Linger on, royal blue shirts. Sometimes I feel so happy, but mostly you just make me mad.
We’ve all been here before. “He could put 60 minutes up and it wouldn’t make a difference,” bemoaned one disgruntled Everton fan making his way for the exits of the Turf Moor away end on Saturday, as fourth official Michael Salisbury awarded six minutes of injury time at the end of their 1-0 defeat at Burnley.
It is the sort of gallows humour that the blue half of Merseyside has found itself clinging to time and again in these darker times of late. After all, to borrow a quote from Tiger Woods, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? In doing so, though, at once he both echoed the frustrations that every Evertonian has lamented for the best part of the last five years, and epitomised just how predictable, supine and self-defeating a football team this is.
At this point, even as early into 2019-20 as the beginning of October, there is that same foreboding sense that the supporters, as much as the players, as much as Marco Silva, as much as the Everton hierarchy, are simply going through the motions once again. After this chastening display in Lancashire, which consigned them to a fifth loss in six league games to leave them 18th, a season which could have promised so much feels as though it has already been kneecapped.
The thing that gets to you, though, isn’t this dreadful run. It isn’t the shameful way Everton have fallen to defeat in at least four out of five of them. It isn’t the fact that this is an alarmingly brittle side mentally, who haven’t come from behind to win a Premier League game during Silva’s 17-month tenure. Nor is it playing two holding midfielders and a lone striker every week, Morgan Schneiderlin’s sideways passes, Gylfi Sigurðsson’s anonymity, or Seamus Coleman’s inability to cross the ball to a team-mate.
No; what really gets to you more than anything is that same impossible quandary, that though you continue to invest your time, money and trust in Everton almost by default, they still repay you by concocting new ways of dashing your hopes and ruining your weekends.
This time, though, it feels harder to swallow. As much as Everton are patently not a good football team, neither, really, is anyone else in the Premier League (aside from Manchester City and Liverpool; obviously). Not by any great stretch, anyway. But just as in 2015-16, when the complacency of the top-flight’s biggest hitters made way for Leicester City to achieve one of football’s most miraculous triumphs, many of them are floundering this year once more. Yet among the party gatecrashers, Everton, again, have disappeared in plain sight.
Though Chelsea will improve given time, their talented yet strikingly young side is clearly at the embryonic stages of its evolution. Tottenham, meanwhile, continue to plunge from nadir to nadir. Arsenal remain quintessentially Arsenal; dropping your jaw at the them one minute, tearing your hair out the next. Manchester United are just ordinary at best. And just as they did four seasons ago in Roberto Martínez’s final year in charge, Everton are cowering; too timid to make a statement as bold as that made by Leicester, this time under Brendan Rodgers, or teams running them close behind such as Crystal Palace, Burnley, West Ham and Bournemouth, for instance.
In reality, much as Sky might perpetuate it, there is no such thing as a ‘big six’ in English football. Rather, it is a state of mind; an invention of the media to safeguard their headline acts from the same sort of capitulation which Leicester capitalised on in 2016. Yet while you could argue that the bulk of the stratified new world order of the Premier League exist in it merely to just survive in it, Everton embody the fixation with breaking into this private member’s club more than anyone.
Having parted with copious amounts of Farhad Moshiri’s money to not get there, or indeed even get close, Everton’s only retort seems to be to continue to part with copious amounts of Farhad Moshiri’s money, to use cheques and banknotes as sticking plasters without underpinning this approach with the sort of stability and vision synonymous with any functional club. Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson’s Palace, for example, sit in the upper echelons of the table with double Everton’s amount of points, having spent a measly £15 million in the last two summers and lost one of their best players in Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Forget nothing but the best is good enough, Everton’s mantra nowadays seems to be nothing but instant gratification is good enough.
For what it’s worth, ‘the best’ doesn’t always have to mean literally being the best in the land, either. Onlookers from afar will take cheap shots at Evertonians at will for having delusions of grandeur, for kidding themselves into thinking they deserve to be among England’s elite without the requisite quality on the pitch to support such a risible notion.
But it can also mean having the best leaders which, as exemplified by captain Coleman - a man with almost ten years’ Premier League experience - with his cowardly sending-off at 0-0 at Burnley, Everton evidently do not have. It can mean being the best at working hard which, as both Schneiderlin and Sigurðsson typified with their leisurely, aimless mid-afternoon strolls around Turf Moor, Everton also do not have. It can mean adapting and reacting to different games and scenarios better than anyone else which, as Silva continues to show by persisting with his rigid, passive system, Everton also do not have.
Instead, we are left to again stew over what might have been for a sterile squad intoxicated by its own hype; one which, with six league goals scored and 13 conceded so far this term, is as feeble at putting the ball in one net as it suddenly is keeping it out of the other. Yet especially with the door from David Unsworth’s much-heralded under-23s to the first team now barricaded - Silva has not given a first team debut to a single academy graduate during his reign, while continuing to bewilderingly ostracise Tom Davies - there is little else to hope for, it seems.
Silva simply won’t solve this. He has been given enough time to rectify such glaring shortcomings, yet the blatant parallels in this season’s defeats to Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Burnley offer the most compelling evidence that this is a manager who, for all of his and his team’s bluster, does not know the answers. Arrayed against all of these teams were some of the most expensive line-ups Everton have had the luxury of naming, yet far from the most resilient or cohesive. By now, he has surely run out of lifelines.
Indeed, it is difficult not to feel that, should he be allowed to walk the tightrope for a little longer yet, then it would be primarily due to either a lack of contingency plan from the club or Moshiri’s unwillingness to suffer the ignominy of sacking a fourth manager in his three-and-a-half-year spell at Goodison Park. Certainly, Silva would not be surviving on his own merit.
And yet while Silva is undoubtedly one such issue, the problems at Goodison run deeper than merely the man sat in the hot seat. Even with the excellent, affable Denise Barrett-Baxendale as chief executive and a shrewd if not infallible operator in Marcel Brands as director of football, Everton are still crying out for a fundamental reboot whether their future involves Silva or not, for there will still be a plethora of other worries to address regardless. Cutting a rocketing wage bill on a top-heavy squad carrying too many disinterested individuals; alleviating the rancour among its disillusioned fan base; assembling a team genuinely worthy of challenging the Premier League’s elite; to name only three.
But another must be to find a manager who will truly transcend the club and its fortunes and lead them into the stratosphere, much in the way that; loathe as any Evertonian would be to admit it, Jürgen Klopp has across Stanley Park. Not someone as prone to over-egging the pudding as Martínez, not someone seemingly more intent on batting eyelids at Barcelona than focusing on Everton like Ronald Koeman, and not convenient face-fitters to toe the party line like Silva. Only then will they stand a genuine chance of freeing themselves from this arresting, systemic and thoroughly depressing entropy.