Another one bites the dust. Not yet, mind, though that probably owes more to the threadbare and sub-standard nature of Everton’s current midfield more than anything.
Fabian Delph may indeed have no long-term future at Goodison Park after a week which began with Instagram scuffles with furious supporters after their 1-0 defeat to Liverpool’s teens, and ended with boos from his own fans aimed firmly his way during their 1-0 home win over Brighton. With that, even at just six months into a three-year contract, the die may well be cast.
And yet, however disappointing Delph and his attitude may have been at Anfield, or in his online back-and-forths thereafter, no right-minded Evertonian would single him out as the root of the Toffees’ troubles so far this campaign. He may be one of the effects, but he is not the cause. As such, when introduced by Carlo Ancelotti on 72 minutes on Saturday, Delph was essentially a sitting duck for supporters understandably still disgruntled six days on from a defeat which, to all intents and purposes, ended Everton’s season. The chorus of boos which followed was, as it was for Morgan Schneiderlin two years ago, an inevitability.
It begs the question, in a derby where his fellow midfielders and scapegoats, Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurðsson, were ran ragged and humiliated by novices, what did Delph do in the 30 minutes he was on the pitch at Anfield that has warranted such a tidal wave of vitriol since? Other than the inescapable firing squad of caps-locked tweets aimed their way, his team-mates have seemingly got off lightly despite contributing more (or should that be less?) to such an ignominious defeat. So, why Delph, exactly?
Well, part of the problem may be less what Delph is, but more what he represents. He represents yet another flawed signing in the gilded Farhad Moshiri era. As a player who was handed a three-year deal at 29, he represents more short-term planning from a board so desperate to crack today that not a moment’s thought is given to tomorrow. To the more cynical Evertonian, as is evident from his Instagram exchanges anyway, he represents the classic post-David Moyes Everton player, merely passing through, regarding the club as an adjunct to their career rather than the pinnacle, sucking up bloated wages all the while. Again, though, none of this is directly Delph’s fault; rather, these are just some of the sticks with which is easy to beat him when things come to a head as they did last week.
What Delph was also supposed to represent, which might explain why he has bore the brunt of the Evertonian ire, was the sort of leadership, experience and composure that has been painfully amiss in recent years at Goodison Park. Those who belittle his role in Manchester City’s domestic dominance in the last two years must bear in mind he still has two more Premier League winner’s medals than anyone else in royal blue. An able left-back as well as a midfield metronome, Pep Guardiola called him a “guarantee”, such was his versatility and reliability during his time at the Etihad Stadium, before thanking Delph for helping him a great deal following his move to Goodison. You need only watch Amazon’s documentary on City for an insight into just how vocal a presence Delph was in the dressing room, too.
Injuries have somewhat put paid to this as well, but Evertonians are yet to see these qualities from Delph, at least on a regular basis. Such is the team’s stark absence of an obvious captain that in their 27 matches this season, four different players have started with the armband; he is not one of them. Indeed, the only real bursts of raw on-pitch emotion we have seen from him have been seemingly labelling everyone “f***ing s**t” during September’s galling defeat at Bournemouth, before telling Mason Holgate: “have some f***ing respect you little p***k” in last month’s win at Newcastle. It is less level-headed leader, more ornery oppressor.
And so, now, it has all begun to spill over. Delph was wrong, as his manager has told him, to retaliate in the Instagram spats, but so too were the fans who baited him in the first place. So too were those who greeted him on to the Goodison turf on Saturday with resounding jeers. Because, as much as these supporters may feel their hard-earned money buys them the right to do so, you are not entitled to give players, not least your own, both barrels at will. Quite frankly, what it accomplishes is a mystery; if it was to prompt Ancelotti to sell him, then who are we to say the Italian was not already planning to do so, be it this month or in the summer? Neither act enhanced Everton’s chances of beating Brighton; of that, at least there can be no doubt.
Instead, it all points to a wider issue at Everton which long predates Delph’s arrival at the club. Though recruitment has, for the most part, improved under Marcel Brands, it still feels counter-intuitive that Everton seem so hell-bent on buying players deemed no longer good enough by top six clubs to try to break into that same standing. For the likes of Theo Walcott, Schneiderlin, Sigurðsson (who flopped at Tottenham Hotspur before returning to Swansea City), Alex Iwobi, and Delph, you wonder just what is in it for them by dropping a level to move to Goodison.
Even if some of these joined Everton by the time their careers were on a downward trajectory, to label them as conceited mercenaries may be overstepping the mark, but you wonder if, by climbing down the Premier League ladder, their hunger is diluted. Liverpool may be in another stratosphere presently, but it can surely be no coincidence that two of their regulars were signed from Southampton, while another duo joined from relegated clubs in Newcastle and Hull City; just as it can be no coincidence that Everton’s best player was previously employed by Watford FC. For them, moving to Merseyside was a step up in their career, a chance to prove and improve themselves at a higher level which they have subsequently embraced. By contrast, Delph and his fellow elder statesmen arrived at Goodison with far less, if anything, to prove.
Again, this is not Delph’s fault. He’s just been caught in the five-year Everton landslide and, for a multitude of reasons, has become the latest symbol of the shortcomings that undermine the club’s progress. Though far from alone, he was wrong in serving up such a shoddy showing at Anfield, just as the fans were wrong to attack him on social media, just as he was wrong in his rather misguided responses, just as the supporters were then wrong to boo him.
Whether Delph moves on sooner rather than later, as might now be best for all parties, is another issue. What needs moving on from far more immediately is this tiresome soap opera involving a man who, in the wider context, anyway, deserves only a fraction of blame apportioned to him.