Sunday 25 August 2019

John Giles: Everton made one big mistake behind the scenes and it might be too late to put the genie back in the bottle

BARNSLEY, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Walsh director of football at Everton during the pre-season friendly match between Barnsley and Everton at Oakwell Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Barnsley, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
BARNSLEY, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Walsh director of football at Everton during the pre-season friendly match between Barnsley and Everton at Oakwell Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Barnsley, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)

John Giles

I’LL bet there won’t be many Everton fans, heading to Goodison tonight to watch their team take on West Ham, who started the season expecting to be in a full-on relegation battle by November.

Hammers fans had no reason to feel remotely optimistic about the year ahead when the club owners made it very plain during the summer that Slaven Bilic was on thin ice.

But they are used to that at West Ham, where the battle at the bottom of the table has been a harsh reality for decades.

Everton fans like to see themselves as a club looking up, not looking down.

Sure they’ve had the odd flirtation with relegation over the years but with major new investors on board, optimism was in the air in July and August when the club shook off years of tight control of cash, took out the cheque book and started spending.

There are two types of bad management in football, one very visible on the pitch when even good players can’t perform at their best, but also an invisible malaise which happens in the club offices and boardroom.

I don’t know what the turnover in Premier League clubs of CEOs and senior management is, but I guarantee you they don’t get sacked as often as managers.

With so much money at stake now for Premier League clubs, many of them small operations trying desperately to ramp up to meet the demands of the huge finance now available, the consequences of bad decisions are magnified.

The same holds for a relatively large club like Everton, well used to big-time football, when new investors chasing a pot of gold create high and mighty expectations.

I feel genuine fear now for Everton, a club I’ve always had a soft spot for and one which has always tried to do things the right way.

Everton have always followed the formula of allowing their managers to manage but new investors bring new demands and the moment they hired Steve Walsh from Leicester as their director of football, they binned the correct approach for a new model.

Walsh has to be doing something to earn his salary which means he was centrally involved in buying all of those players we saw arriving at Goodison for big money in July and August.

Koeman’s position was undermined and I think we saw that on the pitch from the start of the season. It’s even more evident now watching David Unsworth’s desperate attempt to knock some shape into the team.

My concern for Everton is that once a club hires a director of football, it is very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle and return to a manager whose word is law when it comes to buying and selling players.

I know there are plenty of good managers working with directors of football but none of them like it and if given a choice, would happily send them packing.

Achieving consistent success when you don’t have total control over who is in your dressing room is impossible.

When you do, all things are possible and that’s why Pep Guardiola was grinning from ear to ear after Manchester City grabbed a late winner against Huddersfield.

This was the moment when Guardiola had full confirmation that his players have bought into his method lock, stock and barrel.

That might sound odd given City’s expansive form over the last few months. How could they be playing so well if they didn’t trust their manager?

It’s a fair question but I’ll bet Guardiola learned far more from this win than he did from, for instance, the 5-0 victory over Liverpool.

He was overjoyed because he saw his players displaying the courage to keep playing their football against awkward, dogged opponents and by doing so, won out in the end.

I can’t over-emphasise how important that was to Guardiola. He knew his players could cut loose against good sides, even title rivals and win with style.

But the fact that they kept passing, kept looking to play around or through Huddersfield meant that the players came through a very big test for the manager.

When many teams would have been piling crosses into the Huddersfield box, or belting long balls in the same direction from defence, Pep’s players stuck to their guns.

I won’t be tying a blue ribbon around the Premier League title just yet but it’s all looking very good indeed for the Spanish maestro.

Herald Sport

The Left Wing: The 'hell' of World Cup training camp, Ireland's half-back dilemma and All Blacks uncertainty

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport