This week – 5 years ago

Ronald Koeman is in charge, Wayne Rooney has returned and Everton are in Europa League action either side of a season-opener against Stoke City

David Hardman 12/08/2022 1comment  |  Jump to last

Not going anywhere near as far back this time, and a much more optimistic opening day

Background

Approximately 18 months earlier, Moshiri arrived. It was an unusual arrangement which saw the previous chair and many of his associates remaining in their positions – some would say that it was the “takeover” Kenwright had always dreamed of, the long awaited and elusive “investment” finally happening.

And things did happen – Martinez was let go, and in Koeman they’d hired a manager who was a big name on the European and world stage, had enough experience, including at Premier League level with Southampton, yet also a manger whose star was still on the rise.

Money was spent the previous summer and indeed the previous January. The team were more solid at the back, Lukaku had the best season of his career to date (and still his best season in England at the time of writing), and the team finished a respectable 7th to qualify for Europe for the first time in 3 years and only the 2nd time in 9 seasons.

In addition to naturally wanting to improve the team anyway, more squad depth would be required for the extra games and so a deluge of signings were made.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane, Davy Klassen, Jordan Pickford all arrived for big money. Striker Sandro, at £5 million, was a more modest fee, while Cuco Martina, and, most high profile of the lot,  Wayne Rooney, arrived as free transfers. While Rooney’s return did split opinion, the overriding feeling, both on these pages and from any fans who talked to the media, was one of positivity and excitement.

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And expectations were high that the club would build on the previous season’s 7th place, and, while neither Koeman, or any manager since, has actively stated trophies as part of “de project” (it’s usually always about “top 6” and champions league), it was hoped that the trophy drought could end, if not this season then surely in the next few years, with what they were building.

There were a couple of reasons for this optimism to be dampened. The previous season’s star player, Lukaku, and also Ross Barkley, looked set to leave the club in the near future. The big money signings of the previous season had been mixed, with Idrissa Gueye being perhaps the only one to be universally considered a success. And on the pitch, Everton’s performances in the Europa League qualifiers against obscure Slovakian side Ruzomberok had been less than convincing, to put it politely.

But hey, maybe they were still getting their match sharpness up. The results in pre-season friendlies had been positive, and Rooney had scored a worldy in one of these friendlies to send the excitement over his return to fever pitch.

As for Lukaku’s imminent departure, well, that could also be a positive – a touch of the Gary Linekers – the team being more successful and better balanced when the goals are shared and they’re not relying on one player to do it all.

Furthermore, Dominic Calvert Lewin – signed the previous year from Sheffield United – had just scored England’s winner in the Under 20s World Cup final (curiously very little was made of that, compared with recent celebrations). Other promising youngsters included academy product Tom Davies and January signing Ademola Lookman, both of whom scored in Everton’s 4-0 thrashing of Pep Guardiola’s Man City.  Yes, the future looked bright.

The Game

The opponents that day were Stoke City. Rather than rehash someone else’s match report, I’ll tell you my own experience of that game. Having not followed any of the action, I put Soccer Saturday on seconds before they went to the half time ad break. I was too late to see Everton’s score on the screen, but I didn’t need to. As they were about to cut to the adverts, it showed a misty-eyed Bill Kenwright standing up applauding, and I knew. I knew Everton were winning, and I knew exactly who had scored.

It finished 1-0, the only goal coming from Wayne Rooney. In the 9 years that Stoke had been in the Premier League, they had a reputation as tough, physical opponents who were hard to beat, always capable of finishing in the top half and seldom struggling, they caused their fair share of upsets. While beating them wasn’t exactly considered a scalp, it could certainly be viewed as a solid result.

Any doubts about the new signings fitting in, any concerns over Everton’s lacklustre performances against Ruzomberok, now appeared to be unfounded. Everton were off and running.

If Stoke could be tricky opponents, they still represented the easiest of Everton’s first 5 league matches. After this came successive games against Man City, Chelsea, Spurs and Man United. However, I don’t remember too many concerns at the time – there didn’t seem to be an air of “we have to get 3 points against Stoke because of the games we’ve got coming up”. There seemed to be a confidence that Everton could compete and get results from the top sides. Show them what we can do and lay down a marker for the season.

This confidence was only bolstered in the next game – a credible (it seemed at the time) 1-1 draw away to Man City. No prizes for guessing who scored Everton’s goal.

Either side of the game against City, Everton overcame Hadjuk Split in the final qualifying round to reach the group stage (Nicola Vlasic impressing enough for Everton to spend £8 million on).

Epilogue

And that was as good as it got. Everton lost their next 3 league games, in fact their only win in the next 9 matches came at home to Bournemouth, and that was courtesy of 2 late goals from a player Koeman didn’t want to give a squad number or even a locker to!

While on the subject of the squad, Lukaku did indeed leave the club during this transfer window, joining Man United for £75 million. He’d score against Everton on his home league debut in a 4-0 win for his new side, and I had to raise a wry smile as the same people who’d spent all summer defending Rooney’s badge kissing antics were now up in arms about Lukaku playfully taunting the visiting fans after his goal.

Speaking of Rooney, a couple of weeks after his heroic homecoming, he was arrested for drink driving (I believe a girl other than his wife was also involved). Putting opinions and emotions about his return aside and speaking objectively, the fact that Manchester United were willing to still pay half his wages should have set alarm bells ringing, and I can’t help but wonder if those in the know at United felt an incident like this was waiting to happen.

The opponents that day, Stoke, for once failed to be competitive and had a dismal season – having  not finished lower than 14th in their previous 9 seasons, they were relegated, putting Everton’s victory over them in a different context.

By contrast, the result at the Etihad would turn out to be the only time Man City dropped points in 24 league games, and they’d go on to win 18 in a row after their draw with Everton. I said it seemed a credible point at the time. Given the respective seasons both teams were to have, it could be labelled incredible (to use a Martinez word!).

As for Everton, the group stage of the Europa League would only provide further humiliation – Atalanta destroyed them twice and Lyon also completed the double over the blues, including an emphatic 3-0 scoreline in France. Their only points would come against Cypriot outfit Apollon Limassol, and even then they couldn’t beat them at Goodison. The only victory came at the final attempt, in a dead rubber match in Cyprus with both teams already out.

By this time, the team were under new management. Koeman was dismissed in October after yet another heavy defeat, this time at home to Arsenal.

The number one target, Marco Silva, proved elusive as Watford refused Everton permission to approach. Any hopes that caretaker manager David Unsworth could steady the ship quickly evaporated, and after 2 thrashings in the space of 3 days, against Alalanta and Southampton, desperate action was required.

Enter Big Sam.

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Reader Comments (1)

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Dennis Stevens
1 Posted 12/08/2022 at 17:23:06
One of our many false dawns!

I'm not sure, and I wasn't sure then, that such desperate action was required. Unsworth dragged us out of the Bottom 3 and Allardyce, despite his far greater experience, additional time to work with the players, and a transfer window, failed to improve on Unsworth's League performance.


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