What a gut punch that was.
Nothing does disappointment quite like Everton Football Club.
Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to up sticks and leave for Madrid just 18 months into a four-and-a-half-year contract has left the fans stunned and thrown the club’s summer plans into disarray.
This is not the first time Toffees supporters have felt let down by a shock departure. Older Blues will talk about Alan Ball joining Arsenal in 1971. Then there was Duncan Ferguson being sold to Newcastle behind Walter Smith’s back in 1998, Wayne Rooney’s deadline day move to Manchester United in 2004, or Mikel Arteta joining Arsenal in 2011.
And while it is true to say that players and managers come and go but the club will always move on, the enthusiasm of the fans has been slowly chipped away at with each passing disappointment.
There has been an increasing apathy among the fanbase for years now and a common reaction to Tuesday’s latest disappointment was to ask: Everton – just what’s the point?
We were willing to give Carlo time to rebuild but we have barely made the foothills of the mountain before being shoved back down to the bottom again. More instability, more uncertainty, more ‘none of the current squad are his players’. Anyone else tired of it all?
You would think that by now we had all learned to accept football’s ruthless lack of loyalty and take what players and managers say with a generous helping of salt. But I cannot be the only one taken in by Ancelotti’s warm words about Everton. He was at pains to stress how settled he was in Crosby and was ready to lay the foundations for a long-term project at Goodison Park having spent no more than two years at any one club since leaving AC Milan in 2009. Less than two weeks ago he was playing down links to Madrid and committing himself to the Toffees, but the moment they flutter their eyelashes in his direction he is off like a shot.
Evertonians have every right to feel bitterly let down by a man they had embraced and fully bought into, even during a turgid and ultimately disappointing second half of the season.
The key question is – what has changed for Ancelotti to suddenly want to leave?
It may well be that all those warm words were just that, words. Ancelotti is an astute man-manager and that includes managing the fans. He knows exactly the right things to say to the right people in order to keep them all onside.
We perhaps naively read too much into those words and ignored the harsh reality that if Real Madrid come calling, you don’t say no.
That, for me, is the most palatable outcome, because the more worrying theory is if things have changed behind the scenes at the club and promises made to Carlo have not been or cannot be kept.
That is pure speculation of course; there is nothing to suggest the commitments made to Ancelotti upon his arrival have not been followed through. The same goes with rumoured disagreements with Marcel Brands over transfer targets. It is probably just my now in-built Everton defence mechanism: expect everything to collapse to ease your disappointment when it eventually does.
In his departing statement Ancelotti said the decision was the right one for his family - maybe they were not as settled in England as he was? Don’t forget back in February his daughter was alone in their house when it was burgled by a group of masked men. We often get so caught up in football that we forget the human element in the background.
But whatever the reasons for his departure the question now is who replaces him? A quick glance at the latest odds makes concerning reading, with no real standout candidate.
However, once the dust has settled, Everton must try and turn this undoubted body blow into an opportunity.
For all of Ancelotti’s strengths, he was a slightly awkward fit alongside Brands; with the Italian favouring older, established players while Brands targets youngsters who require developing.
This is a chance, if not to reset, to realign the club’s vision, plan and ambitions.
Brands must be given a chance to identify a new manager, ideally someone young and hungry, ready to truly commit to the club for the long term and re-energise a dispirited fanbase.
That’s easier said than done of course, and the shock nature of Ancelotti’s departure means the club will be doing so from a standing start. But after burning through five permanent managers in as many years, Farhad Moshiri’s next appointment may well be his most important.