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Walter Smith Interview

We have NO MONEY!


Afternoon Tea with Walter Smith, Manager of Everton FC
Bellefield, Wednesday 11 July 2001

INTRODUCTION by Ian MacDonald

As many of you may know by now I often speak to Bill Kenwright regarding matters concerning our club.  When it comes to off-the-field matters, Bill can give me direct answers, but with matters regarding the team, well that is down to our manager, Walter Smith.  None of us would want it any other way.  Lately I have been more than worried about team affairs and the frustrations and lack of optimism of our more than loyal fans.  So it was arranged for me to go along and air our common desires and concerns to the only man who could answer our questions, Walter Smith, MBE.

It was last Sunday night that my wife received a phone call from a Scottish-speaking gentleman Walter Smith himself arranging for me to meet him on Wednesday afternoon, the 11th of July, 2001.  Unless you were as hard as nails and not in the real world, you would feel a little bit of trepidation in meeting this well lets face it statesman of the modern game.  A man who has won everything in Scotland and reached a semi-final place in the European Cup with Glasgow Rangers.  Remember, Rangers were the sleeping giants and perennial underachievers before he went there as Graeme Souness No 2, later becoming manager and setting all sorts of records.

Wednesday came too quickly.  I wondered whether I was ready or good enough to represent our fans adequately.  The meeting was at Bellefield on the first day back in training for the first team players.  I was early and while I waited I saw and spoke to some of the players all with varying degrees of suntans!  They were all having a laugh and joke and seemed a happy bunch to meet up with each other again.  This seemed to dispel the unhappy and divided camp rumours a question regarding which I was set to ask.  I hardly recognised Pistone; he looked like he had been to the same hairdresser as Xavier and looked a couple of stone lighter.
  

 The Interview

Afternoon Tea with Walter Smith

My time had come to meet our manager in a one-to-one situation.  I was called upstairs to his office above the training ground. Walter shook my hand and made me feel comfortable, he looked as fit as a butcher's dog dressed in his grey tracksuit.  Firstly, I thanked him for steering us through troubled waters, especially during the Johnson period.  I havent the memory of a goldfish, so I realise we are in big trouble largely because of Peter Johnsons previous tenure.  To be honest, I did feel a little bit humble in his presence, especially given the reasons why I was there.

But I took a deep breath and started to express the fans feelings at this moment in time.  For an Evertonian, I told Walter, read "frustration".  Last season would live long in our memories and only for the worst reasons.  It was to put it bluntly bloody awful, and we could not wait for it to end.  I spoke of the humiliation at City and other games, and added that we were used to at least one bad result a season like Port Vale, Oxford etc but it was getting to ridiculous numbers last season. 

I said we felt that we should have been better placed and playing a better brand of football.  I have never known the fans so down and fed up even before a ball has been kicked in anger.  I asked Walter about the job in hand and our thinking that survival was our realistic aim sad but true. When you look at the spending power of Blackburn and Fulham and where we finished last season, it is frightening to think what might happen to us this season...  I also asked what would be deemed a success for us this season.

Walter cleared his desk a bit and I got ready to take a punch or a Glasgow kiss

Thankfully, it was only to reveal his desk pad.  Walter started drawing three group spaces.  At the top were six places, then a division of eight followed by another six places.  Walter went on to say at the top of the Premiership were six teams who, apart from Ipswich, were since the Premiership started the top spenders.  Newcastle were the exceptions as they had spent a lot but for one reason or another underachieved.  These top six clubs are self-perpetuating since they get more money in income from placing and merchandising etc.

Everton start the season at least 30 million behind the top clubs and that is the difference in spending power for transfers for quality players.  Last season, this came to haunt us even more because of the injuries we could not go out and buy more players to overcome the problem.  Walter told me the season before last we were looking good to break into a top-six place against the grain but fell away right at the end due to injuries to Jeffers and Campbell particularly.  We finished fourteenth. 

In the middle section you have the likes of Spurs who, like us, have tradition and high expectancy but again less spending power overall in the Premiership.  We, sadly, are in the bottom six just at the moment both in performance and in spending power.  Its a simple enough formula but it hits home and makes sense.  I think Walter would take it as being a successful season if we finish around the top of the middle group.  A cup run is always a bonus.

