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Risk Management

By Tony Wilson :  17/12/2010 :  Comments (17) :
The 0-0 at home to Wigan has lead to much discussion/argument/diatribe. After a sadly predictable stumble into 2011 I finally feel I need to reach out to fellow fans in the hope that someone out there other than my bored friends and family might consider my self-righteous musings.

On fan sites, the radio, and in the papers, I have come across some insightful comments about why EFC are not hitting the heights expected of them. I would like to argue against some of the conventional wisdom being bandied around and stress the importance of our manager and coaches.

Scapegoating is just sad. It is easy to blame Saha, Yakubu, Beckford, Arteta et al for the lack of goals. Fans see Arteta not bossing games and turn on him. He cannot be expected to shine brightest every week. Teams are acutely aware of his ability now and they try to man-mark him if he pushes forward. They can afford to man-mark him because we don't have enough game-changing players.

The forwards have missed a few sitters, but how many clear-cut chances have we created? Bar one or two games, most of our shots have been outside chances. But, then again, it doesn't take much thought to label one or two players as the reason for Everton's current plight. Equally, the classic solution of "let's just buy a striker, a right winger, a new kit man..." is an easy one that leads to fun conversations about possible signings.

The confidence factor is well over-stated. We are talking about professional sportsmen here, not your mates in the local pub team or your kids in a school match. Commentators and fans talk about confidence dropping as though footballers were emotional wrecks. I can't help but suspect this is a vain attempt to boost their own egos or a way of simplifying the game into something even an ant could understand.

Now to a point of view that doesn't get as much attention, partly because it often incites a reaction that would make the most religous zealot appear to be a reasonable person. Let me be clear. David Moyes has done wonders at Everton to create a stable club that has overperformed on balance over the last 9-odd years. In terms of discipline, fitness, and defending he is a top coach. He has also signed some top players without breaking the bank.

However, as other fans have inferred to their peril, Everton too often (not always) play not to lose. More sepcifically, the players are clearly coached to maintain a rigid team structure that limits the opposition but also our own players. Playing two holding midfielders might work for Man City because they are blessed with many technically gifted players that counteract the defensive structure of the team. We are not.

We now rely too much on Baines. The midfield is often so rigid that it takes our left back hitting the wing for us to create any decent chances at all. This actually makes us more vulnerable to counter-attacks and is unfair on the full backs. With Cahill behind the striker, Arteta drops deeper to a position that prevents him really pushing up and hurting teams. Pienaar has great skills but he cuts inside so often, and when he does his passing options are limited.

We don't actually seem to play defensive midfielders. We play "advanced centre backs". With a frequently lone striker (the hardest job in football) and not enough options elsewhere, our attacks are careful and often look nice, but are also predictable and stale, which I have to admit is not helped by limited pace up front.

The root issues are down to the coaching team. We do not take enough risks. Sometimes a player should try to skin his opposition number even if it is unlikely to come off. Good players and teams take risks. Risks lead to good chances and then goals. Look at Tottenham to see a side that examples this well. We don't take enough risks.

If we were trying to stay in the league, I would accept this style of play. Thanks to Moyes and Co, we now aspire to finishing in the top 8. We aren't amidst a crisis. A crisis is being in the relegation zone come the end of the season.

Nevertheless, I have watched West Brom and Blackpool this season and I would guess that their managers' mandates are to stay in the top flight. They have both been hammered a couple of times, but they are also capable of fast, direct attacks that are very diifficult to cope with. If our coaches could take a leaf from their books, perhaps the squad we have might reach its full potential. If things carry on as they are, I might have to start going to watch Blackpool instead!

Reader Comments

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Matthew Lovekin
1   Posted 18/12/2010 at 07:20:12

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Tony, I couldn't agree more. I wrote a similar article recently called 'The Football Manual'. Moyes has done a great job at Everton by transforming the squad from relegation veterans to European contenders. However, his tactics haven't changed with the quality of the players, and until they do, Everton will continue to be an overachieving relegation fighting team.

It is almost as if Moyes is too efficient in his coaching, there is no margin for error, but also no margin for creativity, skill, individuality... va va voom! The wide midfielders have too many defensive responsibilites, the attacking midfielders have too much defensive responsibility, there is one striker left up front all by himself.

