We’ve been here before. For the fifth time in as many years, Everton find themselves managerless once again.
Unlike the previous four occasions, though, this was different - for once, their manager walked out on them rather than being shown the door by the club, as Carlo Ancelotti left Goodison Park to return to former club Real Madrid on Tuesday.
It’s a desperately great shame for Everton, not only because they now require another period of upheaval, transition and instability, but because there was the real hope that Ancelotti, a three-time Champions League winner, could help restore the club to its former glories.
Alas, it was not to be, and Ancelotti departs 18 months after he arrives with only a tenth-placed finish in his sole full season at the helm to show for his efforts.
With the dust starting to settle on the news, let’s take look back at the main highs, lows and turning points of another era at Everton which ends with a feeling of what might have been:
December 21, 2019 - Ancelotti arrives
After Marco Silva’s unravelling 18-month reign was brought to a close 16 days earlier, December 21 was the day another new era was officially ushered in at Goodison, with serial trophy hoarder Ancelotti signing a four-and-a-half-year contract with Everton.
Ancelotti said following his appointment:
“This is a great club with a rich history and a very passionate fan base. There is a clear vision from the owner and the board to deliver success and trophies. That is something that appeals to me as a manager, and I am thrilled at the prospect of being able to work with everybody at the club to help make that vision a reality.”
He watched from the stands as Everton, under caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, played out a nondescript goalless draw on a sun-kissed winter afternoon at Goodison. At the time, the Blues sat 15th.
December 28, 2019 - Two out of two
Seven days and two wins later, though, and the Blues had shot to tenth, as Ancelotti led them to narrow victories in both of his opening pair of matches.
First against Burnley on Boxing Day at Goodison, where a jubilant home faithful gave him a rapturous ovation before Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s late header sealed a late 1-0 win.
And then two days later, Everton’s number nine was at it again, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory at Newcastle to move Everton into the top half, seven points clear of the drop zone and continue Ancelotti’s perfect start.
January 5, 2020 - Anfield FA Cup fiasco
But only eight days late, after a defeat at Manchester City sandwiched in-between, Ancelotti truly had his eyes opened to the scale of the task awaiting him at Goodison Park.
Having been battered at Anfield 5-2 in the Premier League in Silva’s last game a month earlier, Everton returned to the ground they hadn’t won at since 1999 and suffered even greater embarrassment this time in the FA Cup.
A gutless Everton side at virtually full-strength fell to a pitiful 1-0 defeat at the hands of a Liverpool team consisting of three teenagers and many more youngsters and fringe players, with 18-year-old Curtis Jones’ curled winner inflicting utter humiliation on Everton.
In front of 8,000 Evertonians, this was a rude awakening for a bemused, unamused Ancelotti, and ultimately signalled the end of another campaign by January.
February 1, 2020 - A long-awaited comeback victory
Thankfully, Everton’s league form didn’t go quite the same way thereafter, winning one and drawing two of their next three matches.
Though, the third and final game was quintessential Everton, throwing away a 2-0 lead they held until the 94rd minute to draw 2-2 at home to Newcastle.
But the shoe was on the other foot when they then went to Watford, as Yerry Mina’s brace and Theo Walcott’s injury-time winner sent the Vicarage Road away end into a state of pandemonium.
It marked the first time Everton had come from behind to win a league game since December 2017. Slowly, a positive mentality shift seemed to be creeping in under Ancelotti.
July 26, 2020 - Slog of a season draws to merciful close
From then on, the Blues often threatened to mount a challenge for European qualification, without it ever really materialising.
The three month coronavirus-enforced suspension meant what had been a pretty laborious campaign didn’t come to an end until late July, when Bournemouth ended Ancelotti’s unbeaten home run as Everton manager on the day the Cherries were relegated.
It meant Everton ended up in 12th - their lowest league finish since 2003-04, and while little blame could be attached to Ancelotti for this, another reminder of just how heavy his workload was.
September 8, 2020 - Doucouré completes midfield hat-trick
Summer signings didn’t exactly fly in from the get-go, though. The likes of Oumar Niasse, Morgan Schneiderlin and Cuco Martina departed, while Leighton Baines retired, but until September, Everton’s only arrival was young left-back Niels Nkounkou.
Until four hectic days when Ancelotti set about revamping a midfield that had been non-existent for much of the previous season. First came tenacious Napoli anchorman Allan, then the headline-grabber - Colombian wizard James Rodriguez.
