A colleague in my work break room nearly dropped her sandwich.
“What is it?” she asked.
“We've finally sacked Koeman.”
Apparently not a football fan, she didn’t even ask me to elaborate, and went back to her lunch, while I went to find another, Leicester-supporting colleague to argue over who's club was in a worse state.
It's not easy being a football fan, not even a predominantly armchair-based one like me. Even fans of the biggest, richest and most successful clubs would argue that their team doesn't make life easy for them. Evertonians, however, will feel they have more right than many to make this claim.
I was born in 1978, so when I first got into football aged about four or five, being an Evertonian was pretty fantastic. League titles, F.A. Cup wins and even a European trophy became the norm, but it wasn't to last. Our last league title came in the 1986/87 season, when I was nine years old. In the ensuing thirty years, it has often felt like Everton have simply been trolling me.
Another F.A. Cup win in 1995 aside, there hasn't been a huge amount to cheer about. We've been through malignant Mike Walker, woeful Walter Smith, and dependable but dour (and often dire) David Moyes. The arrival of Roberto Martinez promised much in the early days with the kind of attacking football not witnessed at Goodison for a long time. We even beat one of the big four away from home (Man United, 1-0). But the occasional pasting revealed defensive frailties that came to define his short reign. Conceding late goals was something he seemed to specialise in. Usually when your team goes 2-0 up with twenty minutes remaining, it's time to relax. During Martinez's last eighteen months, our second goal usually signalled the start of our capitulation and eventual 3-2 defeat.
Towards the end of Roberto's time in charge, Farhad Moshiri, a billionaire hedge fund manager with money to spend and big ambitions, became majority shareholder of Everton. A few months later, Martinez received the sacking that was long overdue and after protracted negotiations with Southampton Ronald Koeman was appointed manager.
A decent first season for the new manager followed. In contrary to the sometimes annoyingly rhapsodic Martinez, he was pragmatic and calculating, and ruthless when he needed to be, unafraid to make changes early on if needed, and steadfastly refusing to pander to the fragile ego of Ross Barkley. Some shrewd signings were made, and though a slow start and slight lack of quality prevented us from competing for the Champions League places, there was enough to believe that, once he was able to truly build his own squad, we could be onto something. And during this past summer transfer window, he practically brought in an entire teams worth of players. After years of David Moyes being forced to scrabble around in the bargain bin with the few groats Bill Kenwright managed to fling him, we were able to compete with the big boys. And it was more than just new players giving us reasons to be cheerful. Having had to endure years of toilets that would embarrass a biker bar, we had the prospect of a shiny new stadium on the banks of the Mersey, sixteen years after a similar plan fell through due to, of course, a lack of sufficient funds. For the true romantics there was even the return of the prodigal son, Wayne Rooney. Older and slower, yes, but at least with a hair weave that now seemed to be working. So we'd sold top scorer Lukaku, but that had been inevitable for some time, and new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson gets so many assists we all assumed he'd probably even be making a few for record-breaking goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. These were exciting times indeed to be an Evertonian.
As is usually the case with Everton, though, things haven't gone entirely according to plan. So far we've looked slower than my local non-league team, as likely to score as Adrian Mole, as shapeless as Steven Seagal, and had so many numbers 10's crammed into the team we've looked like a sheet of binary coding. And all this from a man who Johan Cruyff practically built a Barcelona team around. Hardly totaalvoetbal, is it? I took my boys, aged five and eight, to see us scrape a 2-1 victory against a poor Bournemouth team. As my five year old continually lay his head on my lap, the boredom driving him almost to tears at what was his first Everton match, I considered the act of cruelty I was inflicting upon them both by taking them to watch this display, and was grateful that they at least enjoyed the foot long hotdogs. Watching the following Sunday's dire display against Burnley with my eight year old, and seeing his growing anger and frustration, I felt similarly. "Get used to this," I told him, "they've been doing this to me for thirty years now." The next week we listened to an excruciating ninety minutes at the end of which we needed a late penalty to rescue a point against Brighton, before watching a defeat to Lyon in which the most interesting part of the game was Ashley Williams almost starting a riot by shoving the Lyon goalie into the hoardings. Things finally came to a head on Sunday after a home drubbing to Arsenal, where the 5-2 score line frankly flattered us. Finally, in an event as inevitable as Fredo's death in 'The Godfather: Part 2', Everton's manager received his marching order early this afternoon.
So what else could have been done? Was it possible to persist with a manager who seemed unable to recognise the basic tactical errors that even my eight year old can spot? This is a manager who spent over £20m on six separate players, including a club record £45m on Sigurdsson in a transfer that was so protracted, even when he eventually signed, I think most people were actually past caring. Of course players take time to bed in, especially those coming from foreign leagues, but that can't excuse the awful tactics, the lack of confidence, and the excuse making. Some fans argued that we shouldn't sack Koeman as there was no obvious replacement, a position akin to arguing that you shouldn't have a gangrenous, infected limb removed because another one won't grow in its place.
Excuse me while I get all misty--eyed and nostalgic, but Howard Kendall won leagues and cups with a squad that was cobbled together with players from lower leagues, Liverpool reserve team players and experienced pros like Peter Reid and Andy Gray who were thought practically finished due to age and injuries, but Kendall got the best out of each individual player. The team was perfectly balanced and everyone knew their job and their position, whereas at time against Burnley, Gylfi didn't seem to know whether he was playing number ten, left midfield or somewhere in between, and we were so devoid of balance you'd have thought we were playing on the rotating platform Flash Gordon is forced to fight Prince Barin on. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a young striker possessing a bit of pace, that commodity so valuable in the modern game but one that Koeman seemingly has some sort of anaphylactic reaction to, has spent as much time out on the wing as he has in the centre forward position.
Along with Spanish striker Sandro, Koeman had also been persisting with Davy Klaassen, yet another number ten whose main contribution so far has been to be filmed dancing in a Liverpool nightclub to shouts of 'go on Davy lad'. You don't get to captain Ajax unless you're a very good technical player, but he's struggling with the pace of the Premier League. Surely it would be better to bring these players in once the team finds some form, rather than asking them to adapt to the pace of the league in a team that is struggling. Klaassen and Sandro were at least taken out of the line if fire against Arsenal, but a team full of internationals looked no better for it.
It's hard to look at these failings and conclude anything other than that Koeman wasn’t drinking in the last chance saloon so much as he'd been barred from it for taking a swing at the staff and shitting all over the pool table, especially when you consider that in just over one season, he has already spent more on transfers, both gross and net, than David Moyes spent during his entire tenure. And in that time, we've had a seventh place finish, and are now in the relegation zone. Having smashed our transfer record, Koeman also signed six of our ten most expensive players ever, with Moyes responsible for just two. All this money spent, and we couldn't even worry Burnley or Brighton, while Moyes got us into the Champions League. With Marcus Bent as the main striker.
Who are next manager will be is obviously the next question, and personally I'd like us to get Carlo Ancelotti in the short term, with maybe David Unsworth as a long term successor. Ancelotti may seem ambitious, but, despite our awful form and precarious league position, we remain a major Premier League outfit, and finally have a bit of money to spend, so I imagine plenty of out-of-work managers, and a fair few already in a job, would see us as a very attractive proposition. This being Everton, though, I wouldn't be too surprised to see a certain flame-haired Scotsman back in the dugout sometime soon...