For over a decade now, Everton Football Club have been the best of the rest. They have only finished outside of the top eight on two occasions since the 2005/06 season. Like Aston Villa before them, they have often provided the barrier between the big boys and everyone else. When Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri purchased a 49.9% stake in the club in February 2016, hopes were high that the Toffees would turn the so-called “Big Six” into a “Big Seven”. Despite a positive first full season under Moshiri resulting in a seventh placed finish, not everything has gone to plan since then. Could Everton’s ambitions ultimately prove costly?
Ronald Koeman was poached from Southampton after Moshiri offered him £6m a year and “the biggest transfer budget in Everton’s history” plus money received from the projected sales of John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. This turned out to be an initial £47.5m for Stones whilst Lukaku stayed another season.
Koeman was recently sacked after a run of two wins in twelve despite spending over £140m in the summer. And one of those wins was against Championship basement boys Sunderland in the League Cup. Now attention turns to who will replace the Dutchman at the helm. David Unsworth is currently the favourite despite losing his first three games as caretaker manager before defeating Watford in the fourth. Other British managers have also been mentioned in the form of Burnley’s Sean Dyche, ex-England manager Sam Allardyce and David Moyes prior to his appointment by West Ham this week. But one name stands out above all others. That name is Diego Simeone.
The Atletico Madrid manager has led the Spanish giants to success in the Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana on top of reaching two Champions League finals. His most notable achievement was steering Los Rojiblancos to the 2013/14 La Liga title breaking up the Real Madrid/Barcelona hegemony for the first time since 2003/04.
Simeone is reportedly top of Moshiri’s managerial wish list, yet it seems inconceivable that the Argentine manager would swap glory in Spain’s capital for a potential relegation battle on Merseyside.
Moshiri’s ambitions draw parallels with those of Blackburn Rovers in 2011 when new owners the Venkys announced plans to bring David Beckham and Ronaldinho to the club. Six years later and it is the likes of Fleetwood Town and Rochdale coming to Ewood Park instead with the club languishing just inside the League One play-off positions. Similarly QPR attempted to recruit Beckham in 2012 having already signed Jose Bosingwa, Ji-Sung Park, Esteban Granero and Julio Cesar from big clubs that summer on extortionate wages. They were among several “marquee” signings for Rangers who subsequently finished bottom of the Premier League and have since struggled in the Championship.
Another bizarre story to come out of the blue half of Merseyside recently was that concerning the shirt number of summer signing Nikola Vlasic. Vlasic told the press that he wanted the number eight shirt, but that was already held by Ross Barkley, whilst the number nineteen was reserved for Diego Costa. The same Diego Costa who top-scored for the Premier League Champions last season. Costa most likely will play under Simeone soon, although it will be at the Wanda Metropolitano rather than Goodison Park with the Spain international having already re-joined his old club who are unable to play him until January due to a transfer ban.
If Everton are to turn their season around, they must begin to think realistically. Whilst Toffees fans would be rightfully underwhelmed to see the likes of Allardyce or Moyes or any other manager perennially linked to bottom-half Premier League clubs appointed, they must realise Simeone will have much better job offers should he leave Madrid.
There are young British managers performing well who are not given a chance at a higher level since both they and their club are deemed too unfashionable. Dyche, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe and Graham Potter of Swedish club Ostersunds are examples of these. The latter led his club from the Swedish fourth division to the first in five seasons whilst winning the Svenska Cupen, their first major trophy last season. This saw them qualify for the Europa League in which they are currently top of their group having already deposed of relative heavyweights Galatasaray and PAOK in the qualifying rounds.
Yet Potter has not been linked to a single Premier League job with teams much preferring the usual suspects with the hope of securing a top-seventeen finish and nothing more. Huddersfield gambled on a relative unknown in the form of Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team manager David Wagner. The German has since led them to a shock promotion and they are currently in tenth place following a solid start to the season undoubtably topped by the recent 2-1 victory over Manchester United. Before them Southampton made an obscure appointment in 2013 by bringing in unknown manager Mauricio Pochettino to replace Nigel Adkins. The same Pochettino who is now reportedly towards the top of Real Madrid’s wishlist should Zinedine Zidane lose his job.
Everton should look towards a manager in the mould of the above names if they are to progress to the next level. Once they are competing for trophies and Champions League football on a regular basis they can look towards the likes of Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti, another name linked following his sacking from Bayern Munich.
There is a fine line between ambition and delusion, and if Everton are not careful, they may find themselves going the way of QPR or Blackburn Rovers rather than Tottenham and Manchester City. The most similar club to Everton right now in terms of business model is West Ham who are more interested in creating a 2012 Premier League all-stars eleven than a team worthy of competing for European football. The Hammers have just replaced the Toffees in the relegation zone. They have the money to spend on quality players, but they need these players to prove themselves and establish them as a serious challenger to the top six before individuals of the calibre of Simeone and Costa view Everton as an attractive proposition.
Andy Robertson – From Amateur to Anfield
Another 3 points gained under the Anfield lights on Saturday evening and another outstanding performance from one of Liverpool’s star men. Nope we’re not talking about Salah, Mane Mane or Bobby Firmino because it’s all about Robbo, Andy Robertson.
The left back who has made the position his own and is quite rightly receiving the plaudits he deserves.
