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The Rob Fox Column
Columnist: Rob Fox

Full Circle, by Rob Fox
25 November 2005

 

  • Catterick>: 14, 15, 17,
  • Bingham: 7, 4, 11, 9   (Average 7.8)
  • Lee: 3, 4, 19, 15 (Average 10.3)
  • Kendall: 8, 7, 7, 1, 2, 1, (Average 4.3)
  • Harvey: 4, 8, 6,(Average 6)
  • Harvey/Kendall: 9,
  • Kendall: 12, 13 (Average 12.5)
  • Kendall/Walker: 17,
  • Walker/Royle: 15,
  • Royle: 6, 15, (Average 10.5)
  • Smith: 17, 14, 13, 16, (Average 15)
  • Smith / Moyes: 15,
  • Moyes 7,17,4 (Average 9.3)
  • (Overall average league placing  from 1970/71 to 2004/05 : 9.7)
  • Moyes: (Preston)5,4,(8) [Average 5.7], Everton 7,17,4 [Average 9.3] (Overall average 7.5)

Well, who would have thought it Everton in a relegation battle.  For the Millionaire Club, the School of Science, home of Dixie Dean, Tommy Lawton and Joe Mercer, this situation is unthinkable and cannot be allowed to continue any longer.

Therell be many who agree with that first paragraph, but just for a second imagine you are not an Evertonian, or if you cant imagine that, change the club, perhaps Aston Villa or Newcastle would fit the bill, and throw in a few random achievements from that clubs distant past and read it again.  Then, be honest, does the paragraph stand up to scrutiny?  Or does it come across as somebody stuck in the past with no grasp of how the game has changed? 

Clearly we are in a mess at present and a relegation struggle looks likely.  I am beginning to look for three worse teams than us and it is not easy.  But of course we have been here before, several times in our recent history, and every time the powers that be have vowed that it would never happen again.  Yet, every time we seem to have clambered clear of the quicksand we get sucked back in. 

I read a comment in the ToffeeWeb Mailbag recently that stated that people still backing David Moyes were doing so out of loyalty.  Personally, I found this comment bizarre.  Anyone still backing David Moyes is doing so because either they feel the bulk of the blame for our predicament lies elsewhere, is largely due to external factors, or that any mistakes Moyes has made he is capable of learning from and putting right.  Perhaps a combination of all three is closest to the mark.

For the record, I dont advocate sacking Moyes at present but I cant deny being very concerned about our current predicament.  Before the West Brom game I felt we were beginning to get on track, but it would be impossible not to be shaken by that result and performance.  However, if I thought he was a good manager on Saturday morning, that view isnt going to change overnight, any more than a few good results will convince some people he is anything other than somebody out of his depth

I understand the Peter principle, in principle at least, but I dont see how it explains a 7th place and a 4th place finish completely against the grain of recent history.  Beginners luck?  Having said that, obviously the cumulative effect of poor results cant be ignored forever and sometimes circumstances dictate a course of action.

I cant fully explain why we are doing so badly, although I think to lay the blame solely at the feet of the manager is simplistic.  To be honest, I dont think anybody has ever satisfactorily explained our fluctuating fortunes under Moyes.  Looking elsewhere, are George Burley, Paul Jewell, Neil Warnock and Glenn Hoddle good managers?  If so, how do you explain their fluctuating fortunes in their managerial careers?  Is their performance erratic, or do other factors come into play at times?

Clearly, if you give Moyes all the credit for our good spells, he must take all the blame for our bad ones.  Hard to fathom the changes in fortune in that simplistic scenario, but in reality there is a collective responsibility amongst players, board, supporters and manager, although obviously the manager is the pivotal figure.  I would argue that a manager cant always prevent a run of results in the short term, but obviously it is his responsibility to address problems and rectify them.  Often managers spend money to do this, which of course is impossible at present.

Of course, there are many contributing factors to a teams results on the pitch and all these affect our fortunes at any one time.  The simple fact is that poor form cannot continue indefinitely without decisions being made.  In truth, the board at any club make a decision about the manager every day. 

