Tuesday 18 December 2018

Transfer turmoil haunting Everton as Unsworth unleashes dogs of war

Everton's caretaker manager David Unsworth on the touchline. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Everton's caretaker manager David Unsworth on the touchline. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Paul Wilson

David Unsworth has been in charge of Everton for only a week but has quickly become adept at saying all the right things. Yes, he would like the job permanently. Yes, Everton can climb out of trouble. And yes, they can still remember how to scrap if they have to.

That last detail could be important, because Ronald Koeman appeared to have smoothed out all the rough edges of Everton's old dogs of war approach before leaving, but Unsworth is a paid-up member of the dogs of war era. And just to be on the safe side, he is turning for advice and assistance to Joe Royle, who came up with the dogs of war idea in the first place.

The only problem is that Royle is nearly 70; he will not be able to add much bark or bite on the pitch. Unsworth showed at Chelsea in midweek that he is ready to place more faith in wingers than his predecessor did - although showing less faith than Koeman would be quite difficult - yet the drawback is likely to remain the lack of a convincing frontman in the middle. Unsworth used to be a centre-half and, though he naturally wants to talk up his side's chances as much as he can, the reality is that he would not have lost much sleep back in the day at the prospect of facing the sort of goal threat Everton can muster at present.

"It's not about me," the caretaker boss said as he prepared for today's trip to Leicester, whose own caretaker-as-manager experiment came to an end a fortnight ago after a mere matter of months. "It's about the club coming together. The results haven't been what we would have liked this season so what we need to do is move on quickly."

That is easier said than done. Results could well improve in the short term under an affable manager with demonstrable passion for the team and their traditions, though putting the club back together might prove more difficult. It is easy to criticise Koeman for his detached style and none too secret desire to be managing at a much higher level, though at least the former Ajax coach was honest about his aspirations. He was honest, too, when it was put to him that the only reason he had left Southampton was because Everton had offered more money. Asked whether he thought Everton could ever be anything other than the fourth biggest club in the north-west he said no, they would find it hard to get in front of Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs.

So it has proved, a little quicker than anyone expected after the money that was spent in the summer, though as Koeman rightly pointed out on several occasions, the headline figure of £140m was offset by the £75m rising to £90m received for Romelu Lukaku. The other thing Koeman kept repeating was that Everton needed to replace him and, as everyone can see, they failed in that duty. Given that Koeman kept letting it be known he was unhappy with the lack of an attacking spearhead, it is unlikely that this oversight was down to the manager.

Similarly, though Koeman might admire Wayne Rooney as a player and recognise the commercial and sentimental reasons for bringing him back to the club, he will have been perfectly well aware of what happened at Manchester United last season. Rooney was never going to be the main man up front for Everton any more than he was at United. The worst Koeman can be accused of here is bringing in another No 10 when he already had Davy Klaassen and was chasing Gylfi Sigurdsson. Rooney has been more impressive than either of the others this season but that is beside the point. The point is that Everton have a director of football in Steve Walsh, a new investor in Farhad Moshiri and an old-fashioned chairman in Bill Kenwright, and from the look of the team this season they are all pulling in different directions.

How else to explain the failure to replace a striker who contributed 25 goals last season while simultaneously bringing in three players for the No 10 position? Walsh was thought to be directing things when Everton won praise for bringing in Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane early in the transfer window, though no one was putting his hand up to accept responsibility for being led down the garden path over Olivier Giroud. Koeman wanted the Arsenal striker , no question. At one point he was led to believe it was a done deal, only for the proposed move to collapse at the last minute. Except it was not quite the last minute, there were still a few weeks of the window left, and for a club that have managed to tie down deadline-day deals for Lukaku, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in the recent past Everton's inactivity as the trading period came to an end was inexplicable.

The only reasonable conclusion, apart from the possibility that Roberto Martinez might be a better transfer negotiator than either his managerial successor or Everton's new director of football, is that Koeman was not getting his own way over signings. He cannot blame anyone else for his mystifying tactics and selection but is probably relieved to be out of a club that was not, to use Kevin Keegan's old phrase, all that it was made out to be in the brochure.

Unsworth has the responsibility now and at least he can be relied upon to stay positive. "If this is an audition I am not afraid of the challenge," the former under 23s coach said. "I absolutely know we can get out of trouble, 100 per cent, and after the performance I saw at Chelsea I'm confident we can still scrap. I know this club inside out. I've never made a secret of my desire to be a manager and I'm going to give it my best shot. People might say it would be a gamble for Everton to give me the job but I would say any manager coming into any club is a gamble. There are no guarantees for anybody. It's always about results."

  • Leicester v Everton, Sky Sports 4.0, Observer

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