I told Walter that what I think we need right now is stability and I reminded him that he said just that at the AGM  .I also reminded him about what I said at that meeting regarding watching Everton being likened to going to the dentist these days painful to be there and painful to watch.  Walter said that at the time the papers reported it as if it meant he was pleading for his job when talking about stability.  He was not talking about himself but the club in general.  Where he came from at Rangers, they had had possibly only three or four managers since the war.  We have had that many during the nineties alone!  

If Walter left tomorrow, the new manager would want to scrap most of the present team and start his own that is what normally happens.  That takes time and money two things we do not have in abundance.  Lets not forget, we have been in decline since the late eighties.  Remember Season 1995-96 when we finished just short of Europe under big Joe we were also one of the top spenders.  Then the wheels came off with the Peter Johnsons own personal decline in business. 

Walter was given a rubber cheque that came bouncing back with we must sell repercussions.  PJ threw his last dice with Walter to make it happen but it was not to be with the bank wanting its money back and the only way to get it were the liquid assets being sold the players.  

I asked Walter, "Do you think we would be a better team if the likes of Materazzi, Dacourt, Barmby, McCann, Hutchison, Collins, Jeffers etc had not been sold?"  

I dont think that one needs answering.  Those players went for one reason or another but if we had a lot of money I think most would have stayed.  That ultimately is what all players want, so we have to get real about this.  Alan Stubbs is a big exception to this rule but what a refreshing change.  

Walter spoke of being involved in 65 deals and asked me what does that say when you consider he has actually spent less than 9 million net?  I answered it goes to show that we have had no real money to spend and that he has had to wheel and deal accordingly.  I asked Walter did he think the Bosman ruling had helped the likes of us?  He answered, "Yes it does but the players still want to go to a top placing club though for Europe etc."  

"Is that why we have had so many foreigners then, Walter?"  Yes came the reply.  I think he would rather buy British players but they cost so much compared to the overseas players.  We have had to cut our cloth accordingly.  

The temperament of the foreigners is the downside though.  Let's be honest, anyone who watched Nyarko pre-season and the games at Leeds and Spurs would have thought we had a cracker here.  But he went on a downward spiral, he found God, and wanted away as early as October and it showed.  By which time, our injuries were piling up and the gypsys curse was in full swing. So what do you do?  Youve got 4.5 million tied up in a player who is good but mentally not with us; your squad is depleted, and points are needed.  An experienced player at such times should be better than a kid, but in this case he wasnt.  Midfield is a problem and we dont have a young kid to fit in there to be honest.  I think Walter has learned a few lessons on the foreigners of late...

I then went on to ask about the present staff, the physios, dieticians and masseurs.  Were the injuries just down to bad luck?  Walter assured me things are about to change for the better.  Regarding the injuries, he told me in 20 years of management he had never experienced or seen anything like it.  Even cuts like Alexandersson's needed skin grafts.  The injuries were long-term as well as being demoralising and frustrating to everyone involved.  Alexanderson and Cleland were ever present at their previous clubs.  

I asked if present facilities at Bellefield were not helping and he agreed but said its all down to money again.  Remember, when Walter first came, he told PJ that Bellefield needed pulling down not just a lick of paint.  PJ sent the architect down to draw up some plans with Walter's help but that was the last Walter heard.  I can tell you he was not happy with that.  I said, regarding Bellefield, all that had changed in the last thirty years was the cost of the cars outside and the personalised plates! A porta cabin with Youth Academy Office on it endorses how little we have moved on.

I then talked about the present squad and asked was he happy with it?  Walter replied by identifying the positions in need of strengthening and it goes right through.  A goalkeeper; another commanding centre half in the Gough mould; a desperately needed midfielder; and a different sort of striker than we have now.  Radzinski fitted that bill and Walter said he would be bitterly disappointed if he failed to land this lad.  He really does rate him he has pace and scores good goals.  I said Id love to see us on Goal of the Month, never mind Goal of the Season.

I asked about Kevin Campbell and whether he is any fitter now?  Last season it was obvious he was carrying an injury as he looked so sluggish except at Coventry (no, he did not have a needle for that game).  Walter replied that Kevin was suffering from jump knee, the same injury Shearer has been recuperating from.  Kevin came back earlier than we wanted on his own insistence because of the injury crisis up front.  He loves the club and its fans.  

