It’s funny how expectations in football can shape happiness. Sheffield United fans are no doubt much much happier today than Arsenal fans, even though they sit on the exact same number of points. What you expect from your club determines how you react to what they give you.
Usually, these expectations are created by context. Using our Blades/Gunners example above, the financial resources at Arsenal, their history, and the names and price tags of their current players create an expectation that simply does not and likely will not ever exist at Sheffield United. That’s completely reasonable and we all understand how that works. However, in an era that has for several years now been dominated by a ‘Big Six’ how do the next tier of clubs- Everton, Leicester, West Ham, perhaps Wolves, determine what they expect their club to be?
Since Farhad Moshiri got involved with the club, the expectations at Everton seem to be that we break into that top six, become one of them, perennially find ourselves in Europe and regularly be in discussion for the Champions League. New club record signings and a string of highly touted managers have fueled this expectation, and the result has been a massive degree of frustration and consternation from Everton supporters as Everton have finished 7th, 8th, and 8th during the Moshiri Era and burned through three full-time managers.
Realistically, though, Moshiri showing up right as huge money started really consolidating the top of the Premier League merely allowed Everton to hold its position in the league hierarchy, not advance. In the last ten years, we have an average finish of just barely better than 8th, with a couple years significantly better and a couple significantly worse.
In recent years this level of results has been met from the fanbase with fury and exhaustion. Manager after manager has been slammed as being absolutely unable to coach, big money player after big money player has been declared useless, good runs of form by these managers or these players are explained away in hindsight as blind luck or fortune, pessimism is everywhere.
In the midst of all this, I can’t help but feel like a lot of this frustration comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Everton is and what it should be hoping to be as a club. While historically among England’s best, the club hasn’t won a darn thing in about 25 years and has had several scrapes with relegation having finished 17th twice and 15th or worse five times.
If we are very realistic and honest, this isn’t a club that should be angry it is not Tottenham. It is not a club that should be looking to become what Atletico Madrid is in La Liga - historic giant turned modern threat. These clubs built their current state by cult of personality, landing on managers that were revolutionary on the world scale, and players who cost far less than they turned out to be worth.
They benefited from perfect storms, the kind that a reasonable person cannot expect their club to conjure up. If you rage against every manager who isn’t Pochettino or Simeone, and against every expensive player that doesn’t turn into Heung-min Son or Antoine Griezmann you’re simply going to wind up a bitter angry football fan lashing out at people in the pub, in the terraces, and online at every given opportunity.
We all hope that one day the perfect storm of smart decisions and good fortune strikes our club, but it is foolish to expect that storm to arrive. What we need instead is something sustainable and realistic.
All but about four clubs in world football are selling clubs. Don’t believe me? Tottenham Hotspur was in the Champions League Final last year and they’ve had bigger clubs come take Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and Kyle Walker in the last six years. Chelsea have won a Champions League and they’ve seen Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, and David Luiz all depart to clubs higher up the totem pole. Even Liverpool saw Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho sniped away by a club in Barcelona that was simply a bigger draw to players even if they weren’t a better football side.
The further down you go in world football, the more selling you see. Monaco and Ajax took Europe by storm then got picked to pieces, Dortmund won leagues and was in a Champions League Final only to see Bayern take most of the heroes from those teams. The cold reality of modern football is almost everyone has someone higher up the food chain who eats away at their attempts at success by stealing away their prized players.
Because of this, unless Farhad Moshiri is about to dump all of his money into Everton we need to be prepared for a future as a selling club. That doesn’t mean we can’t win trophies (or even the Premier League); it simply means that if we are honest we probably aren’t gonna be the biggest club in world football so when we do put together a great team it will be broken up by clubs with more money.
I think a good model for what Everton should hope to be is not Atletico or Tottenham who caught lightning in a bottle with one manager and group of players, but rather Sevilla, who since 2000 have two Copa Del Reys, a Spanish Super Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and five Europa Leagues.
So, how have Sevilla achieved this success despite never spending even 30m on a player? I think there are three keys.
First, as a club they’ve put an emphasis on cup competitions. In the years they won the Europa League, they only finished higher than fifth in La Liga once. Contrast this to Everton who regularly finds themselves out of domestic cups early and whose last Europa campaign was seen as more of a distraction and inhibition to the season than an opportunity. Sevilla has found that by taking these cups more seriously than clubs with more money than them they can improve their chances of winning trophies as a club.
Second, Sevilla isn’t constantly searching for the perfect manager. Unai Emery has three Europa League titles. He’s clearly a good manager, but he’s not an iconic savant that totally redefined the club. Multiple managers have won trophies with Sevilla because the overarching vision of the club is more important than the man who walks the sideline. In recent years at Everton it seemed like Martinez, Koeman, and Silva were all expected to be this wonderful sensation that finally took the club over the hump rather than the latest guardian of the direction the club had been going all along.
It’s worth noting that while Sevilla have had more full time managers than Everton since 2000, the man who managed them from 2000-2005 is still involved helping guide the club. Whether a manager gets fired or he gets hired to a bigger job than Sevilla, the beat goes on.
The third defining feature has been clarity in the front office. On any given day at Everton we have no idea how much weight Moshiri, Kenwright, or Brands are going to have in a personel decision made at the club. At Sevilla? Monchi calls the shots. When Monchi left temporarily for Roma? The man in the director of football chair still called the shots. There is no mystery, no argument, no debate. Rather they have clarity as a club for the future and what that means is that even when star players leave for huge money - or even if the club starts a season badly - there is no panic, no wavering, they always stay the course.
I want to see Everton find its course. I want to see its fanbase not overreact and hit the panic button every time the club has a bad run of form. I want to see the manager be viewed not as the latest savior but as someone asked to buy in to a greater vision of a club.
As fans we have to do our part by setting our expectations in a reasonable way. Stop being angry we aren’t Tottenham. Stop viewing Europa games as a hassle. Don’t call for the firing of managers who make cup semi-finals. Don’t even think stupid things like the notion that someone who finishes 7th or 8th in the richest league on the planet is a terrible coach.
We can’t be shocked when our expectations are too high and the club falls into a calamity of errors trying to reach them. As a fanbase, set our goals at a reasonable level and then encourage the club to meet them.