The main thing that struck me about the dying embers of Ronald Koeman’s reign was not the disorganised rabble on the pitch, but the air of resignation off it.
The weary Everton home crowd had begun to drift away long before Alexis Sanchez swept the ball past Jordan Pickford to make it 5-2 to Arsenal in what would be Koeman’s final, miserable game on charge. As one BBC pundit put it: “It is stale. It feels like everyone has had enough.”
For the watching Farhad Moshiri, the sight of rapidly emptying seats and a despondent, disengaged fanbase must have set alarm bells ringing. Don’t forget this was a critical time for the club (and still is) as it seeks funding for a move to a new stadium.
Borrowing against a team in a relegation battle is a tough sell, even for someone of Moshiri’s business acumen.
Koeman remained defiant, insisting that he could turn things around and that he still retained the support of Moshiri. But, after turning up for training at Finch Farm the following day as normal, the unexpected arrival of Bill Kenwright and Robert Elstone must have left the Dutchman fearing the worst – and he was right to be concerned.
A short statement just before 1.30pm confirmed that Koeman had been let go after just 16 months in charge. It is believed Moshiri had made the ultimate decision before dispatching Kenwright and Elstone to deliver the news.
Looking back now it’s clear the seeds of Koeman’s downfall were sown long before the Arsenal game during a chaotic summer that saw a record £140m spent but the squad left imbalanced and short of cover in key areas.
There didn’t seem to be an overall plan in mind, or if there was it was skewed by conflicting ideas and priorities. It’s been reported that Koeman and then director of football Steve Walsh didn’t see eye-to-eye. But, from the outside at least, it appears their idea of compromise in the transfer market was to take turns in targeting players. The result was a pile of players in certain positions and a scarcity in others.
Neutrals looking back may feel the sacking was harsh as we were only nine games into the season. But Everton’s Europa League commitments meant they had already played 17 matches and had failed to perform in the majority of those.
Four successive defeats without scoring to Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Atalanta were embarrassingly one-sided, while a 1-0 reverse to Burnley prompted Moshiri to deliver the dreaded vote of confidence.
But results and performances were in a tailspin and if anything got worse. Koeman chopped and changed his side in an increasingly desperate attempt to find a solution but that just made things even more muddled and chaotic. A late Wayne Rooney penalty scraped a draw following a drab performance at Brighton while a home defeat to Lyon was punctuated by Ashley Williams starting a fight and a fan attempting to punch the opposition goalkeeper.
Koeman didn’t help his cause by his distant and sometimes cold attitude towards the club that meant he was afforded very little leeway or goodwill when things started to go wrong.
It later emerged that his strict disciplinarian attitude eroded trust between himself and the players, the treatment of Oumar Niasse and Ross Barkley two high profile examples of how his man-management skills tended to alienate rather than ingratiate. His training methods also reportedly became increasingly muddled and the academy was pretty much ignored. Fracturing the club at it’s core meant that any sort of progress on the pitch became impossible.
Koeman made it perfectly clear that he saw the club as a stepping-stone and seemed to have more than half an eye on the Barcelona job. We don’t expect every manager to fall in love with the club, indeed Koeman’s more stern approach was welcomed by many who felt his predecessor Roberto Martinez had embraced the club’s style but lacked substance when it mattered. But you always got the impression that Koeman would jump ship the moment something better came along, so it’s no surprise there was little loyalty nor sympathy in return.
It’s also no surprise that there was a groundswell of support for David Unsworth, a man with blue blood in his veins, to take over, at least on a temporary basis.
Unsworth had just 48 hours to prepare his players for a Carabao Cup trip to Chelsea. The Toffees would go on to lose 2-0 but at least showed some fighting spirit – not least debutant Beni Baningime.
Angleterre : Everton s'incline 2-1 face à Chelsea mais le jeune congolais Beni Baningime a livré une copie très intéressante. pic.twitter.com/4wdgn3BilX— Leopard Leader Foot (@leopard243) October 25, 2017
The following weekend a limp 2-0 defeat at Leicester City saw the team revert to type. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you (as you’ve probably blocked it out by now) but things would get far worse before the panic button was pressed and in strode Sam Allardyce in late November.
Again with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear Koeman’s appointment was one of a number of mistakes made by Moshiri in the opening few months of his tenure. Those mistakes have yet to be fully rectified, though the subsequent departure of Walsh and arrivals of Marcel Brands and Marco Silva are a massive step in the right direction.
It sounds so simple but playing players in the right position in a formation that best suits their attributes and strengths will go a long way towards producing a settled side. That simply wasn’t the case at the start of last season as things deteriorated into a horridly muddled, dispirited mess.
October 23rd 2017 is not a day that will be remembered fondly by Evertonians as it came in the midst of a season that would get far worse before it got better. But it may well be seen as the moment the first piece of decisive action was taken to rectify a litany of mistakes and get the club heading in the right direction again, even if our final destination is not yet known.