The money deal was to get parity with Duncan and its not what was published in the papers ,as many things aren't these days.  If you look at Kevins deal over the four years it would cost us just as much to buy a striker of his ability when fit and a signing on fee with wages to suit.  Thats modern day football finances. Dont forget I think we owe Kevin a lot what cost relegation?  A deal was on the table after Christmas from Villa but what would we have said if we had then sold him with no ready replacement or fit strikers???

I then went onto asking about the scouting system.  Walter said it was practically all scrapped at one time because of a lack of money but John Ebbrell is now doing a great job and the fruits of his work should blossom sooner rather than later.  Nielson the Scandinavian coach is making inroads as well.  Pound for pound, Scandinavians are better value players and have a temperament more suited to the British game and lifestyle.

The youth system was also mentioned in conversation.  Walter is like us on this matter (no laughing at the back its true!) it's embarrassing, but it's down to money again. 

What do you think parents must think, Ian, when they see the Kirkby academy then ours in a porta cabin?  We need to keep Bellefield you won't get better pitches anywhere but knock half of this building down and build onto whats left with the academy separate.  Preferably in the north of Merseyside Knowsley possibly.  We have done exceptionally well though with a good crop of kids under twelve and under nineteen especially.  But we need to address this academy ASAP it is vitally important to the long term development of the club.  It was close to his heart when he spoke of this subject and the impression I got was that he wants it sorting out quickly.

Tactics and training methods were brought up "Why dont we play 4-4-2 at home at least?" 

Ian, tactics or game plans work with certain players available.  Last season was a nightmare for picking a team.  What would you think if we were like Ipswich or Bolton up and down for three seasons?  

Id say 'Goodbye, Walter'.  Ive never known relegation in my lifetime and never want to. 

Exactly.  I can only play with what is available but we needed to get safe.  I never really had players fit enough to play a system I wanted.  I lost Gough early on who holds things together and is a talker, Alexandersson also a winger and Tal carrying an injury.  The pressure is on here to keep us up while at Rangers it was different.  The pressure was to win every game and I mean every game.  Laudrup and Gazza could play together up there in free roles; down here, you could not get away with it.  Its a far harder league.

I went on about Coventry one week with the kids then Tranmere in the cup: different teams, and different results.  Fans think you are too defensive: no set style of play; strangers for 20 minutes with players constantly out of position, but needs must be taken on board in that equation.  But Walter replied, Imagine though if we were relegated because of a Gung Ho attitude? 

I also mentioned about the set pieces being a weakness.  Listen, Ian, you have seen how well we played against Derby at home in the first half (and it was good) but second half the fragile make up of the midfield especially was brought home.  Derby changed tactics dramatically with subs and we fell apart from 2-0 at half time to lucky to draw in the end.  Dont you think I get frustrated?  Someone at the AGM asked why am I not more animate like Gordon Strachan... I could not get round that one. Gordon Strachan went down.  I agreed, stating that Fagan, Paisley etc did not jump up or down at the line.  We are all different.  I also mentioned the pitch, let's widen it and make it fortress Goodison again.

I then went on to the rumours about fights, not talking to so and so etc.  His honesty of what had happened on such accusations shone through.  The Hughes affair at Bradford is about the 250th on the end list of such matters in his time in football.  Something and nothing, heat of the moment stuff like teacups being thrown etc.  Where there is passion you will find such moments.  As for not talking to kids no way that happens.  But the rumour factory is in overdrive and things need exorcising.  I went on about Dick Advocaat probably getting the same questions asked of him because of their triple winning neighbours and underachieving when they have spent a fortune.  But again Advocaat could point to his own gypsy curse with his own horrendous injury list.

Season ticket sales to date are a story in itself, the fans' loyalty as compared to those at Sheff Wed and Coventry who went missing when needed; our aspirations; the Nyarko incident what drove the fan to do what he did was purely frustration.  Our entertainment value has been poor; fans are waiting for a lift and a leap of faith.

We are frustrated though, Walter! Ian, who motivates me?  You know I could retire but I want to see this through and make it happen.  In that squad of players down below us (with a couple of additions) lies a decent team I truly believe that!