Obviously its usually an easy decision when things are going well, but not sacking a manager when things are going badly is as big a decision as sacking him.  Obviously the managers day-to-day performance should come under closer scrutiny and the manager should be asked to justify the course of action he is taking.  Information gleaned from such scrutiny should have a greater bearing on deciding the managers future than results on the pitch, at least in the short term.

In case you havent worked it out, the first set of numbers at the top of the article are our league positions since we won the league in 1970, with managerial changes in brackets.  The second set are the final league placings achieved by Moyes in his managerial career (the one in brackets is Prestons final position, which dipped after he left, in the season he came to Everton).  Bear in mind he took over both clubs when they were near the relegation zone in their respective divisions and with limited resources. 

Now being truly objective for a moment, which set are the most impressive?  Looking at those statistics objectively, would you say it is more likely for Everton to attract a top manager, or Moyes to get another top job?  Taking managers individually, it is important to take note of placings prior to a managers arrival.  It may surprise some to see how well Billy Binghams placings stand up, given the last three league placings under the ailing Catterick, whilst Harveys decent positions need to be viewed in the context of what he inherited from Howard Kendall.

Here then, is the point of what I am trying to say.  Most of Moyess detractors use two arguments to berate him.  Firstly, they compare our current brand of football to the great Everton teams of the past.  Secondly, they say that to use Moyess previous good record to defend him is irrelevant.  Surely these two arguments are contradictory. 

Either the past is relevant or it isnt, and surely the recent past is far more relevant than the distant past.  In fact, every time I see the phrase School of Science in an attack on Moyes I cant help but laugh.  Ive gotten past wanting to smash things in frustration.  Now, Im prone to wallowing in our past as much as anybody, but even I can see that waxing lyrical about Dixie Dean or Kevin Sheedy has no bearing on our current situation.  And they think they are the realists

Still, if last season counts for nothing, it will make selecting a new manager very simple.  In England, it has be Paul Jewell, as he is currently the most successful manager who we might be able to attract.  I do rate Jewell, ever since his work at Bradford, but he has had his failures too.  Of course, they dont matter, any more than any relative success Moyes has had.  Wed best move for him now, because Wigan might go through a dip and then somebody else will be flavour of the month, just like Mike Walker once was.

In case youre unsure, that last paragraph is meant to be sarcastic.  Being a good manager is only part of the equation.  Timing, circumstances and the size and expectation level surrounding a club are all important.  Sam Allardyce, for example, has a record that stands up to almost everybody in recent seasons, yet somehow it is hard to imagine him at a big club.  There are times when Moyes and Everton fit like a glove, and few could deny it, but obviously when things are going badly doubts will surface. 

Whether Moyes has been worn down by the challenge, is out of his depth, is a temporary victim of circumstances or we are simply going through a transitional phase on his learning curve is a matter for debate and opinion.  We all want to see us playing well and winning, but first and foremost I think we would all settle for winning.  Most of our games this season have been tight and it is not too much of a stretch to say that a couple of new players could make a huge difference.

Our opponents this weekend are testimony of this.  Not so long ago wed have relished a home game against Newcastle, now we are fearful of the likes of Parker, Emre and Owen.  To say that Moyes is at fault for not bringing at least two of those players here is a valid argument, and if not Owen as well then another top quality striker.  Equally, it is also valid to argue that to compare Evertons finances to Newcastles is unfair and hence our ability to bring in top class players.

When push comes to shove, the main sticking point over Moyes with most fans is his record in the transfer market.  Given that many Evertonians dont believe any official comments coming from Kenwright or Wyness and there is once again debate as to how financially solvent we really are, it is fair to say that anybody criticising Moyes for not paying above his valuations to secure better players is not in possession of the full facts to back up their argument.  In short, if we had agreed to Parkers, Davids' or Emres demands, who can be certain it would not have put huge, and dangerous, pressure on our finances?

Further, those who argue that Moyes only signs workhorses and is anti-flair, then explain Arteta and Van der Meyde.  Did I imagine us trying to sign Davids, Keane, Parker, Emre and other quality players?  Krldrup, Ferrari, Valente, Arteta, Davies and Van der Meyde are, by reputation at least, technically better players than those we already had.  So far it has not worked out that way, and Neville and Beattie cant be classed as flair players, but Moyes is yet to have a fully fit squad to choose from.