Moyes has ruined £26M worth of striking talent (Beattie, Johnson & Yakubu) not to mention Saha's ability, because of his tactics. Moyes needs to let his creative players play football. He needs to let Arteta play in an area of the pitch that is dangerous to the opposition. Moyes has only ever signed one winger (Van der Meyde) in 9 years because he doesn't like creative attacking players.

To be a top 4 side, you need that extra bit of quality, talent, world class ability, a Rooney, Ronaldo, Drogba, Nasri, Torres, Van der Vaart... a player who can take on the opposition and beat him man for man to open up space.

It's not about money: Moyes spent more on Fellaini than Ronaldo cost Man Utd, than Nasri cost Arsenal, than Van der Vaart cost Spurs, than Johnson cost Man City... It's about Moyes not wanting to sign this type of player because he doesn't want them in his defensive system. If you can't beat the opposition player for skill, beat him for pace, like Bale or Lennon, but Everton don't even have any pacy attacking players.

Everton will never have another player like Kanchelskis or Limpar whilst Moyes is at the helm, and we will never be a Champions League side whilst Moyes is at the helm because he doesn't have the tactical knowledge of Mourinho, Ferguson or Wenger.

Eugene Ruane
2   Posted 18/12/2010 at 06:32:18

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I honestly believe our attitude and criticism (the levels) is consciously and/or unconsciously linked to their money and how 'out of touch' and distant they appear (not just Everton supporters, all supporters).

When I was a kid, a girl up the street was 'seeing' George Telfer. We used to see him arrive and get his autograph and ask insightful stuff like "Er... are you playing Saturday, George?".

He'd say "Hope so" then go in to 'get his hole'.

Colin Harvey lived in Halewood and my mate (who lived on Halewood Road) said you could knock on his door and his (then sexy) wife would would call "Colin!" and out would come the 'The White Pelé' in his slippers and sign tatty bits of paper.

Losing games back then was of course gutting, but the fact is, Everton teams that had bad spells (seasons?) then were much easier to forgive because they were still very much part of 'us' and they weren't millionaires.

Mick Lyons was only ever a big work-horse centre-half and one who made many a fuck-up, but we constantly forgave him because we knew Everton FC genuinely meant as much to him as it did to us (nb: and I never saw him kiss his badge).

Distin to me is a better player than Lyons, but he's paid in wheelbarrows full of money and has no more feeling for us than he does for anyone else.

Consequently the response to his mistakes is fellers bursting blood vessels and screaming "THE MONEY THAT CUNT'S ON AND HE CAN'T EVEN..." etc

For Mick, it was a resigned head-shake and 'Jeeesus Lyonsy'.

The attitude of supporters 'back then' just wasn't as harsh towards players, even the bums.

But now, as we know, now even the most useless (can't pass, can't trap, can't head, can't score) puddin' is on £15,000 - £20,000 a week (A WEEK!) and in the main seems totally removed from the supporters.

The truth is we're less forgiving, harsher and more demanding because (certainly in the eyes of many) they've become very rich, couldn't-give-a-fuck celebrities instead of footballers.

We tended to like players back then (love some of them) and of course we loved Everton. These days, we still love Everton but many (like me) don't really like footballers.

Maybe it's an age thing and I accept it's not directly their fault, but there it is.

Well... it's a theory.
Alan Clarke
3   Posted 18/12/2010 at 09:09:01

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Tony, so it's not the manager's fault we're in this position (because he's a top coach!) and you can't scapegoat the players, so who the fuck is responsible for the absolute shite that's turned out this season?

You go on to slate Moyes's tactics this season so why is he so untouchable? Out of his 9 years we've only 'overperformed' in 3 seasons ? during which time Middlesbrough and Portsmouth have won more than us.
Tony I'Anson
4   Posted 18/12/2010 at 09:26:59

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I think Eugene has just made a very good point about football and those deemed good enough to play the game. How many would still put on the shirt if asked to give 95% of this season's salary to people struggling to feed their kids?
Ray Said
5   Posted 18/12/2010 at 10:16:07

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Eugene makes a great point about players like Lyons (who i loved), he would fall over his own feet but he would also run through a brick wall for the club-that attitude bought the lad a lot of credit in the bank for when he would make a balls up. Some of the players we have (Heitenga) won't even run after someone when they go past him.
Mike Allison
6   Posted 18/12/2010 at 10:18:29

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I agree that we don't take enough risks, and that can be seen as the responsibility of the manager and the coaching team. However, I pretty much disagree with everything you've said, even down to your assessment of fans criticising Moyes 'at their peril' and that the 'play not to lose' point hasn't had much attention ? it's had loads. It seems to be the mainstream opinion on this site, particularly among the most vocal and emotional writers, that this is the case, and that it's all Moyes's fault.

