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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Unity and togetherness conspicuous by their absence at Everton under Ronald Koeman

Moyes branded them "the people's club" but their is a growing sense among Everton faithful that Koeman thinks he is better than the club. His position may not yet be untenable, but defeat to Chelsea could alter that

Everton's Nikola Vlasic looks dejected after Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette scores their third goal in a 5-2 win at Goodison Park. Lee Smith / Reuters
Everton's Nikola Vlasic looks dejected after Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette scores their third goal in a 5-2 win at Goodison Park. Lee Smith / Reuters

It was, some mischievously suggested, a plant from Ronald Koeman’s camp designed to find one of the few ways of boosting his flagging popularity. A story appeared hours before the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal tipping David Moyes to make a return to Everton’s increasingly hot seat. Leon Osman, one of two players who lasted Moyes’ whole 11-year reign on Goodison Park, is a sympathetic voice but stated bluntly that a mentor has “failed at his last three jobs.”

Owners looking for a fashionable appointment would not consider Moyes. Some think that even Scotland are deterred by Moyes’ fortunes at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland. He feels damaged goods.

And yet Everton’s stark, swift decline casts his reign in another light. Koeman’s position may not be untenable yet, but defeat at Chelsea on Wednesday in the last 16 of the League Cup could alter that. It is certainly hard to imagine the Dutchman winning back the crowd, just as their visceral dislike of Roberto Martinez hastened his dismissal.

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Everton have not been a sacking club, but could part company with two managers in 18 months. Moyes, in contrast, left of his own volition. A realist understood Everton in a way that the dreamer Martinez and the ambitious Koeman have not. It can be a cliché to say that blue-collar clubs require players who put a shift in, but Moyes extricated Everton from slumps with relentless hard work. There could be gripes at Goodison about a lack of flair, but supporters appreciated urgency and intensity. There has been too little of either in the past three years.

Martinez and Koeman have imported alien ideas which have furthered the divide between dugout and terraces. Koeman has been a man of many formations, sometimes within the same game.

Moyes only really had one, a 4-4-1-1 that proved too unimaginative at Old Trafford but everyone at Everton knew their jobs. He assembled a determined group of characters who could grind out results. Everton have arguably become softer since that side broke up.

Moyes has coined few soundbites, but branding Everton “the people’s club” on his unveiling was a masterstroke. In comparison, rightly or wrongly, there has been the sense that Koeman thinks he is better than the club. Evertonians have noticed how he rarely uses the first person, instead talking about "Everton". On and off the field, unity and togetherness are conspicuous by their absence.

Moyes helped generate them and benefited from them. Bill Kenwright’s loyalty went unquestioned when the chairman was still the most influential voice. Now it is majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, more of an unknown quality.

Moyes, with his annual average net spend of £2.8 million, treated the club’s money carefully. It benefited him that expectations were never elevated by a £144 million (Dh696m) summer outlay, which threatens to prove Koeman’s undoing. Moyes talked them down. His lows were low – he once lost 6-1 at home to Arsenal – but he invariably rebounded whereas Koeman may not.

The Scot’s reputation is scarred now but his more glamorous successors’ struggle to build on fine first seasons enhances his achievement in surviving 11 years. The lessons from his reign have gone unheeded.