Everton, Marco Silva and yet another false dawn for one of English football’s lost giants

Miguel Delaney
A general view outside Goodison Park: Getty

In the aftermath of Everton’s latest defeat, to Norwich City, beleaguered manager Marco Silva had a frank discussion with the club hierarchy. It wasn’t frank, however, in the sense of an argument. The discussion was instead just honest, with the Portuguese pretty much accepting it would be fair to sack him because form has been so bad.

It was so remarkably passive given the situation, but maybe that’s not such a surprise from a manager who supposedly discourages shouting in the dressing room.

It might similarly have been a gambit on Silva’s part, that has helped ensure he is still in charge for this weekend’s match against the symbolic opposition of Leicester City, but it still contributes to the sense that everyone knows something is wrong and it won’t be long until a reckoning arrives.

That has been the general feeling at the club for some time, and goes way beyond the manager. They’re Samuel Beckett’s Everton. Endlessly waiting for that reckoning, hoping for rebirth.

As regards this specific manager, many sources say the main reason Silva hasn’t been sacked yet is because the club haven’t agreed upon a replacement.

They know what they’d idealise: a big name. This is a club who went for Diego Simeone after Ronald Koeman left in 2017, and who will approach Mauricio Pochettino now. They would have loved Jose Mourinho, and majority owner Farhad Moshiri was seriously talking about it. Mourinho would never have seriously considered them, however, and Pochettino is already looking to better options. Bill Kenwright, influential again, has been backing David Moyes.

That would not feel a correct fit for an ambitious club in the modern game, but would perfectly fit Everton’s deflating sense of deja vu, and a great institution that seem trapped in a Sisyphean cycle.

Lyrical words to describe the institution, maybe, but more palatable than some of the other descriptions from football figures around Goodison Park.

“Yet another false dawn.” “A money pit.” “A mess.”

How the Everton hierarchy would describe themselves, however, is what this is really about. The major issue is they have no current idea or plan for what they want to be.

In that, they are suffering from an identity crisis actually common to many big clubs across Europe’s top leagues, that specifically comes as a consequence of the super-club era football has entered.

You can see a similar dynamic with Olympique Marseille, Valencia, Hamburg, St Etienne and even AC Milan. It is an identity crisis that has probably been exacerbated in Everton’s case by the fact they lie in such proximity to the super-club who are reigning European champions in Liverpool, who they used to go toe to toe with, and because they feel so tantalisingly close to the elite. Just outside. They’ve certainly spent big money of late. Retail therapy hasn’t proven effective therapy for that identity crisis, however.

As England’s fourth most successful club, Everton rightly see themselves as a historic heavyweight, but don’t have the current dimensions to make that any way meaningful in the modern era. It has created this psychological complex about what they should be, but also had a tangible effect in a real lack of identity on the pitch. They don’t have a true football identity.

Consider Everton’s transformations over the past few years alone, and the many expensive but failed reboots.

They went from Moyes’ modern ‘Dogs of War’, only for the support to grow tired of that, and then to Roberto Martinez’s new ‘School of Science’, only for the support to grow tired of that too. Worsening results were obviously huge factors with both, but what is really relevant was a lack of patience once it got to that point. There just didn’t feel the emotional foundation for a truly deep reboot. That lack of patience has itself worsened in the last three years, as the club have quickly gone from one magic elixir to the next; one solution to the next; one “identity” to the next: ‘Dogs of Science’?

There is still the somewhat misplaced hope now that one right appointment will fix everything.

Silva is a man under pressure (PA)

It is precisely why Leicester are such symbolic opposition this weekend. They represent everything clubs like Everton could be, and should strive to be, and what they were supposed to be going into this season. They’re a model. They’ve shown how to compete, and offer hope, in a financially constrained era for most.

The Leicester hierarchy decisively figured out a defined way of playing, with everything flowing from there – from player recruitment to the type of manager they hire. It all just fits. At the moment, almost nothing at Everton fits.

There is of course a fair argument that the task was easier for Leicester because they were unencumbered by the same weight of history. The history they made in that sensational 2015-16 title win may actually have even further freed them, because everyone around the club realised nothing could ever compare. It gave them the cleanest of slates. There is none of that at Everton.

Even now at the very top of the club, the past clashes with the present, given how Kenwright is back making decisions and creating something of a “boardroom split”. This has created a lot of the indecision about a new manager. Kenwright still only owns 5% of the club, compared to Moshiri’s 77.23%, but some sources talk about the influence that “super agents” – like Mino Raiola, like Jorge Mendes – have on that and how much they condition transfer policy.

Many might say Steve Walsh similarly failed there, as he failed to replicate his work at the King Power. Even that appointment felt like trying to replicate Leicester in the most superficial way, given it was a single move rather than a holistic approach.

The recruitment of a director of football like Marcel Brands is ideally supposed to mitigate against all this, and it is true that the Dutch official is a diligent figure well capable of putting a plan together.

It’s just that, even there, there’s been a lack of clarity. Brands was after all unveiled on the same day as Silva back in the summer of 2018, meaning he inherited the kind of major decision he is supposed to make.

Other sources talk of cross-purposes between the two regarding recruitment. While Silva was happy after his first summer because Everton signed two of his recommendations in Richarlison and Bernard, as well some other good buys like Andre Gomes, that has not been the case of late. He has wanted different players to those brought in.

One source talks of the effect this has had on the morale of the squad, which is said to be increasingly downbeat.

“You have a host of players for certain positions, and they know the manager doesn’t like them, either because he doesn’t use them, or because he uses them but clearly wants to replace them. It just creates that disconnect, and is why everything has to be in synch. That’s hard to do, but crucial. You can get away with a sub-par manager if you have good scouts and are relatively well run. The problem is that, when you don’t have that, it’s almost a converse situation. Even a good manager can look like a bad manager.”

This is where there might be some sympathy for Silva. In a situation not unlike Manchester United’s, he has inherited a squad built to so many different designs.

It’s certainly a squad built without any sense of continuity, a problem crystallised by the issue of replacing Romelu Lukaku: they didn’t. Sandro Martinez and Cenk Tosun don’t represent that.

Just as is the case now with Silva, where there is no real plan to replace him and they’ve almost been caught cold, that was the case with one of the most coveted strikers in Europe. They still don’t have anything like those goals, over two years later.

This summer’s failure to sign a centre-back to replace Kurt Zouma – who they knew they would be losing – was similarly short-sighted. It just reflects that overall lack of a plan.

“There are a few clubs like this,” one source who has worked at director of football level says. “Until they know what they are, they can’t self-diagnose, and can’t fix themselves. They know something isn’t right, but keep getting responses wrong.”

The hope is that Brands can bring this together. Many figures similarly cite the appointment of Chris Perkins as head of academy recruitment as “one of the most sensible things they’ve done in years”.

As Everton have found with so many managers, though, it takes a lot more than any one appointment. It’s going to take some frank assessment, and a proper vision.

Everton need to work out what being Everton actually means. It should mean a lot more than endless big statements, without any big gains.

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