My beloved Everton are in deep trouble. It’s been a wretched season but the majority of us fans expected this when the board gave the vacant manager’s job to Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool legend who once labelled the Blues “a small club” after a Merseyside derby. There aren’t many more hated figures in football than the Spaniard for us Evertonians so having him in charge was a bitter pill to swallow.
Aside from his connections with the red half of the city and his jibe, he was the wrong choice because he was washed up. His career had declined to such an extent that he was coaching a team in China. He had fallen from grace and his coaching methods and style of play belonged in the past. Yet, for some bizarre reason, the Everton owner Farhad Moshiri decided he was the right man to take over from Carlo Ancelotti who had surprised everyone when he announced he was leaving after just 1 season in charge of the team. The legendary Italian, a serial winner, only left Goodison Park because his first love, Real Madrid, came calling. But it put the Toffees in a sticky situation what with the new season kicking off in a matter of weeks, a lot of transfer business to conduct and a first team without a coach. I guess the board panicked and thought the experience of Benitez would steady the ship. He was delighted to be back in England and the Premier League - but made no mention of the things he had said in the past or offered any apologies. Not exactly the way to win over the fans but he got off to a good start with Everton 4th in the table after the first 2 months of the season.
But when the spine of the team was missing through injury the performances and results began to suffer. His negative approach to games, where he instructed his team to sit back deep and defend, did not go down well at all with the Everton faithful who, just the season before, were watching the side score fun with James Rodriguez pulling the strings. But Benitez had a falling out with the player when the pair were at Real Madrid years earlier. And the new Everton boss held a grudge against the talented Columbian and subsequently sidelined him from the squad and banned him from the training ground. Rodriguez left the club much to the dismay of the fans. Not since Andrei Kanchelskis in 1995 had Everton had signed a genuine superstar who could get fans off their seats. Rodriguez was performing well and enjoying his new surroundings but was treated extremely harshly by Benitez. And when the team plummeted from 4th from top to 4th from bottom the fans were protesting to have him removed. The board eventually acted following an appalling run of results where Everton won just 1 in 15 games and sacked Benitez.
In has come Frank Lampard and the former Chelsea legend is still learning the ropes and has found life very tough so far in charge of the team which has had all its confidence drained by the hands of the previous coach. He has only managed 2 league wins from 7 games (losing 5) and yesterday he saw the Toffees unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Crystal Palace. But the manner of the latest surrender will have hurt the young boss most, as it did the fans. Everton totally bottled it. At 2-0 down in the second half they looked frightened stiff to go forward and instead resorted to casually playing it around at the back probably in the hope of not conceding any more goals. It didn’t work. Palace added 2 more and won 4-0.
I genuinely believe that this is the worst squad ever assembled and the results prove it. Not that the squad lacks talent. There is plenty of it in the shape of the attacking Demari Gray, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The midfield has quality too with the likes of the abrasive Allan and recently arrived Donny Van de Beek on loan from Man Utd. The defence boasts the athletic Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate and in goal in England’s number 1 Jordan Pickford. But they all lack spirit, passion and most importantly pride. There was no fight from them yesterday whatsoever. Nobody was busting a lung to track back or brave enough to put in a tackle to prevent further damage from a Palace side that were at walking pace yet still managed to breach the Blues 4 times.
What really worries me is that the players looked like they couldn’t care less. They seemed oblivious to the fact Everton were appearing in the quarterfinal of the oldest cup competition in the world for the 47th time - the outright most of any side in the competition’s history. But why should they care? They’re not Evertonians. They’re just a bunch of footballers assembled by several managers over the years and the lack of togetherness is all too apparent. The rot has been setting in for some time and I don’t think it will magically get better or that results will improve. It will be a major miracle if that happens. We’re a sunken ship. I cannot believe that Everton Football Club – one of the world’s grandest clubs – is going down. This isn’t the 90s where even when we struggled we always had hope because we had leaders in the side like Barry Horne, Dave Watson, Neville Southall - players who genuinely cared. But this lot don’t care. They won’t care that they were the players that got Everton relegated for the first time since 1951. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that Everton - who hold the record for the most number of seasons in the top flight - are on the verge of the dreaded drop. They’ll just be on their phones to their agents asking them to get them a move back to the Premier League. But the way they are currently playing they wouldn’t get into a Sunday League team.
The only player trying his best is Anthony Gordon. Having forced his way into the team through the ranks from the academy, the born and bred Liverpudlian knows what it means to wear the royal blue shirt. His performances have been faultless. He has carried the team and given fans a reason to cheer. And he is only 21. The senior players need to take a long hard look at themselves because they are being shown up by a scrawny kid.
I would love Lampard to ditch these prima donnas and get the youngsters involved right now. We are going down anyway so it doesn’t matter if they play and lose. It isn’t on them. They are not to blame – the damage has already been done. It is time to let them grow together as a team - whether it be in the Premier League or the Championship. Let them learn what it means to play for this magnificent and historic club. Get them to love, care and give their all for the club. Maybe then we will see a proper Everton team that the fans can be proud of. We don’t expect to be challenging at the top of the table and winning trophies just now – all we expect is fighting spirit and passion. That is the basics of any football team.
Sadly, throwing them in at the deep end would be a risky move and Lampard won’t want to destroy their confidence. That means it’ll be same lot out there who threw in the towel after 20 minutes last night the next time Everton play. But for the vast majority of them, there shouldn’t be a next time.
Players and managers come and go but the fans always remain. And we’ll stick with the team - no matter which league they’re playing in. I just hope and pray it is in the top flight, where we belong...