The last two weeks made me an unabashed curling fanatic.
(Yes, this is still Royal Blue Mersey, and yes, we still talk about Everton here — just bear with me for a bit.)
Americans were treated to an absolute delight in Olympic men’s curling last week. The American team went 2-4 in their first six matches of the nine-match round robin, before winning three straight to end the group stage and qualify for the semifinals. A victory over rival Canada in the semifinals guaranteed Team USA at least a silver medal, and earned them a spot in the gold medal match.
The only problem? The gold medal match started at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning in my time zone.
But like I said — I’d become a committed curling fan. So, armed with as much caffeine and sugar as my quickly-aging body could handle, I kept myself awake to the first throw of the match.
From there, curling adrenaline kept me going the rest of the way.
It was a tightly contested match until the eighth end (end is the curling term for a round — there are 10 ends in a match), when the United States hit a gigantic shot to take an insurmountable 10-5 lead. That happened at about 4:00 a.m. my time — at which point I was silently jumping up and down in pure joy, trying to celebrate the moment without waking my neighbors.
I went to bed at around 4:30 a.m. filled with pure joy. Then I woke up at 10:00 to watch Everton play Watford at 12:30.
Let me tell you, if you ever need to kill a sensation of pure elation, just watch Everton play away to a mid-table or lower club. Nothing obliterates joy like watching your favorite club play ugly, route-one football against a team with nine Premier League points since the start of December.
At the end of the match (a 1-0 loss, in case you lived under a rock this weekend), I sat on my couch, tired and defeated, and thought to myself: “How did I get to a point where curling is an infinitely better option that Everton? What made the USA men’s curling team better than Everton?”
I thought about that question a lot for the rest of the weekend, and started to particularly focus on what made the US curling team such a good group. I realized that each of the four players on the team brought something different, but important to the squad.
The unassuming John Landsteiner wasn’t a particularly loud voice during in-match tactics discussions. Instead, with quiet professionalism, he did what was asked of him and put his team in positions to win with his successful early shots.
Matt Hamilton occupied the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Loud, bold, and recognizable (with his trademark baseball cap and mustache), Hamilton always tried to identify and advocate for the most aggressive shot possible. His more conservative teammates often overruled him (correctly), but that willingness to take the tough shot came up big in vital moments.
The vice-skip (second-in-command, essentially) Tyler George was active in tactical discussions, but that wasn’t his most notable trait. I couldn’t take my eyes off George after he shot, because no matter how well he did, he never looked satisfied. There was never any post-shot celebration, only thinking (or sometimes wincing) about how his shot could have been even better.
The skip (captain), John Shuster, has a fascinating story that’s worth a read. In short, despite numerous setbacks stretching back nearly a decade, Shuster never gave up on himself or his team, and with the weight of a nation on his back, pushed this group to heights never before reached in the United States.
After I outlined those team roles in my head, it hit me. Everton doesn’t really have any of the things John Shuster’s team does.
Where are Everton’s John Landsteiners? Players who build the foundation for the Toffees via their quiet professionalism and skill?
Idrissa Gana Gueye comes to mind, as the Senegalese midfielder has become a reliable box-to-box midfielder at Everton. But what other players at Everton put in a solid shift every match, even if it isn’t the most glorious or noteworthy work?
Morgan Schneiderlin was that player last year, but his form has dipped this season. Aaron Lennon was the platonic ideal of quiet, hard work, but he’s now at Burnley.
And that’s...pretty much it for Everton players who fit that description, which is alarming.
Where are Everton’s Matt Hamiltons? Players who are willing to occasionally make the outlandish shot, pass, or move to keep the attack fresh?
Now, don’t get me wrong — a team full of Matt Hamiltons does not win (go look up how Matt and his sister Becca did in Olympic mixed doubles curling if you don’t believe me). But good teams have one or two players who are willing to ‘have a go,’ so to speak, from time to time.
This description fits Yannick Bolasie to perfection, but he’s spent most of his time since his return from injury on the bench, thanks to Sam Allardyce. Youngsters Ademola Lookman and Nikola Vlasic are Hamilton-esque as well, but Big Sam basically forced Ade to seek a loan, and has hidden Vlasic who-knows-where.
The Toffees have these kind of players, Allardyce just refuses to use them.
Where are Everton’s Tyler Georges? Players who are never satisfied with ‘good enough,’ and who are always searching for ways to be better?
Once again, this need goes straight to the manager. You’d expect that a club whose motto “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum” translates to “nothing but the best is good enough” would be led by a man who embodies George’s desire to always be better.
Instead, as Calvin discussed Monday morning, Everton’s got a manager who says things like this:
We got a disappointing result today but we’ve still got the opportunity with 10 games to go to stay in the top half of the table and then I’d say it’s been a decent season.
It’s no wonder that the Toffees looked so lifeless after conceding to Troy Deeney on Saturday — they’ve a manager who shrugs his shoulders and says, “Eh, we’re good enough.”
Finally, where are Everton’s John Shusters? Players who understand that setbacks happen in sports, and have the leadership and footballing ability to push their team out of a rough patch?
This seems like a good time to note that the player who has been Everton captain since the 2013-14 season, the player who has twice led his team to the Europa League, and the player who captained the club to its best ever points total has been largely ignored by Sam Allardyce.
Phil Jagielka has started only four times since Big Sam took over — having to make room for the likes of Mason Holgate, Ashley Williams, and Eliaquim Mangala. To out-and-out bench the club captain for such a middling group of players is questionable, especially on a squad so evidently lacking in leadership.
Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines might be looked to in this role, but injuries have sidelined the full-backs. Instead, it’s been Wayne Rooney as the team leader — a player who has only just returned to Everton and whose performances in the midfield are very unpredictable.
The Toffees are bereft of players who fill nearly every important role for the team — in part because of individual players’ shortcomings, and in part because of a manager who’s regressive, unhelpful, and generally not that bright.
So, if you don’t hear from me after the Burnley match next week, you’ll probably find me on my couch, watching Olympic curling highlights.