Just 5 years ago Andy Robertson was playing for Scottish 3rd Division side Queens Park, a club in which he signed for after having been released by Celtic for being too small earlier in his career.
His move to Dundee United saw him instantly catch the eye of many north of the border. A renewed contract was agreed within just weeks of his debut and was followed with being PFA’s “Scotland Young Player of the Year” and a subsequent place in the PFA “Scotland Team of the Year” for the 2013-14 Scottish Premiership season.
All of this convinced Hull City to swoop with a near £3m bid to get their man, United accepted and the left back was on his way to the EPL.
3 seasons with Hull under the stewardship of former Man Utd stalwart Steve Bruce allowed him to gain what is deemed acceptable experience in England and it was Liverpool who won the race for his signature.
An absolute bargain at a reported £8m and his dream debut season is showing no signs of slowing down.
He has even earned the approval of Kop legend Stevie G. He told BT Sport: “He’s done terrifically well since coming in and the fans have taken to him. It’s not just about Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres, the top players that come, the fans love someone who gives 100 per cent.”
“He’s come in and he’s a very humble kid and gives it his all every game. To be fair to the kid. He’s been excellent.”
His lung bursting closing down run vs Man City made him a social media sensation but for those who have watched him for the past few years this was nothing out of the ordinary.
International recognition has obviously come his way and with 20 caps already under his belt, his partnership with Kieran Tierney gives The Tartan Army a strong looking left side for years to come.
He’s has never given up and has taken every chance that has come his way.
One of the signings of the 2017/18 season has undoubtedly been Liverpool’s Number 26.
Nick Pope – From League Two to Russia as Englands most in form keeper?
Some pretty daft things are said in the wake of a team winning promotion. Players who, in the depths of winter, you were berating for not being able to pass a ball two yards are suddenly going to be providing the names of your first born. You claim that you believed in the team all along, when in reality, after a home defeat by Dagenham & Redbridge, you had sworn never to go again. Most stupidly of all however, you claim that your young loanee goalkeeper will go to the next World Cup. Or at least that’s what I did after Bury’s promotion on the last day of the 2014/15 season. While little Thomas Daniel has yet to show his face, the latter statement may actually come true as Gareth Southgate takes a look at Burnley’s Nick Pope in his latest England squad.
Nick joined Bury in January 2015, on loan from Charlton Athletic. Our promotion campaign wasn’t running particularly smoothly. The day before Pope’s debut we sat 9th in League Two, two points outside the play off places and nine points off the automatic promotion places. We’d lost nine games, shipped as many goals as Tranmere, who went on to be relegated and the aforementioned Dagenham & Redbridge had managed to do the double over us as they fought at the wrong end of the table. Three goalkeepers had already worn the ‘keeper’s jersey before Pope. Shwan Jalal, Rob Lainton and Scott Loach had tried and failed to provide the solid goalkeeper David Flitcroft was looking for.
Pope’s debut was a pretty forgettable home draw against Wycombe Wanderers. He conceded a goal, which was to be rarity during Nick’s time with Bury. In the following 21 games, Pope conceded only nine goals, won fifteen games and lost only four. Pope exuded a calmness rarely sighted in the fourth tier of English football, instilling a new confidence in a defence which had underperformed for most the season. Come the final day of the season, Bury needed to win to be promoted. Away at Tranmere, who had already been relegated, the nerves showed. Pope was called upon to make crucial saves to keep the scores level. In the 61st minute however, Tom Soares wrote himself into Bury folklore and at the end of game, Bury found themselves in League One.
The following season, Pope was back with parent club Charlton. He began and ended the season as Charlton’s first choice goalkeeper, not playing all the games as Charlton preferred Stephen Henderson through the middle part of the season. This season was to be one of disappointment however, as Charlton were relegated to League One. Rather than drop down to League One with Charlton, Pope’s career took a different path. The winners of the Championship, Burnley, decided to take Nick onto the Premier League, signing him on a three year deal in July 2016. Pope played only cup matches in his first season with the Clarets. Even when Tom Heaton missed Premier League matches, 37 year old former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson was the preferred option.
With Robinson retiring in July of 2017 and a further injury to Tom Heaton opening the door, the 2017/18 season has seen Pope grasp his opportunity with both hands. To date Pope has kept ten clean sheets in twenty seven Premier League appearances, working behind a defence containing fellow England hopefuls James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.
Could Pope go from League Two to a World Cup in three years? Despite being arguably England’s most in-form goalkeeper heading into the tournament the chances are probably slim. Without any injuries, Gareth Southgate will take Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford. Despite being woefully out of form, going into a tournament without Joe Hart would be seen as a mistake by most, given his experience, even if he is just there to lend a helping hand to the number one. Butland doesn’t seem to be losing any favour from being embroiled in Stoke’s relegation battle while Pickford could claim to be Everton’s best player of this season. However one mistake, a loss of form or injury could see Pope take the place of any of these three.
Back at Bury, nearly three years have passed since that rainy day promotion at Tranmere and we have never properly replaced Nick Pope. Since that day twelve (!) different goalkeepers have been used, seven during the 2015/16 season alone. As we head towards relegation back to League Two, the summer would be that little bit more bearable knowing that an ex – Shaker was on the biggest stage of them all. All the best Nick, lad. UTS.
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