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Everton, and the futility of it all

Another home defeat, this time to rock-bottom Sheffield United, saw the Blues’ lives run out for yet another season. What is the point?

Everton v Sheffield United - Premier League
Everton capitulated at home again to Sheffield United on Sunday
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Anhedonia, if you’ve never heard of it, is a medical condition whereby you become unable to derive any sense of pleasure. Specifically, pleasure from normally pleasurable activities. It’s a symptom of depression which, whether socially or physically, just leaves you numbed, seeing the world through a monochrome lens, each day more nondescript than the last.

It’s a concept which will resonate with any Evertonian, as part of a fan base who persist with the most static of clubs like some jilted lover bombarding their ex with slews of unanswered texts. A club so enveloped in its own entropy it seems to even transcend who’s haemorrhaging the money, who’s donning the royal blue, or who’s still picking Seamus Coleman. That, in many ways, is Everton’s biggest crime; that for as much as their starving supporters are ravenous for tangible success, for years they’ve scarcely even injected any kind of feeling, good or bad, into their psyche. Perhaps other than footballing anhedonia.

Then again, dissect Everton’s pitiful home defeat to relegated Sheffield United on Sunday, which unplugged the life support machine on a flatlining season, and ask why they should care. From Allan’s harebrained attempt at tackling Jack Robinson, to Ben Godfrey social distancing from Daniel - checks notes - Jebbison. From yet more dithering in possession from Mason Holgate, to Coleman’s floated crosses, gift-wrapped into Aaron Ramsdale’s arms. If it’s not ineptitude, it’s naivety. If it’s not naivety, it’s disinterest. Yet for the masochists watching on from home, it’s only apathy.

It’s easy to blame much of this on COVID, the inevitable scapegoat as to why supporters of far more clubs than just Everton have never felt so emotionally neutered towards football as they have in the last year. Indeed, there is plenty of weight to that argument - just consider that, since December, Everton have played two league games at Goodison Park in front of 2,000 fans at each and won two, yet played 11 without any and won just one. Nor had they lost at Goodison under Carlo Ancelotti before the pandemic.

Everton v Sheffield United - Premier League
Everton’s home form has long been pitiful this season
Photo by Peter Byrne - Pool/Getty Images

But equally, it’s still the same old pitfalls, which even predate Marco Silva, Sam Allardyce or Ronald Koeman, let alone Ancelotti or COVID, that leave Everton hamstrung. We saw carbon copies of this nadir at Goodison last season under Silva, for instance, against Sheffield United (again) and Norwich City. Nor have Everton beaten the Premier League’s bottom side at home for the last four seasons. Whether it’s attacking like 11 bald men running head-first into a brick wall against limited sides camped on the Goodison turf in their bunkers, or approaching these more ostensibly winnable games with some bizarre superiority complex, the result invariably remains the same.

And yet, there is scant evidence of lessons from these sobering cautionary tales being heeded. The hiring of Ancelotti, with his wise old head and shimmering CV, was supposed to be Everton’s paradigm shift; a move away from appointing bright young upstarts with smart coats and big watches, and towards a safer pair of hands. In time it may still prove that, and yes, Everton have undeniably improved during his tenure. Yet with every wretched Goodison defeat that now passes with a mere shrug of shoulders, you wonder if anything really has changed, or indeed if it ever will.

At which point, it feels important to say that, still, nobody’s job at Everton should be safer than Ancelotti’s, even if he fully deserves his fair share of blame for the shambolic home run. From the white-knuckle ride of frenzied emotions and false dawns that the club have endured since David Moyes left, there must now be some value, or at least intrigue, in for once allowing a manager to stay the course. The constant U-turns, from the idealism of Roberto Martinez to the pragmatism of Koeman, the meat and potatoes of Allardyce to the perceived respite of Silva, would be enough to leave anyone chucking their guts up from motion sickness. Jettisoning Ancelotti would merely leave Everton once again back at their own Hotel California - Square One - with a likely inferior successor.

The more pertinent worry is the sheer volume of logistical questions left unanswered by Everton at present. Chiefly, how do they support Ancelotti attempting to resuscitate this sleeping giant? Are the power-brokers all in alignment with one another? What identity - that dirty word again - will Ancelotti’s Everton eventually hope to adopt? What, even, is the long-term vision at Everton for life after Ancelotti? But even more crucially, as a club with 17,000 on a season ticket waiting list set their sights on housing more of its devotees at Bramley-Moore Dock, how do they ensure they still even care?

Everton v Chelsea - Premier League
Everton won both of their home games in front of fans this season - will they do so again against Wolves on Wednesday?
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

In many ways, what Everton represent is the antithesis of all that football can and should be - a game of undulating sensations, of infinite possibilities, of uncut, unadulterated feeling. When Youri Tielemans fires in Leicester’s FA Cup winner in front of 6,000 fans who’ve had nothing but cold turkey for a year, you feel that. Even when Liverpool’s goalkeeper scores a 94th-minute winner, however much it may feel like a Truman Show excerpt, you feel that. You may not always like what you feel, but you at least feel it.

At Everton, where each middling, painfully uneventful season feels utterly indistinguishable from the campaigns that came and went before it, they strike you as a club who have lost sight of their most basic, fundamental MO. It’s not even that they’re bad, or at least bad enough to stir up any true sentiment of rage, or of sadness. They’re just, well, there.