Wednesday 20 March 2019

Chris Bascombe: 'Everton's secret route to revival: copy blueprint Liverpool used'

Nobody at Goodison will admit it but Merseyside rivals should be their inspiration to turn club around

Blue is the colour: Ireland defender Seamus Coleman gives a thumbs-up as he leads his Everton teammates during the warm-up before training yesterday
Blue is the colour: Ireland defender Seamus Coleman gives a thumbs-up as he leads his Everton teammates during the warm-up before training yesterday

Chris Bascombe

As Everton's annual meeting drew to a close in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall at the start of the year, the floor was open for shareholders to quiz senior board members and manager Marco Silva.

The previous hour included exhaustive accounts of how the club has been restructured, and not-so-detailed accounts of how they intend to fund their share of a £500 million stadium on Bramley Moore Dock.

Anyone anticipating a forensic examination of the club's finances was mistaken. The first enquiry to Silva was about zonal marking. Another to Farhad Moshiri requested keeping the festive blue lights illuminating the Royal Liver Buildings, recently purchased by the majority shareholder, because it was "making Liverpudlian heads wobble".

What really got the room shaking was a plea to the hierarchy to make the Goodison atmosphere more like Anfield.

"Sit down," came a heckle amid the din of discontent. "We do not need Kopite behaviour."

Blueprint

While those entrusted with overseeing a Goodison revival would not openly disagree with such sentiments, they might privately acknowledge there is more to gain by following Liverpool's blueprint than politically savvy to admit.

There is no more obvious prototype given their proximity, nature of the fanbase and similar craving to recreate an 1980s heyday with the kind of incremental financial growth overseen by Fenway Sports Group.

Indeed, Moshiri's recent proclamation about building with smarter purchases and youth investment could have been a paraphrasing of John W. Henry in 2010.

Everton are working towards building a new £500m stadium on the River Mersey waterfront at Bramley Moore Dock but still have plans for Goodison Park.

Liverpool and Everton have more in common than the L4 postcode, making resistance to cultural and historic similarities futile.

The distance to the era when both competed on a level footing is not as great as many would have you believe.

Everton will remind any Liverpool fan with a superiority complex the last league title at Goodison was only three years before The Kop's most recent championship.

They will mention with greater frustration that in David Moyes' final two years in charge they finished above their neighbours.

That was just six years ago, making the 33-point gap when they meet tomorrow as incomprehensible as it is unacceptable.

Everton's last victory in a derby was FSG's first game in office when Roy Hodgson was still in charge at Anfield. Liverpool ended that weekend second bottom, Everton more optimistic about challenging the top four. "Going down," was the Gwladys Street chant.

Market

The clubs operated in the same market for a while thereafter. Moyes' replacement Roberto Martinez almost joined Liverpool a year before Everton. Had he done so, Brendan Rodgers would almost certainly have been Everton's choice in 2013.

What took them in different directions is FSG more expertly utilising Liverpool's potential and resources since 2015, not least appointing a superstar coach in Jurgen Klopp, while Everton - having finally attracted investment through Moshiri - have not been shrewd enough with recruitment on and off the pitch.

Given the money spent at Goodison in the last three years, they could and should be in a better position.

What nourishes antagonism is how, with the first whiff of success, Liverpool fans can assume the nonchalant position of being generally above this regional squabble, as if their European and global status makes the Merseyside derby an occasional rivalry.

Goodison veterans, who recall how it was Howard Kendall and not Alex Ferguson who initially knocked the dominant Liverpool teams off their perch, are vexed by this perceived arrogance.

For those with a deeper insight into the history of the clubs, Liverpool remain the precocious younger brother with ideas of grandeur setting a title target every season. Everton want to play their part this weekend in keeping it that way.

The minefield to navigate for those entrusted with leading the modern Everton - rather like the Liverpool hierarchy when chasing Manchester United in the Ferguson years - is they must always strive to match and then eclipse without acknowledging, let alone expressing admiration for, how their greatest rivals have gone about it.

As Ronald Koeman found to his cost in 2016, even a casual remark praising the work across the park can be alienating. That's before you talk about the Dutchman's calamitous mistake of pinning red decorations on his Christmas tree.

Everton are compelled to present the idea they can go toe-to-toe, regardless of the current reality.

One recently departed senior employee at Everton confided it was counter-productive to judge the club against its neighbours when, at this stage of its history, their closest rivals are those chasing seventh.

They must first consolidate a position regularly challenging the top six before thinking further ahead.

It is a view that no doubt prevails in the boardroom more than anyone at the club can state. If an Everton manager ever said it, he may not last until the end of the press conference.

So instead, chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale set lofty ambitions regarding title and Champions League bids - echoing the words from Anfield's boardroom with the exception of the astute insertion of a 10-year timespan.

The supporters need to hear the language of aspiration, coded to ensure Liverpool will always be in their sights even if they cannot be named as the most obvious case file worthy of study. Arsenal managers can say that without fear of censure. Not Everton's.

For now, Everton cannot think about catching Liverpool, merely stopping them. Denting their title ambitions would be a meaningful consolation in another dissatisfying season.

Beyond that, they need their Director of Football to find emerging players who will become superstars, to put the profits from enforced player sales to greater use than has been the case, for their dynamic young manager to create a winning team with an attacking identity, and to finally resolve a stadium issue that has been ongoing since the turn of the Millennium.

In effect, they need to do what FSG have done since Klopp took over. Everton need to learn from Liverpool. Just do not say it too loud around Goodison Park this weekend or the heckling will be ferocious. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Everton v Liverpool, Live, Sky Sports, 4.15 tomorrow

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