What you say about confidence is very, very strange. I don't understand how you have arrived at that opinion. It is completely irrelevant whether its professional sportsmen or your mates in the park, confidence makes everything else happen. In particular, confidence is absolutely vital in taking risks, the key factor you identify. These are human beings, you could pay them a million pounds a minute or they could play for free and it wouldn't make any difference whatsoever to how confident they felt. Professional sportsmen simply can't be judged by the fact that they get paid, as they face an opposition who also get paid, which completely negates the claim.

I could go on and on, so I'll limit myself, but essentially we are a couple of decent creative players (say, a right winger and a striker) and a big confidence boost away from a tipping point which would see our coaches and players much happier to take risks and look to win games rather than 'not lose' them, as we were doing (with this squad) in the first part of this year.
David Hallwood
7   Posted 18/12/2010 at 10:55:50

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'The forwards have missed a few sitters, but how many clear-cut chances have we created?' Answer: container loads, and yes, it is easy to blame Saha & Yak, because, as Eugene points out, they're getting paid fabulous amounts of money and the least they can do is get themselves in to shape (Yak) or run around a touch just to give the impression that you want to be on the pitch (Saha).

Remember Saha & Yak aren't alehouse players, but internationals who have scored lots of goals at the highest level, so when I pay my money I expect them to perform.

But one thing that I do agree with is that Moyes's defensive mindset is becoming destructive ? to the point that these days my heart sinks when we take an early lead, then we turn back the clock to the backs-to-the-wall performances against teams that we should be beating out of site.
Charles King
8   Posted 18/12/2010 at 10:12:00

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I think the ever more mercenary player means coaches must rebuild almost every season.

It's the acid test for any manager, Liverpool used to be the masters replacing a couple each season and Ferguson has done it slightly better than Wenger, albeit spending a lot more. Harry Redknapp has grasped it... even the dreaded Allardyce participates, importing experienced foreign mercenaries.

Moyes has real issues with this, his aims are laudable, trying for decent characters at the right age, being loyal to his "lads", but we're "samey" throughout, too comfortable.

One of our best players this year has been Pienaar, because he's not comfortable he's in the shop window.

This Everton side doesn't lack ability ? it lacks urgency. That's Moyes I'm afraid.
Peter Webster
9   Posted 18/12/2010 at 12:21:50

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Nice one Eugene, I agree completely.
It could be worse though, Captain Beefheart could've died... (looks at paper) Ahh, shite!
Colin Potter
10   Posted 18/12/2010 at 15:28:51

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Wonderful turn of phrase, Eugene ? "get his hole"
One to take you back donkeys years, Great!!
Gavin Ramejkis
11   Posted 18/12/2010 at 16:43:13

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Colin and Eugene, must be an age thing, I still use that phrase!
Tony Wilson
12   Posted 18/12/2010 at 17:49:30

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Thanks for reading, gentlemen.

Eugene, my defense of the players was not absolute. I do get frustrated with apparently lazy players as much as the next person. What I have tried to explain here is that there are bigger issues feeding Everton's current plight. Thanks for the nostalgia anyhow.

Alan, I stated that Moyes was a good coach. I think he would be a great right-hand man for a top manager. Unfortunately, I do not think he has the intelligence and dynamism to be a top manager. I certainly did not say he was untouchable. Although BK seems to think he is the second coming of Christ, so I am not sure that what we think matters anyhow.
David, Saha and Yakubu were top internationals. They haven't been for quite some time, however. What they are paid is not their fault. Moyes picks them. Moyes restrains their creativity. Moreover, they do not seem physically what they once were.

Last but not least, Mike... please go on and on if you wish. Do not spare me. I am a big boy and I can handle it. To be fair, I did overstate the fact that negative tactics don't get enough attention. However, I used the phrase "at their peril" due to the frequent lampooning of us non-believers. Nevertheless, do not, SIr, imply that I state here that "it is all Moyes's fault". If you read this argument objectively, you will see that such extreme logic is not my style.

