Par for the course out in the middle

Martin O'Connor 09/11/2021 13comments  |  Jump to last
Well out here in the middle
You can park it on the street
Step up to the counter
You nearly always get a seat
Nobody steals, nobody cheats
Wish you were here, my love
Wish you were here, my love

James McMurty – Out Here in the Middle

As we hit the third international break of the season, and close in on a third of the season being played, where are the Blues under the stewardship of Benitez?

A quick start to the season saw Everton rack up 13 points from their opening six games, which had the team at the top end of the Premier League. Playing a quick counter-attacking style of play, in sharp contrast to the slow turgid football under Carlo Ancelotti, the sun was shining in the Everton Garden. But history is littered with teams who had fast starts to a season, only to quickly drop off to their mean, which I think has now happened to the Blues.

Injuries to three of the team’s better players, other players regressing to their average level, plus teams quickly working out how to play against The Toffees, has seen the good start quickly evaporate. But this was to be expected from an underperforming squad that has left the club mired in mediocrity for far too long.

The Everton squad has been, and continues to be, unfit for purpose. It has been in this state of disrepair since the end of Martinez's first season. With no money for transfers, the only summer incomings were the ageing and not-good-enough goalkeepers, Asmir Begovic and Andy Lonergan, plus the wingers Andros Townsend (on a free) and Damari Gray, signed from Bayer Leverkusen for around £1.7 million. How these signings were supposed to push the Blues on is anyone’s guess.

Both Townsend and Gray had fast starts to their Everton careers, but have over the last four or so games regressed to their average mean. Both will have good days, Townsend will always put in a shift and Gray has a point to prove, but is he really as good as many Blues have hyped him up to be? Not in my opinion. But at the transfer price, and the bargain-basement the club are dealing in, I suppose nothing else can be expected.

When you look at the Blues’ form following the 2-0 victory over Norwich City at Goodison in Game 6, Everton have taken just 2 points from the next five league games, scoring 10 goals in the process, making it two goals per game. The club have now hit a very sticky period and, with the up-and-coming fixtures, things may get worse before they start to hopefully pick up a little.

Can anything more be expected from the mishmash of mostly bang-average players, led by a manager whose best days are past him? As a manager, he is on a declining path – a manager who has not done anything of note since he left Chelsea? The answer to this question is surely a big fat No.

Benitez, as I wrote in From Hollywood to the Gates of Hell, is executing a holding role for the club. He is a safe pair of hands to see the club through to the new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock, and the pie-in-the-sky hope that a sparkling new ground will somehow magically turn Everton into a Top 6 club, challenging for European places each season. This shows how out of touch the Board and owner are.

A new ground doesn’t make a club successful, although it can help. What makes a club and team successful is an actual vision of what sort of football team we want to be; a Director of Football and manager working together to bring in players to fit that vision, and a good manager who can set the team up tactically to play to said vision, while bringing out the best in the players to make the vision successful.

Added to this mix should be a proper functioning Academy and proper leadership from the club’s Board of Directors in enabling the manager and Director of Football to carry out the strategy and vision the club has planned. But, when you look at the leadership of the club since moneybags Moshiri bought into the Blues, it is apparent for all to see that the Toffees are as far away from the above as they ever were.

The expense of the new stadium, plus Premier League Profit and Sustainability problems, due to the appalling recruitment and expenditure over the last 5 years, plus a long list of failed managers, has left the club in a complete mess.

Can we expect the club to progress in the next few seasons? Not while we are run by an underperforming board and a bumbling owner. We will carry on producing mediocrity (we can’t even make a fist of domestic cups anymore), while we have the present board leadership at the club, and I include the majority owner Moshiri in this.

This being the case, I think that the start to the season has been par for the course. Is Benitez a better fit for Everton than the disastrous Carlo Magnifico? Yes, he is. The mess Ancelotti left, and the way the team were playing when he turned tail and sailed for Madrid was appalling. But, with the defection of Fantastico (that song and that banner was truly embarrassing), and even with present financial restraints, the board and majority owner had a final, final chance.

The club, led by Director of Football, could have had a total reset. A vision and plan of action of what sort of team they want Everton to be, and the style of football they want the club to play could have, and should have been mapped out. Once this strategy was put in place, Marcel Brands should have been the person to have been given the responsibility to go and talk to managers who could fit the vision, and to recruit a manager for this vision.

