Sam Allardyce & Everton’s Silva Lining
Well, at least he’ll be able to sleep tonight on an even bigger duvet stuffed with used twenty pound notes. Sam Allardyce’s pay-off after having been relieved of his duties by Everton is reported as having been £6m, and when we factor in the money that he made while he was the manager of the club, it begins to feel a little difficult to feel too much sympathy. £9m for six months work. Nice work, if you can get it.
The reason for his appointment towards the end of last year was clear enough. After Arsenal, Everton are the second-longest inmates of the top flight of English football, and such records add a sentimental second layer to the cold, blind panic that comes to Premier League club owners at the very thought of having access to the division’s magic money machine suddenly whipped away. Following the calamitous start to the season suffered under Ronald Koeman and a less than stellar five weeks in the hands of David Unsworth, the scent of the Football League was presumably starting to drift into the nostrils of the club’s owners, and Allardyce, if nothing else, is pretty good at keeping misfiring football clubs in the Premier League.
The rawest of numbers might even consider Sam Allardyce’s brief spell at Goodison Park to have been almost a success. After all, by the end of the season Everton were in eighth place in the Premier League. It wasn’t a terribly thrilling eighth place, but there was never any serious danger of relegation by the time of the end of his honeymoon period with the club – a two-one defeat at Bournemouth on New Year’s Day – and, with each final league position in the Premier League being worth £2m, to clamber up as high they did was indeed worth cold, hard cash to the club.
There are, however, lies, damned lies and statistics. A quick glance at the Premier League in no way tells the story of Allardyce’s time with Everton, a winter and springtime of mild discontent during which Everton supporters had plenty of time to consider the glories of the past and the mediocrities of the present as their team ground out just about enough. Already out of the Europa League and League Cup by the time he arrived, only the FA Cup offered any respite from the treadmill of the second half of the league season, and an arguably unfortunate Third Round draw which sent them the short journey across Stanley Park to Anfield ended any hopes of anything interesting happening at Goodison Park for the first few months of this year.
The iota of sympathy that we have for Sam Allardyce allows us to understand that he might well feel hard done by for being shuffled out of the club almost as quickly as possible after the end of the league season. The idea that he might consider his services to be a consistent list of thankless tasks, however, starts to feel a little thin when we consider the combination of gruel-like football on offer, combined with Allardyce’s apparently complete absence of self-awareness or humility.
Watching the football these days is expensive, and supporters shouldn’t have to tolerate being bored for a couple of hours every other week in exchange for their hard-earned. With his tunnel-vision on “getting the job done” to the exclusion of just about anything else, Sam Allardyce carries the air of a very fundamental disconnect in professional football – that between those who make their living from it and those who have to pay ever-increasing amounts of money in order to consume it. The lack of self-awareness seems to indicate that he will never learn this. The lack of humility starts to grate as soon as the bottom line is secured. It’s one of the most lingering ironies of The Football Men. They are hopelessly incapable of understanding the experience of the overwhelming majority of people who consume it.
Everton, therefore, are now free to pick up their mildly curious love affair with Marco Silva, but finally consummating this relationship might either take a while or cost some money. Watford are still incandescent over what they claim to be Everton’s tapping up of their (now former) manager last autumn. It may just be coincidence that the Hornets’ form tailed off so spectacularly after a decent start to the season as soon as Everton came sniffing around after, but the fact of the matter is that Silva’s sacking from Vicarage Road in January became an inevitability which changed the course of their season. If appointed, Silva would be the club’s fourth manager in two years, and all concerned would likely want a period of stability as one of their baseline expectations. But Silva’s resumé doesn’t show a great deal of that recently, and his decent start to last season with Watford hardly negates the fact that he was in charge when Hull City were relegated at the end of last season, however much of an omnishambles that club might have been at the time.
But the thing with Everton is that this is a club capable of much bigger things than it ever seems to manage. Everton have won as many European trophies as Manchester City and have been the champions of England more times than Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur combined. This historical perspective might not offer any great insight into the current state of affairs in the Premier League – after all, Sunderland have been the champions of England as many times as Chelsea, but they lifted their last title almost twenty years before Chelsea lifted their first and probably before almost anybody reading this was born – but it does show up the idea that Everton are somehow a “small” club for the nonsense that it is. This is a club which, with the right handling, would probably be the best placed of any in the country to challenge the current hegemony at the top of the Premier League table.
And cracking that hegemony could be important. Talk of a European Super League tends to come in cycles, but whilst it’s in something of a lull at the moment it remains persistent and it’s as likely as not that a small number of the biggest clubs will eventually forsake the Premier League for even bigger bundles of cash abroad. Everton are one of the few clubs outside the current gilded six that could make a case for believing that they could do so, however unlikely it may seem at this precise moment in time. As time goes on, however, those top six positions are starting to feel increasingly calcified and the gulf in resources between them and the rest will only grow still greater as time progresses.
Don’t shed too many tears for Sam Allardyce, though. At the very least, he’ll back in work by the time at least one of next season’s top twenty falls into some form of crisis or other, and that scenario is Fireman Sam’s chosen specialist subject. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion, though, that this will now be the summit of his ambitions. Everton, it very much feels, was Allardyce’s chance to prove his critics wrong, to demonstrate that he could be more than just the Premier League’s equivalent to Red Adair. He got off on the wrong foot, though, by claiming David Unsworth’s last win as caretaker-manager as his own, and whilst it’s fair to say that last season’s Everton squad turned out to be deeply flawed – all the more so when we pause to consider the amount of money thrown at it the summer before last – but once in a position at a bigger club, he reverted to type yet again, and the most damning indictment of his time there isn’t that it was uniformly disastrous – it plainly wasn’t – but that it was, well, boring. Perhaps now would be a good time for the sixty-three year old to announce his retirement, if only to spend some more time with the money that he has made from his repeated Premier League appointments.
Everton, meanwhile, move on and regroup again. At least they’ve made a firm decision and they’ve made it early, giving Allardyce’s replacement plenty of time to retune the squad ahead of next season. Whether it’s Marco Silva or somebody else – tantalisingly, David Moyes has been relieved of his duties by West Ham United this morning, not that we’re suggesting that a Goodison return for Moyes would be the right thing for Everton to do – the new Everton manager has to break this cycle of building, under-achieving and rebuilding. More than anything else, though, the owners of the club must surely by now have realised that merely delivering figures that look okay on a spreadsheet topped with gruel isn’t enough. Everton supporters would contend that they’ve sat in the shadows for too long, but there will be no great leap forward for the club without still more restructuring. And if they can’t crack the top six, a little style in return for the money required to pay for a season ticket doesn’t seem like too much to ask.