What of the pre-season, Walter?  Most fans are disappointed with the itinerary.  Its doing nothing for the brand name.  With cheap fares, we should have gone to Ireland, where at least there are dormant and active Evertonians.  And the next time we play Tranmere, it should be only in competition to get our pride back a bit.  All they want to do is kick us off the park look what they did to Gazza last season!  He had to be taken off for his own protection.

Well again, Ian, it's down to money.  Do you think the Reds played on a field in Switzerland last night for nothing.  They get paid.  We had a couple of offers from Germany but it would not have been enough.  I want this team settled before the season, not affected by travelling all over the place.  The Italy camp gets players bonded and away from distraction.  Incidentally, I think this will be the last time the Tuscany camp will be used.  Another venue will be chosen for next pre-season.

I then went on to recommending certain players in each department were needed.  Walters knowledge was amazing of players in Europe and in Britain; his finger is certainly on the pulse.  He mentioned the Kings Dock as being the answer long-term and the only way forward for Everton, realistically.  It truly is an awesome project and Walter has seen Celtics and other clubs around the world.  He was excited about the Dock and all it could bring... but for now it was all about what was going to happen short-term.  He has since signed Radzinski, of course.

There is nothing a quick 60 million would not change overnight.  This is the root of the problem with Everton.  If we do not see a dramatic change in our style of play with all our players available, then I will be surprised especially if we get the midfielder we need.  I could live with the defence just now.  I want Bally to stay as well but I think its up to him personally.  Id like him to accept the offer on the table and review his situation in say 18 months would that be so bad?  Its not as if it is his last big move.  I know for a fact that Bally has been carrying a leg injury for a while and that is the real reason why he has not travelled to Italy.  I was told this from a family member of Balls.  With Stubbs here and the rest of the players who care about this club, it can only be good times ahead.

I spoke about Bill Kenwright and his relationship with Walter.  He said if Bill had 200 million, he would give it to him to spend on Everton he is that committed.  The manager/chairman relationship was as good as you will get anywhere.  Its just a pity about the money....

We had an in-depth conversation for over two hours.  Walter put on his woolly hat, shook my hand and said goodbye to go back training with the squad.  I wished him well and said if any of the players asked who I was tell them Im the new striker!

I went back to work feeling more optimistic than of late regarding the coming season.  I would like to think the fans could wipe the slate clean just for now and see what happens shortly.  Let's be honest with ourselves; we dont want to see the club slip further down the mire, do we?  With all the unrest that will be incurred from a change of manager?  Who would come?  The new manager would want to bring in his own players but with what?   We have no money! 

I would dearly love to eat lots of humble pie regarding Walter Smith for the good of the club and our kids especially.  Did I tell you about the fortune-teller on Radio Merseyside who predicted the reds would win three trophies  last September?  Well, she also said this forthcoming season a young foreign lad will be a sensation and Everton will be Ok.  Could this be Radzinski or an injury free Tal?

I was impressed with Walters honesty on all subjects and his determination to get it right the Everton way.  I think we should give him another chance for stability and to see if the team can click while staying free from injury.  If you go through the squad player by player, its really not that bad....

If anything comes from the meeting it's that most of the questions were asked and he was told how we feel right now.  Maybe I didnt get all the answers we would want but I may have forgotten some things since I was not writing anything down but taking most of it on memory.  I do not presume to speak on behalf of all Evertonians just as a Blue who is as frustrated as the next and wants this team to turn the corner quickly playing in the style and tradition I was brought up on.

Time will tell in the coming weeks if Walter is getting it right with a fully fit squad and a few additions.  We may yet see a team pleasing to the eye and heart.  All we want is to come away from Goodison or an away venue and to have a smile on our faces.  WE have been the difference over the last few years from other struggling teams.  I hope our undoubted loyalty over this period is repaid in the forthcoming season. 

I know many will dissect this offering; it wont be enough for them, or they will believe I was fobbed off etc.  Ill never change the minds that are so entrapped against the present management but I am trying to make the hierarchy listen to constructive criticism and our fears and hopes.  Ill go now and get my flack jacket !

Yours sincerely

Ian MacDonald, EISA

PS Walter poured the tea.

 

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