Instead, the final chance for any sort of footballing vision and strategy has gone. You can only have so many chances and the leadership at Everton have had far too many. Instead of having a total reset and a proper vision for the club, we had another knee-jerk reaction. After years of failure, and one different sort of manager after another, we got a safe pair of hands, who can do, at best, nothing more than keep Everton in midtable.

The start of this season is exactly as in the Out in the Middle lyrics, boringly predictable, but in essence quite safe. It’s not Benítez’s fault. Why would a declining manager turn down the chance of keeping the club ticking along until the new ground is opened? But what happens then? I am still of the opinion that another manager will be in place by the time we reach Bramley-Moore Dock as, like all the ones before him, by 18 months, things will start to go pear-shaped and stagnant for Benitez.

Everton Football Club has no proper vision or strategy, and until the Board and leadership at the club is changed (and the majority shareholder as well), we will be forever at best “Out here in the Middle” of the Premier League. On that note, Benitez is, so far this season, on course to deliver the usual mid-table mediocrity.

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Reader Comments (13)

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Dennis Stevens
1 Posted 09/11/2021 at 10:39:36
Much to agree with there, Martin.

However, I think & hope you may have underestimated Benitez. He surely knew what he was getting himself into & I doubt he would have done so unless he really felt he could achieve something with the Club.

I also have to disagree as regards any "final, final chance", while the Club survives opportunities will arise. As per the old Doc Pomus tune: "There Is Always One More Time".

John Raftery
2 Posted 09/11/2021 at 14:17:26
A safe pair of hands is exactly what we need until the financial position is stabilised. Choosing any other option would have amounted to a gamble. We have have had enough of those.
Jay Harris
3 Posted 09/11/2021 at 14:37:00
Much to agree with, Martin.

I would just add, as Carlo said, "He is not a magician".

When you bring a good manager in, you have to create the conditions in which he can work effectively.

Moshiri must have been aware of the FFP position and the lack of harmony in the boardroom but put his managers in an impossible position. I am sure Rafa was told he would have some money to spend by selling certain players which did not go according to plan because of the crazy contracts we gave players rendering their saleability useless.

Moshiri has to learn you cannot give 5% of your time to running a football club – especially one where you give Kenwright carte blanche.

John Boon
4 Posted 09/11/2021 at 16:45:34
Good article but, in many ways, your pessimism outweighs your optimism.

With a new ground, we just have to hope for a bright future. Unfortunately, that is not an automatic.

Sunderland is just one example. We have to hope that the entire "Management Team", whoever that may be, from Moshiri down, work closely together. Would have to improve 100% over the mess and mis-management of the last 6 to 26 years.

The Future comes far too quickly but, for some of us, not quickly enough.

Stu Darlington
5 Posted 09/11/2021 at 19:20:59
Good article, Martin, it echoes what has been discussed on ToffeeWeb a number of times since Paul the Esk's article after the Watford game.

I think you perhaps underestimate Benitez's role in this, however; I don't get the impression that he's just going through the motions looking for a big pay day. He is a football professional and, although arguably yesterday's man in terms of modern tactics, strategy etc, I believe he will do his level best to make Everton competitive in the Premier League.

A number of teams have been struggling in recent years and have managed to improve significantly with a few intelligent signings. Initially I am thinking of Wolves, Aston Villa, West Ham, Leeds, Leicester... but there are probably others.

I am not talking about Hollywood signings but up-and-coming players with potential. We can do the same but this puts the onus on the scouting team and recruitment policy to get on with it and do their job.

Of course, to do this, they need a clear idea of what kind of team we want and where we want to be as a club. Sadly, this is what we are lacking at the moment!

Bill Rodgers
6 Posted 09/11/2021 at 21:21:53
You cannot possibly blame Moshiri and his board. They have appointed a well-regarded Director of Football and allowed him to spend more than enough money.

Regardless of the manager, regardless of the players signed, Everton are consistent: They are consistently lacking in motivation and commitment.

We ruin good players – but perhaps it is most clearly seen in the homegrown rubbish, who regularly look like carthorses who do not break sweat. Yet they still appear arrogant.

The problem is that managers are told they must keep the dinosaurs at Finch Farm – and the dinosaurs continue to turn out half-hearted dross.

Steve Carse
7 Posted 10/11/2021 at 13:49:06
Bill (6),

Would you care to name the "homegrown rubbish'' you have in mind? Frankly, I struggle to name many "homegrown" players from more recent times, never mind those who have been "arrogant" and "do not break sweat". The names of many non-homegrown acquisitions come to mind much more readily.