Finally, on September 8, the trio was complete, as Watford’s box-to-box midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré joined for roughly £20 million. Suddenly, Everton looked well-stocked in this department once again.
October 3, 2020 - The magnificent seven
And so it proved, particularly on opening day when, having barely been at the club for a week, Allan, Rodriguez and Doucouré all started and shone in Everton’s terrific 1-0 win at Tottenham on September 13.
They followed that up with six more wins in a row - three in the EFL Cup and Premier League each - to send them into the quarter-finals of the former and joint-top of the latter.
The seventh of them, a well-earned 4-2 win over Brighton, saw Calvert-Lewin net his ninth goal of the campaign already, as well as brace for Everton’s new starlet, Rodriguez. Even with COVID-19 depriving fans of the right to watch it all unfold in the flesh, there was new-found optimism at Goodison.
And not only because they’d also topped the iTunes charts with ‘Spirit of the Blues’ the week before, either.
Two days later, they would also sign one of their stars of the season, Ben Godfrey, on transfer deadline day, as well as goalkeeper Robin Olsen on loan from Roma. The good news just kept coming, it felt, for Everton.
November 28, 2020 - Leeds loss continues sorry slump
Sadly, the momentum soon came to a grinding halt for Ancelotti and Everton.
A fiery 2-2 derby draw was probably the most the Blues deserved, and was followed by one win and four defeats in their next five league games.
The last of them, a 1-0 loss at home to newly-promoted Leeds in late November, left Everton ninth by the end of the weekend, with Tom Davies and Alex Iwobi playing as wing-backs, early-season enthusiasm punctured, and a worrying sign of things to come as far as empty Goodison games were concerned.
December 26, 2020 - Four in a row leaves Blues second
But back roared Everton in December, as Ancelotti’s back four consisting entirely of centre-backs spurred them on to four successive league wins for the second time this season.
Helped by the presence of 2,000 fans at Goodison, they edged past Chelsea and Arsenal either side of a superb midweek win at Leicester. The EFL Cup exit to Manchester United was disappointing, but the Blues responded perfectly three days later by winning 1-0 at Sheffield United on Boxing Day.
At the time, Everton were second. After a brief lull, the season felt as if it had a pulse once again.
February 14, 2021 - Fulham shock Blues as Goodison woes continue
Only for, yet again, the hope to kill you. Everton’s next game after the Sheffield United win was at home to West Ham on New Year’s Day, a truly dreadful match which they lost 1-0.
They then won at Wolves and Leeds and progressed to the FA Cup quarter-finals as well as drawing with Leicester and Manchester United, but continued their inept home performances by losing 2-0 to both lowly Newcastle and Fulham in early 2021.
Josh Maja’s double for the Whites secured their three points on Valentine’s Day and their first Goodison win ever in the league. Once again, Ancelotti had come unstuck, Everton looked toothless, and fans who got even the slightest bit carried away were left with egg on their faces.
February 20, 2021 - Carlo’s masterplan ends Anfield hoodoo
Another home loss, albeit against Manchester City, then followed, but only three days later came arguably Ancelotti’s greatest night as Everton manager.
A foolproof tactical plan carried out to the letter, the Italian and Everton returned to Anfield, nullified a beleaguered Liverpool and ended their 22-year wait for a derby win the other side of Stanley Park courtesy Richarlison’s fabulous finish and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty.
Opting for a back five, with the potential to merge into a back four if need be, Seamus Coleman marked Andrew Robertson out of the game, Jordan Pickford stood tall between the sticks at the ground of some of his darkest Everton games, and Richarlison and Rodriguez provided the incision up front.
It may have been in front of an empty stadium, but that should scarcely diminish the scale of the achievement. Another of Everton’s long-standing mental hurdles had finally been cleared with Ancelotti’s guidance.
February 25, 2021 - Ancelotti wants to see Everton through to Bramley-Moore
The following week, during his pre-match press conference ahead of Southampton’s visit to Goodison, Ancelotti was asked where he sees himself long-term. His answer? Exactly where he was right then.
Indeed, the Italian expressed his desire to stay at Goodison beyond the expiry of his contract [June 2024] which, all being well, would have seen him be Everton manager by the time they move stadium to Bramley-Moore Dock.
“I would like to be here when the new stadium is open [assuming the 2024 target is met]. It would be a good achievement for me.
“To finish the contract in 2024 means you did a good job – and the contract will not be stopped, it will continue. The time I spent here, I felt good and would like to stay as long as possible.
