Everton are having the bluest of Blue Mondays, but is there even a manager who can arrest the cycle of unhappiness at Goodison Park?
‘Blue Monday’, the idea that the third Monday in January is somehow the ‘most depressing day of the year’, isn’t the most scientifically creditable of theories, but it is wholly appropriate that this year’s Blue Monday should be the day when Everton step up their search for a new order that will turn their increasingly dismal-looking season around.
Rafa Benitez, a manager whose appointment into the managerial position at Goodison Park only ever made sense in a completely abstract way, ran out of his tiny portion of goodwill at Norwich City with a team performance so abject that the final whistle felt like a full stop, and now a club with problems that run far deeper than just the manager have to make one of the most important appointments of their last 70 years.
Meanwhile, 140 miles west of Carrow Road, a former Evertonian was enjoying a somewhat happier day. Derby County have spent the last year in footballing purgatory, but their win against Sheffield United marked a significant moment when they overcame the swingeing 21=point deduction imposed upon them by the EFL to lift themselves above Barnsley and off the bottom of the Championship. If Wayne Rooney was trying to put himself in the shop window for the Everton job, he could hardly have picked a more appropriate day.
Rooney was celebrating his first anniversary as the permanent manager of Derby County, a milestone that few really believed he’d ever reach. Over the course of that 12 months, he’s kept them in the Championship, built a new team at a couple of weeks’ notice after a transfer embargo had to be lifted because Derby didn’t have enough players to start the season, and overcome the points deduction in the face of an administration process that is proving far from straightforward. Without it, Derby would be in 11th place in the Championship, seven points from the play-offs and with games in hand on most of the teams above them.
The sentimental appeal of Wayne Rooney returning to Goodison Park to steer Everton clear of danger and build a team for their move to a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock is obvious, but it overlooks just how much of a mess Everton are. Rafa Benitez was both a cause and a symptom of a far more endemic problem within the club, featuring six years of muddle under the ownership of Farhad Moshiri in which managers have come and gone like ships that pass in the night, each one leaving the imprint of the money that they were given to spend on rebuilding the team in their own image.
From Ronald Koeman to Rafa, five managers in six years have overlaid their vision onto what was already there, and the result is now a mess of a picture. The club’s attitude towards managerial appointments hasn’t been a policy so much as something resembling a blindfolded man throwing darts at a board, hoping against logic that this time they’ll definitely hit the bullseye. It’s not overstatement to ask whether anyone can actually manage the club at the moment. It might not be the right time for anybody to be the next Everton manager.
The events of the last couple of weeks demonstrate just how uncoordinated the club has become. Already in the January transfer window, Everton have spent around £29m on two full-backs, Ukrainian international Vitaliy Mykolenko and Scottish international Nathan Patterson, as well as bringing in Anwar El Ghazi on loan from Aston Villa while sending Lucas Digne in the opposite direction to Villa Park. It doesn’t say much for the long-term planning at Goodison Park that they should have sold a highly talented player such as Digne, who had spectacularly fallen out with Benitez, only to sack the manager within a week. Digne had his own cryptic message to make on the subject of his former manager’s abrupt departure.
And in the absence of anything remotely resembling a coherent policy, why not go full circle and reappoint the man whose sacking was one of Moshiri’s first significant acts as its new majority shareholder? Roberto Martinez has spent the last five-and-a-half years with the Belgium national team, being not quite as successful as many people believe they should be. Last September, Belgium celebrated three years as the number one FIFA-ranked national team in the world. Does this qualify him for a return to Goodison Park? Where would you even begin to list the qualifications required to step in and sort the mess out there? Both of these questions are very difficult to answer without throwing your hands in the air and proclaiming, ‘Who knows?’
Now certainly isn’t the right time for Wayne Rooney the manager and Everton to become acquainted. The club has chewed up and spat out considerably more experienced managers over the last few years. Having spent the last 12 months assiduously building his own reputation under extremely difficult circumstances and with the Premier League being a considerably less forgiving environment than the Championship, Rooney could be jumping from frying pan to fire by going to Everton now.
Everton remain six points above the Premier League’s relegation places, which feels like a comfortable buffer until we recall that the four clubs adrift at the bottom of the table can scarcely accrue fewer points in the second half of the season than during the first. Everton’s current points-per-game tally would see them end the season on 38, so improvement is definitely required if they’re not to find themselves in the nerve-jangling positions that they did in 1994 and 1998. But after almost six years of Farhad Moshiri, Goodison Park has become a managerial graveyard and Everton seem caught in a cycle of unhappiness which they seem unable to break from.
With 71 years of unbroken top-flight football at risk and the club likely ill-prepared for life outside of the Premier League, the stakes could hardly be any higher for whoever Rafa Benitez’s replacement turns out to be.
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