So, confidence "makes everything happen"? Please, tell me how. Did you read this in a self-help book? How do you think these players get to the top? Resolute confidence is a big part of it. The truth hurts sometimes, I know, but many of these players are arrogant beyond belief. Do you think they all care what you or I think? Whilst this is a factor in the bigger picture, I reiterate: the importance of confidence is overstated (as opposed to irrelevant). The illogic that both sets of players being paid negates the claim that confidence is overrated I really cannot argue against. It is completely bizarre.

When all is said and done, gentlemen, this is an attempt to emphasise the central importance of negative football strategies, not to define the exact issues that the club currently has. They are many and complex. If you want to read bullshit theories of everything that lack any context or sense of scale then go and read the Daily Mail and just don't bother trying to think for yourselves.


Col Noon
13   Posted 18/12/2010 at 20:51:49

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Eugene pretty much summed it up for me.
Colin Potter
14   Posted 19/12/2010 at 09:18:27

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I can still use the phrase, but can do sod all about it!! (hee hee)
Mike Allison
15   Posted 19/12/2010 at 15:02:59

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I kind of explained how confidence makes everything else happen. Whilst these players may be extraordinarily arrogant in terms of their self-worth, and might strut round a bar or restaurant thinking they own the place, that's not the same as having the confidence to make something happen on a football pitch. A player confident and on-form will try something, whether it is to beat a man, take a shot, whip in a first time cross or whatever. The confidence and self-belief that they can do it is what we commonly call 'form', these two concepts are very closely linked.

The simplest way I can think to try and explain what I mean is that most sets of players are actually much of a muchness in terms of their ability, certainly in the mid-table sections of any league, and confidence, form, 'winning-habit', as well as organisation are what make the difference in winning matches, and they're what we've been very good at over the last few years. It's this that we are currently struggling to do whilst others, such as Bolton and Sunderland, are doing reasonably well.

We don't seem to have understood each other fully as regards to one particular area, you say:

"The illogic that both sets of players being paid negates the claim that confidence is overrated I really cannot argue against. It is completely bizarre."

You make the initial link (you also repeat it) between them being highly paid professionals and either them therefore being confident, or confidence not mattering (I'm not entirely sure which your actual point is if I'm honest, as I don't think either makes any sense). What I'm saying is that money is completely irrelevant in terms of how confident a player feels at any given instant, particularly in terms of making a decision on a football pitch. If Arteta lacks confidence, then he'll constantly play sideways passes, mis-hit set pieces, and generally play less well than he would if he was confident, and whether he earned £75k a week or nothing at all would make no difference whatsoever.
Trevor Lynes
16   Posted 20/12/2010 at 00:17:49

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We are now looking at loans to add to our squad and they will be players who their clubs don't use or youngsters who need development... two of our regulars are ex-academy players who we released and bought back after they were developed elsewhere ?Jags and Bainsey ? that proves to me that we are lacking in development skills. We have NO youngsters presently pushing for places from the reserves.

When was the last time we won a Premier League game by three clear goals?? It is the tactics and the coaching in general that needs shaking up. Contrary to what David said, we DO NOT fashion many chances from open play compared to most other Premier League sides and the teams that don't take the chances get relegated, eg; Wolves, Birmingham, Fulham... and US!!! on current form.

We cannot attract top players and we don't pay really attractive salaries by comparison with the top teams. DM is now a contender for Bargain Hunt because he can only shop at Primark or Charity shops for talent. We are now spending far less than we were a few years ago and only investment can change things.

The tactics we are using at present are more suited to playing away than at home, because we can sit back and scramble a draw whereas at home we are expected to take the initiative. We are one of the worst teams in the Premier League to watch and our creative ability is all left-sided.

I truly wish I were wrong and we stuffed some side four-nil but I cannot see it happening!!!

Mike Allison
17   Posted 20/12/2010 at 12:08:07

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"The tactics we are using at present are more suited to playing away than at home, because we can sit back and scramble a draw whereas at home we are expected to take the initiative."

I think this sums up our season. We get decent away points, but then also only get those same points at home.

I disagree with your next sentence though, as our style of football has in some ways been good, but in others the problem, as we have done lots of ineffectual possession football of the type that people call 'good football' when Spain do it, but never carried enough forward momentum.

Compare this to the style of at least half a dozen teams in this league, Stoke and Blackburn being the most notable examples, and we're certainly not 'bad to watch' by comparison. (I'm assuming you mean for the neutral, not factoring in how frustrating it is for us as fans).

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