Jim Lloyd
8 Posted 10/11/2021 at 14:28:15
Seeing as we haven't got a pot to piss in, then the great vision will not arise anytime soon. And in order to set out on that vision, you need a feller who has an idea of what decent football is, for a start!

Whether Benitez could form part of that team or not, I would say he already has started to point out to the powers that be, they have to change.

I guess he's had long discussions with Mr Moshiri and Mr Usmanov about what they want and how to achieve it. He might only be just that – "a safe pair of hands", as the article writer has said; but I think he's more than that. He's been at successful clubs and seen how they are run. I think that when he told the board to get their fingers out, it was with the full backing of Moshiri and Usmanov.

I don't expect him to do anything other than mid-table safety for two reasons. We are not likely to have any money to spend until who knows when. So the opportunity to bring anyone in who is a ready-made Premier League player of good quality, is remote. Especially with the lumps that we have, who are taking a massive amount in wages out of the club.

Secondly, I don't see many lads coming from the youth teams who are going to light any fires. I'm, hoping that Ellis Simms can make it, and maybe Lewis Dobbin to come alongside Anthony Gordon. We'll wait and see.

There is another point and that is the role of Brands. I see Benitez as having the backing of the big two and with that, we might just get the club on the right track towards a vision that we all want.

And far as I can see, if we don't get the whole lot of the current board members shifted asap, then we'll carry on up Shit Creek without a paddle.

As well as being the manager, I think Benitez is there to advise the owner and his oppo on how to swing this sinking ship around; Captain bloody Birdseye on the bridge should go get a "well-earned"(?) rest.

The two lads who Benitez brought in at the start of the season have been two of our regular best players, don't underrate them. When we have a full team out again, then it gives Benitez some options, rather than none!

John Zapa
9 Posted 10/11/2021 at 14:57:03
I agree fully, the club is on a path to nowhere with its current leadership and management team. The squad this season is worse than last season that finished 10th. I can't see this squad doing better this season.

If in January or the summer the club has to sell some of the better players just to keep going, then it's a slippery slope downwards.

Mike Owen
10 Posted 12/11/2021 at 21:17:19
I agree with a lot of your points, Martin, not all, but certainly the one about how we could have had a total reset, with a vision and plan of what sort of team Everton should be.

I don't watch much TV football, but I fell upon Red Bull Salzburg's game against Seville in September. I thought Salzburg were good to watch and was intrigued by how many young players they had.

In their last Champions League game, at Wolfsburg, I thought Salzburg's tall, powerful right-back, Rasmus Kristensen, could go down a storm at Goodison. He is 24.

There was only one fella in the team older than him! All the others were younger. They used 15 players that night at Wolfsburg. Ten of them were 21 or younger. After four games, Salzburg top their group in the Champions League.

I am not saying you could do the very same in the Premier League. But last Sunday against Spurs we fielded two central midfielders aged in their 30s and both were subbed in the second half as they tired.

As for Gray, I think opposing teams are now keeping a closer watch on him, reducing our goalscoring potential.

Robert Tressell
11 Posted 12/11/2021 at 22:34:49
Mike #10.

What Salzburg have done consistently now is extraordinary. You're right, we cannot do what they do in the Premier League. They take advantage of playing in a weak league to give talent the space to develop. But we must find a way to do something along those lines or we'll remain mid-table or worse.

Benitez probably needs to use January to strengthen on the cheap. But it is possible in summer we could easily generate north of £150m in sales of Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Mina and Kean. That would leave us with an opportunity to overhaul the squad altogether, and hopefully think a little more strategically around development than last time we had big money to spend.

Brian Murray
12 Posted 12/11/2021 at 22:45:51
Robert.

If we got those fees for our gems, would you trust this club to spend it and make us stronger? Having said that, Benitez is no mug compared to Koeman, Martinez etc.

Robert Tressell
13 Posted 12/11/2021 at 23:11:21
Honestly, Brian I don't know. I think Benitez has at least created a style he wants to play (based on speed / work rate) and identified players of good value that suit that style. There's also a lot of good players coming to the end of their contracts in 2022 or 2023. Not just older players either.

So there's definitely a chance to build well – but there are now 7 richer clubs plus the likes of Leicester City, Aston Villa and West Ham Utd to contend with, so by no means easy.


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