As Duncan Lennard highlighted in his recent article, the balance in our team has fluctuated between defence and attack periodically.  In many ways, this gets right to the heart of our fluctuating fortunes under Moyes.  To my mind, the transfer window is key in this.  A major overhaul was required when Moyes arrived, and I think most supporters would have been happy to give him 4 or 5 years to turn us into a consistent top 6/8 side.  Exacerbated by the necessary financial juggling and departures of key players at inopportune times, each transfer window has seen us with a lot of gaps to plug.

Like buying houses, a lot of chains are often involved in transfers.  Clubs dont want to sell without a replacement, sometimes clubs are waiting on a number of transfers to go through before deciding on others, agents try to drag as many clubs as possible into a bidding war and a lot of chicanery takes place.  How many transfers go through quickly these days?  Throughout Moyess time there have been a lot of areas to strengthen in the squad, and you cant always sign players in the order you want, or within a given time span. 

Some criticise Moyes for bringing in three defenders and no strikers.  Given the current criticism of Weir, imagine the stick if we were scoring freely but conceding more with Stubbs and Weir being run ragged.  Whether you blame Moyes for bringing in foreign defenders who need time to adjust and for their injuries is up to you.  He is on record as saying he would have liked to buy more British players, but has had to compromise. 

In fairness, it is clear that Moyes is only part way through his planned team-building, and may or may not get the chance to complete his plans, or the money to get the players he wants.  He seemed to have set a large chunk of money aside for a powerful midfielder and a strike partner for Beattie, but couldnt bring in the players he wanted.  Apportion blame as you see fit.

Lets just say the jury is out on Moyess signings, but it does take time for new signings to gel and at present we seem caught between two stools.  The workhorses who fought and scrapped their way to 4th place are being blended with the fancy dans we have brought in.  Charlton were flying at the start of this season and Dennis Rommedahl was at the fore.  Not so long ago he was an expensive flop and Charlton fans were calling for Curbishleys head.  So whilst I have no idea what is going on at present with Krldrup, I am aware that he was signed for 4 years, not 4 months.  I seem to remember Yobo couldnt cope with the training when he first arrived..allegedly.

That is obviously simplifying things, but certainly there is a contrast of styles within the team.  We are not a team of scrappers any more, and we dont have enough quality to play teams off the park.  Moyes clearly hasnt been able to complete his team building.  Whether that is down to dithering or simply the side-effects of a seemingly nonsensical transfer window is open to debate. 

Certainly other teams, some richer and more high profile than us and also in this city, didnt strengthen as they wanted to, and of course when things are going badly and you are unable to sign a player to make a difference things can seem hopeless.  Moyes has been castigated for defending the players recently, but he was equally castigated for slating them two years ago.  Maybe he has learnt from past mistakes.

What matters now is whether Moyes is capable of making the necessary changes to get us back on track.  In between transfer windows, Moyes has simply had to cut his cloth accordingly and try to find a style of play that suits the players we have at that time.  At present it isnt working, and seemingly January will be the time to put things right.  Not the easiest time of year to get quality players, but there you go.  Tick, tock.

I chose 1970-71 as a starting point with the statistics, partly as it was the first full season since I was born and also seemed to mark the beginning of the end of the Millionaire Club era, just as Altamont is used to symbolise the death of the summer of love.  It is unfortunate for us that our finances began to decline as we have gradually moved into an era where money is all consuming in football, but thats life.  The financial gap is bigger than ever between us and the top clubs but the expectations dont seem to change.

I was 18 when we last won the league and I thought it would last forever.  The day Peter Beagrie made his debut at Villa Park was the day I realised the glory days were over.  Since then I have watched no end of shite under a succession of managers and we have been mostly skint.  I have watched the likes of Derby County, Leicester City, and Wigan bloody Athletic periodically overtake us and gone home to console myself with videos of the 80s.  Whether Wigan will be a flash in the pan we dont yet know, but at present it is a source of embarrassment and unacceptable to some to be below them.  Better sack all the managers from 3rd downwards then.

It doesnt make the pain any easier, but being a realist I accept each situation and have seen my desire of returning to successful times recede from expectation to hope to a distant dream.  Harking back to better days and players sometimes helps, but sometimes it makes things worse.  The fact that Moyes has twice now raised our hopes only makes the come-down even more painful. 