“In the past few days there was a lot of good news and we are working to keep the good news every day. It is really important to have the trust of the club, without this it is difficult to do your job at your best.
“Also, the players must have trust in you and you have to trust the players. We have a good relationship and I hope to continue.”
March 20, 2021 - City cup exit signals third straight defeat
Everton then beat Southampton, and then West Brom after that, both by a 1-0 scoreline, but then the late-season bruises started to emerge.
A 2-0 defeat at top four rivals Chelsea was more forgivable - Thomas Tuchel’s men just outclassed them on the day - but another home defeat, this time to Burnley, less so.
Seven days later, Manchester City consigned the Blues to three straight losses, winning 2-0 at Goodison to knock them out of the FA Cup and dash Everton’s hopes of silverware for yet another year.
All of a sudden, a season which had promised so much was threatening to fizzle out.
April 22, 2021 - Ancelotti hails ‘family club’ Everton, decries European Super League
The following month, news broke of plans for 12 of Europe’s clubs (six from the Premier League) to break away and form their own Super League; a scheme that was almost immediately castigated by all and sundry and went up in smoke within 48 hours.
A few days later, at his pre-match press conference prior to Everton’s trip to Arsenal, Ancelotti, who had managed four of the clubs involved (Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid), similarly denounced the idea, saying:
“My immediate reaction was that they are joking. I was interviewed a few weeks ago about this and said it’s not going to happen.
“It’s true that football now is sport and business, but we have to take both into consideration. Football is a sport first, and then, with a lot of investment, it also becomes a business.
“Everton is a family club, it’s a club where you can feel the love of the supporters. In Everton’s history, they’ve taken care of their supporters, maybe more than others. I’m sure that whenever Everton make a decision, they take into consideration the opinion of the supporters.
“I think, for every supporter of football, it was a surprise. We heard about the Super League in the past few months, but I was sure that it was not going to happen. They were wrong. These 12 clubs were wrong. They didn’t take into consideration the opinions of two really important parts: the players and managers, and the supporters.”
Among the main protagonists in the Super League plot? Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez.
May 16, 2021 - Blades blunder all-but ends Europe hopes
Too many draws had stunted Everton’s dreams of European qualification, but they were essentially by the deepest of home nadirs on May 16.
At home to relegated Sheffield United, the Blues fell to yet another Goodison loss, as 17-year-old Daniel Jebbison struck the decisive blow to leave Everton eighth and needing snookers to even make just the Europa Conference League.
They would beat Wolves - managed by potentially the future Everton boss Nuno Espirito Santo - at home three days later in front of 6,500 supporters, meaning that Everton ultimately won as many league games with fans at Goodison in 2020-21 (three out of three) as without (three out of 16).
Only the Premier League’s bottom five ended with worse home records than theirs, too.
May 23, 2021 - City shellacking ends season on sour note
That 1-0 Wolves win kept faint Europe hopes alive, but they were brutally extinguished by champions City who, thanks partly to departing hero Sergio Aguero, pummelled them 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium on the final day.
It meant Everton, for as much as they appeared to be on the cusp of more marked improvement this term, ended up tenth, despite amassing ten more points than in 2019-20.
It proved to be Ancelotti’s final game as Blues boss.
June 1, 2021 - Arrivederci, Ancelotti
And so, on Tuesday morning, news spread like wildfire of Ancelotti’s impending departure.
By 6pm UK time, it became a sobering reality. The man Everton had moved heaven and earth to appoint 18 months ago, who had immersed himself in the city of Liverpool and appeared similarly besotted with Everton as a club, was no longer in charge at Goodison and had returned to Real Madrid.
“I have complete respect for everyone associated with Everton and hope they can achieve the exciting opportunities they have in front of them.
“While I have enjoyed being at Everton I have been presented with an unexpected opportunity which I believe is the right move for me and my family at this time.”
We may never know what triggered Ancelotti’s change of heart - did the burglary at his Crosby home in February play a part? Was it simply the allure of one of the world’s footballing juggernauts in Real Madrid? Much as he boasted the third-best win ratio of any modern-day Everton manager, did he simply underestimate the size of the task ahead of him? Did he ever really mean the nice words he had for Everton, for Crosby, for Bootle Strand?
That, in some ways, is the worst part of it all. That rather than knowing definitively whether Ancelotti was the right man to lead Everton out of their slumber and back where they belong, instead we’ll die wondering.
And that once again, the club find themselves at year zero, with no real legacy or foundations left behind.