banter club’. This is, of course, the 21st century’s replacement for now the increasingly out-of-date ‘soap opera’. We’re all rubberneckers on this motorway, slowing to a crawl to take in as much as we can of the car crash before we are moved on. But there is something fascinating about it, much as there is for any story of a fall from grace, and it’s natural entirely instinctive and natural to feel that way. There but for the grace of God go I, and all that.
Except the problem is that no-one ever seems to learn very much, and nothing ever really seems to change. The history of football is littered with the stories of clubs who aren’t as much of a deal as they used to be. In the early 1950s, Sunderland became known as ‘The Bank of England Club’ on account of their lavish spending. In 1958, they were relegated for the first time in their history. Nottingham Forest were European champions for two years in a row within my lifetime, but the gap between now and when they last played in the Premier League is now greater than the gap between when they last played in the Premier League and when they were last the champions of Europe.
Football is meritocratic, and for every club that has been upwardly mobile, someone else has had to make way. No-one’s immune, and only one club – Arsenal – has had a longer unbroken stay in the top division than Everton. Liverpool were relegated in 1954, and didn’t return for eight years. Manchester United were relegated in 1974 and Spurs in 1977, although both bounced back immediately. Manchester City have been as low as the third tier, and Chelsea have been relegated and promoted back four times since Everton were last relegated.
Of course, for the first century or so in the history of the game, relegation might have been a disappointment (or perhaps even an embarrassment, at times), but it didn’t trigger an existential crisis. Dropping from the Premier League into the EFL is like having to leap into icy water, and not all clubs have been able to successfully deal with that fall. It doesn’t help that the disparity in wealth between the top two divisions is so massive, but there is more to it than that, certainly while parachute payments remain in place as they are. They provide an ample safety net.
But speaking in generalities is not always helpful, when it comes to this subject. When we look at all the clubs that have fallen by a couple of divisions from the Premier League for some period of time in recent years – Leeds United, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland, to name but a few – there are few common factors between the clubs. Sure enough, some of them have recovered admirably – few Evertonians wouldn’t trade positions with Wolves at the moment, for example – but the only common thread between the others is ‘bad management’, and even that doesn’t come in one form.
The biggest problem at Everton at the moment isn’t the fact that they haven’t got a manager and are flailing around like a drunk at closing time with an apparent policy of appointing them on the basis of pulling names that Farhad Moshiri might have heard of out of a top hat. It isn’t that the players decided to take an unscheduled mid-winter break when official British Summer Time ended which turned into a hibernation that hasn’t ended yet.
It isn’t that Moshiri has spent half a billion pounds on whatever the hell it is that Everton’s first-team squad is at the moment. It isn’t even that these people, like bulls who have decided to build a shop out of fine bone china, will be in charge of the club’s move from Goodison Park, one of the great ancestral homes of English football, to a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock. And it definitely isn’t Big Dunc, who is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs, despite having offered himself on the altar through trying to herd the team until a permanent replacement can be arranged.
The biggest problem at Everton is that all at this is happening at the same time, or at least over a relatively short amount of time. Against this sort of background, sacking and replacing the manager starts to feel a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The manager provides a useful human shield for the shortcomings of club owners, but the rot that seems to have set in at Everton runs far more deeply than the manager alone and the attention of angry supporters whose patience with the club has run completely threadbare is now turning irrevocably away from the dugout and towards the directors box.
All of which leads us to one inevitable question. What, exactly, is the prognosis for this patient? How, exactly, does this end happily without them needing a Moshiriectomy? Because should it turn out that they do, they arrive at a dread scenario, that no-one can sack the owner, that he goes when he wants to and on his own terms. And when that might be, and what damage might be wrought along the way, are questions that we don’t know the answers to yet. Everton might be a ‘banter club’ or a ‘soap opera’ for now, but the signs are present and correct that something darker might be on its way. Everton need to get back on the rails, before an an entirely avoidable accident becomes inevitable.