3 years ago David Moyes inherited a squad performing dreadfully and filled with players who were happy to see out their contracts, bleed us dry and leave for nothing.  Our only hope was the Kings Dock.  Soon, we realised we had a young manager full of energy, drive and determination and seemingly the required acumen to take us forward

Whether Moyes is still that man is unclear, but it does make you wonder if we will ever bridge the gap and get back to where we think we belong.  If the man we thought was the Messiah turns out to be a false prophet, it will be hard for many to take and explains why some fans feel anaesthetised to our current predicament. 

Now, it seems, we are back where we where when Moyes arrived.  Perhaps we are no better off, or perhaps the situation is retrievable, but lets assume that Moyes will soon be sacked as result of current results.  Ignoring the fact that a club still not out of the woods financially, with a reputation for selling their best players, and with hugely demanding supporters may not attract a queue of good managers around the block to take over, Ill by-pass that possibility and assume that we get a replacement with a good reputation and record.  If that happens, what exactly would the new managers remit be?

It was widely thought that Smiths squad was underachieving and had some quality.  The same applies now.  What would be a realistic target for a new manager?  Champions League football on limited funds, unless you can raise your own revenue by selling your best players?  What sort of timescale would you put on getting us back into the top 4 regularly, and then winning the Premiership?  Or is that unrealistic in the current climate? 

How would a new manager go about things?  Lets see, we have a fairly small, seemingly underachieving squad with a fair number of technically limited players and uncertainty as to how much money is available to strengthen.  Short-term, how would you stabilise things?  Make us well-organised, hard to beat, and gradually bring in better players?  Havent we been here before? 

Maybe we do actually have a few good quality players and just need to be patient in letting them gel and for the manager to find the right balance in the team, then add to the quality in key areas in January and next Summer.  Maybe then we wont have to give Kilbane a game when he is clearly way out of form.

When David Moyes took over, all we wanted was mid-table mediocrity for a few years while we sorted out some investment to allow us to compete at the top end of the market.  Do we have that investment yet?  Given the current debate, once again, over the true state of our finances only one thing is clear.  That is that nobody, apart from a select few at the club, knows exactly what is going on.  To me, it seems unfair for supporters who have no real idea what Moyes's financial restraints are to be berating him for not going the extra mile to secure better players. 

Similarly, nobody can really explain how 7th became 17th, then 4th, now 18th.  There are lots of potential factors and the truth is it is undoubtedly a combination of those that have contributed.  Some are within Moyess control, some not, and it is impossible for us outsiders to truly ascertain which are which. 

My view at present, for what its worth, is that Moyes has indeed tried to bring in better quality and although some of his signings have been compromises they have been overall technically better players.  Neville, for example, was far from his first choice for a holding role but Moyes clearly felt it was a necessity and compromised.  Of course, Everton should be able to snap their fingers and players will walk over broken glass to play for us, but for some reason its not happening.  Maybe Moyes puts them off, or maybe those statistics at the top have something to do with it.

With time and money limited, Moyes has been able to bring in some of the players he wanted but not all.  But of course, some of you lot know far more about the complexities of dealing in the transfer market than me and feel you have enough evidence to solely blame Moyes for not signing everybody we went for.  Whether it is all Moyess fault or not, the end result seems to be half a team of honest triers, and half a team of technicians, with one or two positions yet to be suitably filled. 

As a result we dont seem quite sure how we want to play.  Things can change quickly of course, and a couple of good signings can make a huge difference.  Newcastle are an example of this.  Is Souness now a bad manager turned good?  Or will things not last there?  Whether Moyes will, or should, be given the chance to put things right is open to debate. 

All I can say for sure is that the issue is far from clear-cut.  Going back to the league placings, what is clear is that Bingham, Lee, Harvey and Royle all started well and tailed off, while Smith tailed on and off.  Arguably, you could add Catterick and Kendall, over his three spells, to that list of managers who faded after a good period, although of course ill health was a factor with the former and perhaps the latter.  Oh yeah, and Mike Walker..

