The stages of grief mandate that I write this. It’s damn- near impossible to put any sort of jovial spin on the last three months of occurrences that have happened to Everton Football Club. Over the first half of the season I have seen most of the reasons why this team has won my affection wilt away. I’m left staring blankly at my ceiling when the 7:00AM alarm goes off to watch this team, and digging through the sofa to find coins to recoup my NBC Sports Gold subscription. I shudder at the thought that I often defended a manager in Ronald Koeman, who couldn’t have cared less about the club, unless it served as a vehicle for his professional advancement. Everton, to Koeman, was always a stop in the road, not a destination, and even worse, his bevy of summer transfers throughout his tenure share this attitude. Gone is the expectation that my team will give their all for 90 minutes, and let the score stand where it may. This inspiring, bombastic underdog attitude has been replaced with a lackadaisical, entitled approach to games, indicative of a leadership structure that has forgotten its way.
The spin, if any, out of all of this is that the only direction to go from here, is up. A manager in David Unsworth has created an atmosphere of positivity to reinvigorate players often banished by the empirically- inspired Koeman. Coaching in general is an art of perpetual tip- toeing, something I’m sure any 13-year-old athlete will reaffirm. Some players need their development to happen to the tune of an ongoing conversation, others need the “tough love” approach, still others require a sense of brinkmanship and ultimatums. It doesn’t require a doctorate to see how painting a club in the way Koeman did could end in catastrophe. In electing a chosen few, and then doling out biting criticism and exile for those on the outside was a poison to the progression of the team. That’s the true shame of this situation, and unfortunately one of the biggest impressions Koeman will leave on Everton. The difference between Everton dipping their toes into the relegation zone and having a whiff of the top 6 is due to a number of reasons. The easier reasoning is to point the finger at the lack of skill and cohesiveness, but the harder rationale involves examining the lack of leadership and the elusiveness of having a concrete team identity.
Such it is we find Everton at a crossroads for this season. With the Europa League hopes of the squad coming to a rather pathetic ending, there is still a fair amount to play for. The majority of games are left in the League, giving David Unsworth and his duct tape some time to piece together a squad left in the wake of the Dutchman. Hope, and yes, it is only hope, springs eternal in the January transfer market. Young players in the squad are receiving the opportunity to prove their mettle in games, and provocative names are being swirled around for the club’s new manager. Relegation is a healthy fear to have, a fear that will create change, which at this point can only be for the better. Complacency is the antithesis of progress, and dear God have Everton been complacent in their mediocrity this year. The supporters deserve better, the youth of the squad deserve better. This hollowed out version of the club is wholly unacceptable to anyone who has invested their emotion and fandom into the squad only to have it grounded by an apathetic attitude that has permeated from the very top.
The solution to salvaging what has been already such a disappointing season is quite simple, the players who must be put on the field are the ones who find losing unacceptable. These are the players who will claw tooth and nail to fight and persist for a team they care about, and treat the motto of the club as a way of life. You don’t need to look hard to see that this spirit does have some flashes in the club, Seamus Coleman’s and Yannick Bolaise’s efforts to rejoin the squad are heartening and, quite frankly, one of the few glimmers of hope I see in the club. It’s not too late to right many of the wrongs that have been set in motion this year by the prior administration. A climb up the table and excitement in the form of an FA Cup run, though wishful thinking, could have innumerable benefits to a fanbase that is craving something of substance this campaign.
A bit of hope does the soul good…right?
Europa: Thur (18:00); Apollon Limassol at Tsirio Stadium
Premier: Sunday (14:15); Liverpool at Anfield