The Director of Football role is intended to provide stability to a club to counteract the cut-throat nature of football.
While a manager or head coach will inevitably face the chop after a run of defeats, a club can continue with their overall strategy with a DoF.
Everton are on their third Director of Football in the Moshiri era. Make of that what you will.
But after being appointed on 22 February 2022, how did Kevin Thelwell do in his first full season in the job?
Director of Football Role
Obviously the Director of Football role is very nuanced. Effectively, the DoF is in charge of all football strategy from the academy to the first team. Most of this work goes on behind closed doors, but for us football fans, there is one key area to judge their performance: the comings and goings of the first-team squad.
The Director of Football should also be in charge of managerial changes. But I’m not convinced that’s the case under Moshiri, so I won’t judge him on Lampard’s sacking nor Dyche’s appointment.
Here, I’ll take a look at how Kevin Thelwell has shaped Everton’s squad last season.
As you may have heard, Everton have created themselves a myriad of financial problems - well predating Mr Thelwell. Thanks for that Farhad and Bill.
Therefore, Everton have had to follow a sell-to-avoid-getting-sued policy. Hence why we had to sell Richarlison on 30 June (the day before the official end of the previous season).
Richarlison was ready to leave and Everton had little choice but to sell. We were all gutted to lose him, but it was an inevitable decision.
The summer window saw multiple other players leave the club, as Thelwell looked to reduce the wage bill that had become laden with unwanted players acquired from multiple regimes.
Allan and Salomon Rondon were allowed to end their contracts early in order to leave, while fringe players Jonjoe Kenny and Cenk Tosun also left on frees.
There were multiple players leaving on loan too, with Andre Gomes, Dele Alli and Jean-Philippe Gbamin also getting their bloated wages off the wage bill for the season. The club would surely have preferred to sell all three, but clubs can smell our desperation and recognise that we have a weak negotiating position.
Jarrad Branthwaite also got an eye-catching loan at PSV which turned out to be a masterstroke, while Niels Nkounkou had a mixed-spell at Cardiff before setting Ligue 2 alight with Saint-Etienne - who subsequently actioned their £3 million option on the young left-back. While we do need to boost our coffers, I’m sad to see Nkounkou go as we don’t have another attacking left-back at the club and he had real potential.
The club also made a small fee from the sale of Nathan Broadhead to Ipswich - a player with much ability and someone the club has badly let down in terms of his development by holding him back in the under-23/21 set up for far too long, rather than going out and getting real experience as a teen. Don’t be surprised to see Broadhead in the Premier League at some point.
The quality of loans that Everton’s young players went out on significantly improved under Thelwell. The likes Ellis Simms, Tom Cannon, Lewis Warrington and Harry Tyrer all enjoyed excellent loan spells that saw their stock rise - something of a rarity in recent years for the Blues.
The other notable exit came in late January, when Anthony Gordon was allowed to leave for Newcastle. While the club got a decent fee, it almost proved to be a fatal mistake to allow one of our very few attacking talents leave the club without a replacement already lined up.
On the departures front, therefore, it was a mixed bunch for Thelwell. I think the club have definitely improved in sending our young players out on appropriate loans, but the have been some blindspot and opportunities missed in terms of providing the first-team with some much-needed affordable depth (Nkounkou and Broadhead).
OUTGOINGS GRADE: C+
Obviously, Thelwell’s hands have been tied by the club’s financial position. He was also put in an unenviable position of having to deal with a significantly unbalanced squad assembled by a multiple of DoFs and managers before him.
The early signing of James Tarkowski on a free transfer was Everton’s best move of the summer. He provided a significant upgrade at the back along with some much needed leadership.
The midfield also enjoyed a significant upgrade, with Amadou Onana arriving for £30 million, plus James Garner and Idrissa Gueye arriving on low-priced deals. All three were great signings for varying reasons.
Dwight McNeil was brought in for a sizeable fee from relegated Burnley and eventually proved his worth when he was reunited with Sean Dyche. Nevertheless, the signing did make sense.
However, there was a glaring issue off the back of the Richarlison’s sale (and DCL’s fitness in 21/22) - the club clearly needed at least one new striker and winger. This was clearly going to be pivotal for the club’s fortunes in the 22/23 season.
Shockingly, DCL picked up an injury before the season started and the Blues were left without a recognised striker to start the season, meaning Anthony Gordon was shoe-horned into the position.
This cost us points. We played really well in our opening games, but we just didn’t have a player to lead the line and get on the end of crosses.
When Everton did finally sign a striker, the best we could muster was an absurd £15 million fee for the diminutive Neal Maupay from Brighton’s bench. Hardly the target man we needed to replace DCL.
This was the club’s second biggest mistake of the season and was the reason we were immersed in a relegation battle until the last second of the season.
The biggest mistake of the season came in January, when the club - desperately needing at least two attacking options to add to the ranks, instead opted to sell one of the club’s few attacking threats without replacing him.
Everton were the only club in the league not to sign a player in January.
Thelwell got most of the club’s transfers right. We brought in multiple leaders and made big upgrades through the club’s spine. But the glaring error in not bringing in a target man (in the summer or January) almost got the club relegated.
It was one mistake. But a huge error that can’t afford to be repeated.
OUTGOINGS GRADE: D+
So, How Did Thelwell Do?
Ultimately, Kevin Thelwell got much more right than he got wrong in terms of transfers.
Unfortunately, the thing he got wrong (i.e. not signing a striker) was borderline gross negligence. Every Evertonian and his dog knew the key thing the Toffees needed in the summer and January, but the club failed to take the action necessary.
The club can blame the market conditions and our lack of available funds, but other clubs managed it.
DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL GRADE: C-
What the club needs more than anything, though, is stability. So I’m not saying for a moment that Thelwell’s job (nor Dyche’s) should be on the line for the foreseeable. Again, it’s hard to attribute blame at the position knowing how much interference he has to deal with from a meddling majority shareowner and clingy chairman.
But Kevin: sign a striker would’ya.