All of which begs the question as to whether Moyes is simply the latest in a long line of bad managers, the latest in a long line of decent managers swamped by the demands of the job, or do we just need more patience and understanding when we go through a bad patch?  Was Billy Bingham harshly treated, or was the time right for him to go?  Yes, a new manager may do enough to keep us up, like Royle and Moyes did, but then what?  Sack him when we have a bad patch? 

Maybe Gordon Lees claim that his blooding of young players led to his sacking but planted the seeds of Kendalls success are Houillier-esque, or maybe there is a grain of truth.  Maybe he should have been given more time, or maybe managers have a natural life-span of usefulness and Lee had made his contribution.  We will never know; perhaps the same will happen with Moyes.

As usual, some people are dreaming of fantasy managers Hitzfeld, Van Gaal, Hiddink.  The grass is always greener but there is no guarantee they would do any better than Moyes.  All I will say is that before you swing the axe take another look at the stats up top objectively and then remember the last time we mutually consented a semi-successful manager in Royle that we didnt exactly get the successor we were promised, or expected.

Maybe the yo-yo effect at Everton is nothing new, and exists at other clubs also, and maybe to solely blame Moyes is simplistic and overly subjective.  If the time has come for him to go, so be it, but I have a funny feeling we will be back here again in a few years time.  Maybe, looking to the dim and distant past is unhelpful and maybe we, as supporters, need to be more realistic. 

When things are going badly, changing the manager is often seen as the answer, and it is certainly the easy decision to make.  History, not just at Everton, shows that changing the manager every few years rarely has the desired effect, and if Moyes has lost his way maybe we should be looking a little more deeply into the reasons why, other than just to blithely say he is not good enough.

Whether the club needs an entire overhaul in terms of approach; whether Moyes needs somebody to take some elements of the workload away or simply needs more time is unclear.  What is clear is that change is not necessarily for the better in the long run.  Time will tell or maybe we will just come full circle again.

 

Rob Fox

Responses:

 

1st Mate: 'We're going down, Rob.'

Rob: 'Don't be ridiculous, it's just a blip.  Stop panicking, the Captain knows what he's doing.  He got us out of Southampton safely, didn't he?  He's won 'Skipper of the Year' twice, he can't suddenly be a bad Captain.'

1st Mate: 'He hit the bloody pier buffers at Dublin.'

Rob: 'Yeah, but since then he's sailed us a thousand miles across the Atlantic.  Tell me that's a bad performance.'

1st Mate: 'It's now I'm worried about.  He doesn't seem to know what he's doing.  The crew are refusing to work for him, and the passengers shout insults at him every time he walks past, especially the steerage crowd on the ToffeeWeb Deck.  If we weren't in the middle of the Atlantic, half of the passengers would have gone home by now.  Most of them won't turn up for the next cruise, mark my words.'

Rob: 'Look, we can't get a new Captain at this point in the voyage, it wouldn't make sense and who would do a better job, anyway?'

1st Mate: 'Just about anybody, I would think.'

Rob: 'You're deluded and disloyal, you mutinous dog, go and flagellate yourself, and take that stoker fella Tony Marsh with you.  The Captain is doing a grand job.  He didn't change course because this heading has worked for us in the past.  How could he know a fucking great iceberg was going to jump out in front of us.'

1st Mate: 'Well, everybody else saw it coming, including that blind bloke on the top deck, who shouted at least twenty seven times, "We need a striker."'

Rob: 'He didn't say anything of the sort. He shouted, "We're going to strike it."'

1st Mate: 'This here filthy water lapping around me ankles is either chronic rising damp, or we're sinking fast.'

Rob: 'I know it looks bad, but we have to give it until Christmas maybe we can then recruit some new crew members who can plug the holes.  Take this message to the Captain it's just to tell him how much I love him. It's only twenty thousand words.'

Some time later in the lifeboats:

1st Mate: 'Where are the paddles, Rob?'

Rob: 'We havent got any.'

1st Mate: 'Where are we headed?'

Rob: 'According to this chart the first stop is Southampton. Then we move on to Southend, Gillingham, Watford, Millwall what was that splash?  Hello, where's everybody gone?  Hello?  Hello?  Oh well, I may as well write another fifty thousand words about how right we were to stick with the Captain

'Once upon a time'

Rob Hamilton, Liverpool (26/11/05)

 


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