Often lingering in the shadow of English football’s giants in the northwest, this season was meant to represent a turning point for Everton. Heavy spending ushered in by billionaire Farhad Moshiri’s takeover in February 2016 saw parallels being drawn with Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City acquisition in 2008. Moshiri’s project is brimming with similar ambition, he made as much clear when he got rid of Roberto Martinez within months of his arrival to replace him with Southampton’s Ronald Koeman. While many saw this as a horizontal move for the Dutch legend, Moshiri made it clear that he wanted a star on the touchline to match the recent arrivals of Klopp, Mourinho and Guardiola in that neck of the woods.
The project continued to gather steam as Moshiri moved to clear off the club’s debts and began to outline plans to play in a bigger stadium. This optimism made its way on to the pitch as Koeman steered his side to 7th, some way behind the big boys but steadily impressive nonetheless. As the season drew to a close, Luis Enrique’s decision to step down as Barcelona boss instantly heightened speculation around Koeman’s future. This wasn’t entirely unexpected given the Dutchman’s Ajax and Barcelona past, a combination naturally tempting for the Catalan giants. Koeman reinforced his commitment to the Toffees stating he ‘owed’ Champions League football to the club. Once Romelu Lukaku’s inevitable departure rolled around, he oversaw an influx of young talent to Goodison Park, taking Moshiri’s spending for 2017 to the £170 million mark.
Where did Koeman go wrong?
Three months into the season, and things couldn’t have been much worse. Two points above the relegation zone and bottom of their Europa League group, Koeman is already feeling the heat and firmly in the last-chance saloon. One way to tell if the manager is in trouble is when they come out in public to assure onlookers that they have the backing of the owners. In modern football, that usually spells doom. On the pitch, the style of play is lethargic and insipid, something that is unbecoming of a man who learned the principles of total football from Johan Cruyff himself.
While new signings all across the pitch are still getting to know each other, contributing to their slow start, it’s clear where the root of the problem lies – a Lukuku-sized hole up top. Instead of replacing the big Belgian like-for-like, Everton invested in a new-look attack, bringing in attacking midfielders Gylfi Sigurðsson, Davy Klaassen, Nikola Vlašić and a strike pair of Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez. The ‘quantity over quality’ mantra has cost teams before, as it did Spurs and Liverpool in the wake of Bale and Suarez’s departures to Spain. André Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers were the faces of those summer overhauls, whether they sanctioned those deals or not. They never recovered from there and were axed soon after.
The past does not bode well for Ronald Koeman, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for him. Coming up for his side are two weeks of testing fixtures, including trips to Leicester in the League, Chelsea in the Cup and Lyon in Europe. But before they hit the road, the Toffees have the small matter of hosting an embattled Arsenal on Sunday.
It was this weekend fifteen years ago when a baby-faced 17-year old by the name of Wayne Rooney announced himself to the world with a thunderous strike off the bar against the soon to be invincibles. A legendary Manchester United career later Rooney has returned to his boyhood club, who look like they could use an encore of that performance. It could be just the thing to lift the blue half of Merseyside from the depths of the despair to where they really want to be, snapping at the heels of the English elite.
Feature Image Via Liverpool Echo
Ronald Koeman Image Via Sky Sports