Everton problems do not end with Frank Lampard but they definitely include him
In the space of six second-half minutes Everton fell apart against Brighton, and Frank Lampard’s remaining credibility as their manager went with it.
Gone in 360 seconds. In the space of six short minutes at Goodison Park the last vestiges of credibility for Frank Lampard as the Everton manager fell apart, just as his team did on the pitch. The result leaves them in 16th place in the Premier League table, but that raw number alone only tells part of the story.
Brighton’s fourth goal seemed to encapsulate the disordered gloom that has descended over them. It started, somehow, with an Everton free-kick on the left-hand side of the Brighton penalty area, which was hopelessly overhit towards no-one in particular by Dwight McNeil. The ball worked its way back to Idrissa Gueye on the opposite touchline near the halfway line and his pass was… inexplicable, into a gaping hole in the middle of the Everton defence. Pascal Gross danced through to put the visitors 4-0 up.
The contrast was stark. Brighton are everything that Everton need to be at the moment, but simply aren’t; strategically-minded, with sensible player and coaching recruitment, costs under control and a sense that they can overcome hurdles that have been put in their way through no fault of their own other than their relative success. Earlier this week, they welcomed back World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister with ticker tape. Everton welcomed back Dominic Calvert-Lewin from injury and then booed him off when he was substituted, 83 minutes later.
But while it’s easy to say that the problems at Goodison Park run deeper than Frank Lampard alone, that doesn’t mean that they don’t include Frank Lampard. True enough, he met the minimum requirement of keeping them in the Premier League at the end of last season, but Everton are the Grand Old Team. They have higher expectation levels than to be treading water, doing just enough to remain in the top flight come the end of each season.
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Lampard looked as though he may have bought himself a little time with a draw at Manchester City. Previous performances had been more like the Brighton game, a last-minute home defeat to Wolves, a 7-1 aggregate defeat in two games over the course of four days in the EFL Cup and league to Bournemouth, a home defeat to Leicester City. It wasn’t just that Everton had been losing matches, it’s that they had been losing matches to relatively moderate opposition. It’s hardly surprising that they crumbled against a stronger Brighton team.
But replacing Lampard presents Everton with a different challenge. Who to bring in? The favourite – and by quite a margin – is Wayne Rooney, a former Evertonian who managed his way through a near-impossible situation in his previous position at Derby. It’s the romantic appointment, the return of the prodigal son to the club at which he burst onto the scene at just 16 years of age. Goodison Park may well receive a lift from top to bottom, should he return.
But would it appeal to Rooney? Maybe. But would that make it the right decision for either him or the club? After all, he’s never managed in the Premier League before and, while Derby was a level of dysfunction that makes Everton look like Brentford, the stakes are enormous.
Everton cannot afford to make a mistake with this appointment, and in a very literal sense. Should Wayne Rooney be a bit of a gamble, the question remains: is this the right time for a gamble, or are Everton simply in the position in which they have to make another last roll of the dice? And the same goes for Rooney himself. Becoming the Everton manager would be an obvious ambition for him, but would he want to walk into this mess?
Because it’s become clear that Frank Lampard has been wearing the emporer’s new clothes. Coincidentally also at Derby, Lampard was unable to meet a very expensive target when they lost in the Championship play-off to Aston Villa in 2019. That result was the final nudge into the house of cards that Derby’s financial position became, but Lampard fell upwards to Stamford Bridge and the Chelsea job. They lost 4-0 to Manchester United in his first game in charge. By the time he was sacked at the end of January 2021, he’d reportedly fallen out with both the senior management of the club over transfer policy and with some players over a purported lack of communication with those who weren’t in his favour.
And into all of this blundered Farhad Moshiri and Everton. They were replacing Rafa Benitez, who (somehow) was replacing Carlo Ancelotti, who was replacing Sam Allardyce, who was replacing Ronald Koeman. Everton’s near-performance art levels of financial profligacy coupled with the sudden unexpected departure of their ‘main sponsor’ last year and the fact that they’re also in the process of building a new stadium makes them a high-risk gamble, but initially Lampard did just enough. Such were the state that Everton were in by the time Benitez left, the only remit that mattered last season was, ‘For the love of God, please keep us in the Premier League’.
But such are Everton’s financial and historical positions that managing to keep them up is the barest of minimums, and it can’t be a one-off, either. The club face a conflation of issues that require delicate handling, but Moshiri’s last few appointments appear to have been selections pulled from a hat with ‘Managers I have heard of’ written on the side. He struck gold with Ancelotti but was never likely to keep hold of him for long, but other than that he’s bounced from style to style, giving each money to spend on an increasingly incoherent-looking squad.
For Everton, the stakes are high. It’s not just the ending of a tradition of unbroken top-flight football that stretches back almost seven decades. It’s also the more pressing and immediate question of what happens next, should Everton suddenly be shorn of the oxygen that is more than £100m in television prize money along with other costs that come with relegation. And considering the way in which the club has been managed over the last few years, does anybody seriously believe that Farhad Moshiri has anything like a contingency plan for this scenario?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Frank Lampard. The Derby job was meant to be a springboard for the Chelsea job, the glamour and the excitement. Well, that didn’t happen and now Everton isn’t happening either. Quite where he goes from here – glib answer, ‘the EFL’ – is anybody’s guess. His managerial career hasn’t been a total train wreck and he remains a high-profile figure within the game. This, coupled with the fact that Everton do have structural issues beyond his control, should be enough to ensure his future employment.
And whether they go for Wayne Rooney or someone else, Everton look increasingly look like they’ve wasted the opportunity handed to them by last season’s narrow escape. A window for reinvention was briefly open, but the opportunity was largely passed by – instead, Richarlison, by far their brightest spark, was sold – and the upshot has been this mess of a team performing no better than it did last season.
Their future decisions aren’t straightforward. Rooney would be the romantic choice, but Premier League football isn’t a romantic world. The rot runs deep at Goodison Park, and bad decisions can be ruthlessly punished. Frank Lampard was a bad decision, and it certainly wouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of Everton to make Wayne Rooney one too.