To plenty, it smacked of a panic move. Having dispensed of Ronald Koeman following five defeats in their opening nine league games, Everton did not name Sam Allardyce as his permanent successor for over five weeks.
That period had included a prolonged, ultimately unsuccessful flirtation with Watford’s Marco Silva, as well as the temporary stint of under-23s manager David Unsworth.
When Watford would not allow Silva to leave under any circumstances, and it become clear that Unsworth was out of his depth, the Toffees turned to Allardyce.
Here was a man who has managed six Premier League sides before, and in so doing had burnished himself with a reputation for ensuring top tier survival. With Everton third bottom when Koeman departed, Allardyce was identified as a shield against what would have been a disastrous demotion.
The wrong move
Yet, while Allardyce quickly and successfully went about the process of steering his side clear from danger, to many Everton’s decision to appoint him was baffling.
For all Koeman had struggled to draw out the appropriate results and level of performance from a squad that had around £140 million spent on it last summer, the club’s appearance in the relegation zone appeared as an early season oddity. The likelihood of them remaining there for long seemed so slim as to be remote.
Allardyce, survival expert, therefore never seemed to be the right fit, particularly when it was rumoured that he was to be paid £6 million-a-year for his services. Here was a club that had noticed a blinking warning light and immediately called for the lifeboats.
Following his swift upending as England manager, Allardyce went about rebuilding his reputation at Crystal Palace last season, once again extricating a side from impending doom. Ego suitably stroked once more, he stepped away from the game, presumably for good.
It spoke volumes that he was to be enticed back within six months, unable to swat away a vast pay packet for this most simple of tasks. Money for old rope came to mind.
That simple task was achieved with ease. Indeed, even as Allardyce sat in the stands before his official appointment, Everton cantered to a 4-0 win over West Ham United.
His first game saw another set of relegation candidates in the form of Huddersfield Town swatted aside, and by Christmas, his side were comfortably ensconced in ninth, nowhere near the bottom of the table and hoping for a European push.
Given their summer spend and the club’s stature, that is the least that should have been expected. Yet it is there that they have stagnated. Now, with four games left to play, they remain ninth, closer to the bottom three than they are to Burnley in seventh. They will not go down; nor will they surpass mediocrity.
Allardyce has long had to field criticisms as to where his ‘level’ is and his eventual grasping of the England job was seen by him as vindication for his hard work over the years.
The circumstances of his departure are known to have hurt him deeply and it is easy to think he viewed the Everton role as one in which he could again try to prove that he was capable of more than just avoiding relegation.
A disappointing series of events
Armed with an array of attacking talents, talents which he bolstered in January through the signings of Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, Allardyce found himself in possession of a squad more gifted than any he has ever managed at club level.
Here was his opportunity to put to use his pioneering embrace of sports science and statistics, to produce results at the top end of the Premier League table rather than the bottom.
How galling it has been for Everton fans that rather than implement a vibrant and attacking style of play, Allardyce has instead overseen a side that looks lethargic and unwilling, or unable, to facilitate the talents of its more adventurous figures.
Gylfi Sigurdsson scored in Allardyce’s opening game but has added just one goal since, Wayne Rooney’s haul of ten league goals is more illusory than it is representative of his own performances this season, whilst Davy Klaassen, signed amid plenty fanfare from Ajax, has managed just six minutes of first-team football since September. To the best of everyone’s knowledge, he hasn’t been injured in that time.
An imminent parting?
Since Christmas, Allardyce has presided over a run of just four wins in 16 games. Four-goal thumpings at the hands of Arsenal and Spurs have been particularly disheartening, especially when allowed by a man who has long been renowned for ensuring defensive solidity.
Everton fans have unsurprisingly objected to this fairly dismal run, but it has been Allardyce’s own inimitable style that has seen many Toffees reach for their telephones to berate the manager on the airwaves.
Oddly, Allardyce has managed two draws in the league against the considerable attacking might of Liverpool, yet December’s point at Anfield arrived by way of 21% possession and no small amount of good fortune.
Last weekend’s draw with the Reds at Goodison Park was one in which the visitors clearly had their minds fixed on an upcoming Champions League quarter-final. Even then, Everton were pitiful in their lack of ambition.
Manchester City have done for plenty of sides this season, but their victory at Goodison at the end of March summed up this Everton side under Allardyce. The manager surprised plenty by naming a thoroughly attacking line-up; Tosun, Walcott, Rooney, Yannick Bolasie and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all started.
Yet what followed was not an attempt at attacking but rather a meek, embarrassing surrender. The Toffees ‘enjoyed’ just 18% of possession, were cut to ribbons defensively and were three down inside 37 minutes. Bolasie’s second half consolation papered over few cracks.
Allardyce’s deal runs until June 2019 but it would be surprising in the extreme if he saw it out. For all he employs the most innovative tools around in order to gain an advantage, old habits die hard. He has spent a managerial lifetime fighting relegation and opting for a safety-first approach. He has become an expert in steering sides away from the edge.
But that was never what this Everton side needed. Their summer splurge was misguided, leaving the squad top-heavy with one-paced attacking midfielders and without a genuine threat up front. Even so, this side is still operating as less than the sum of its parts. Only a new manager will fix that.
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