Ronald Koeman never really ‘got’ Everton Football Club. A fine footballing appointment during the summer of 2016, the stoic Dutchman rarely gave much away during his time at Goodison Park, instead seemingly happy to use the club as a stepping stone on the path towards his dream job at Barcelona.
It seems, however, Koeman underestimated what Everton fans expect from their manager, though he got a few hints when he had the audacity to decorate his Christmas tree with red baubles last December. For too long in the shadows of their neighbours across Stanley Park, and without a trophy in 22 years, Toffees supporters want a manager they can believe in and who offers them hope for a brighter future.
Instead they got one who downplayed the club’s expectations despite an encouraging seventh-place finish last season and a summer spend of £140 million. Slamming Jose Mourinho's claims that Everton should be challenging for the top four was unedifying, but it also sent a message to those who pay good money to watch the team week in, week out: one of defeat.
On the pitch, the team of expensively assembled stars matched their manager’s dour attitude towards taking the next step and competing with the very best. Too many times they were torn apart defensively by sides many had tipped them to be competing with. Even against Burnley and Brighton they were second best.
Of course Koeman’s attitude was not exclusively what got him sacked. David Moyes routinely talked down Everton’s expectations in the media yet remained in situ for 11 years, though some fans never truly warmed to him. Where Moyes’s tenure differs with Koeman’s is that the Scot overachieved on a shoestring budget, with Bill Kenwright tightening the pursestrings at every opportunity.
2005-06 - Their total of eight points is Everton's worst tally after nine games of a Premier League season since 2005-06 (4). Dismissed. pic.twitter.com/Df19c0tBG5 — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 23, 2017
Koeman, meanwhile, had new owner Farhad Moshiri’s backing and was handed the man who masterminded Leicester City’s title-winning recruitment, Steve Walsh, to help assemble a squad capable of qualifying for the Champions League. And while last season provided shoots of recovery after the disastrous end to Roberto Martinez’s tenure, the current campaign has been a mess almost from start to finish.
Just two wins from their opening nine Premier League matches sees Koeman leave Everton inside the bottom three, and yet that barely comes close to illustrating the anaemic football his side have played at times. Factor in three Europa League matches without a win and the hope of playing back on the continent again next term has almost disappeared already.
Only Jordan Pickford has truly lived up to the fanfare with which each new Everton signing was unveiled during the summer, and from ‘winning the transfer window’ in June it has quickly become clear quite how much of a mess both Koeman and Walsh made of improving a squad that was already brimming with potential.
Walsh arrived with a reputation of unearthing previously untapped talents and working with a manager to find a system where they could truly flourish. Quite why he and Koeman chose a different approach and instead opted for pricey, proven commodities only they know. Factor in that Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney and Davy Klaassen all basically play the same position, and in hindsight their strategy was downright baffling.
The elephant in the room is the failure to sign a striker to adequately replace the goals scored by Romelu Lukaku. The Belgium international netted 25 goals for the Toffees during Koeman’s reign; no other player managed more than five, and therein lay the issue that Koeman will no doubt lean on when it comes to explaining his failure once the dust has settled.
Everton tried and failed to sign Olivier Giroud. After that – at least from the outside looking in – they did very little to fill the void. Fernando Llorente – who sparked up such a good partnership with Sigurdsson at Swansea last season – moved to Tottenham over the summer for £12m. Chris Wood has already scored four goals for a defensive Burnley side having signed for around £15m from Leeds. Both these players, among others, were available for relatively little cost and were surely better options, at least as stop-gaps until January, than no option at all. Quite why Koeman, Walsh and the Everton hierarchy allowed themselves to make such a series of glaring errors only they know.
1.48 - For all nine clubs Ronald Koeman managed, only at Valencia CF he averaged fewer points per game (0.89) than at Everton (1.48). Bye. pic.twitter.com/rD5RMVWJmA — OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) October 23, 2017
What next for Everton? Sean Dyche is being reported as their primary target, though having succeeded with a system that relies on an outlet up front to relieve the pressure at Burnley, it would be remiss not to ask whether he would just encounter the same issues as Koeman. Everton’s squad is hugely unbalanced, and there is unlikely to be a quick fix for whomever steps into the hot seat next.
As for Koeman, that dream of Barcelona now seems set to remain just that. Whether the decisions of others ultimately cost him the exact squad he wanted, approaching football with a defeatist attitude was only going to end one way. Everton were beaten before they even kicked off in recent weeks, and for that Koeman must carry the can.