What should be Everton and Lampard’s priorities now – part 1

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Frank Lampard, Manager of Everton applauds the fans after their sides defeat during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on May 22, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Frank Lampard, Manager of Everton applauds the fans after their sides defeat during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on May 22, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /
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The board has to be streamlined, agree on a clear strategy, communicate better and stop making ill-advised interventions in football matters. 

While it seems a forlorn hope I’d like to see a more streamlined board with in particular both Bill Kenwright and Denise Barratt-Baxendale going.

Neither have I think the necessary football knowledge and you always get the impression with this club that there are too many cooks spoiling the broth and interferring.

Ideally too, I’d like to see Farhad Moshiri sell the club preferably to a new owner with more football nous, but that looks very unlikely.

Regardless of personel changes, there is a need for a clear strategy to come from the board for the next three to five years, especially as Everton are due to move to a new stadium in 2024.

What are the goals on the pitch? Is it just mid-table mediocrity (the average outcome over the last five seasons), winning a trophy by the time of that stadium move? Or is it qualifying for Europe by then or in three years or even getting into the Champions League? All this needs to be communicated much more effectively to fans as well.

One thing Moshiri can’t be criticised for is lacking the ambition to succeed since he took over and he and the board have backed their managerial picks in recent seasons  – especially in the transfer market – and almost to a fault you might argue.

But there has been a chronic lack of focus and at critical moments in this and past campaigns though we have seen other interventions that have proved ham-fisted and destabilising and contributed to the lack of direction and ultimately the decline in results on the pitch.

One example from this season was in December when as the crisis at the club was developing and the team was in apparent free-fall with results going consistently badly, Kenwright called an emergency meeting.

This meeting seemed a slightly odd response and resulted not in manager Rafa Benitez going (as I and probably most people thought would happen) but instead it was the club’s Director of Football Marcel Brands, who left after he had been given a new three-year contract just a few months earlier.

It was a strange outcome and while there were many fans and pundits critical of Brands’ role in the team’s recent struggles, it looked like he was being made a scapegoat for the collective failures of the board and to appease fans who were becoming increasingly vocal in their criticisms.

It also significantly strengthened Benitez’s position, despite the obvious problems on the pitch, as he has not been known for working closely with Directors of Football and didn’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Brands either.

After he left, the Dutchman intimated that he had been sometimes prevented from doing his job with interferance from others making it difficult for him to establish a consistent culture and football philosophy. If that is true then why sign a new contract is the obvious response?!

The departure of Brands hugely strengthened Benitez’s position and this had immediate consequences, particularly in terms of Lucas Digne’s developing acromony with the manager that eventually led to the Frenchman’s transfer out of the club as he moved to Aston Villa in January.

Many Blues’ fans were very unhappy at losing an experienced and talented international player in the middle of what was seeming more and more likely to become a relegation battle.

Digne’s issues with the Spaniard seemed to be symbolic of potential wider problems the players were having that centred on Benitez’s personality, style of management and tactics.

As results declined, Benietz dug his heals in continuing to go with those tactics and a mentality that was excessively defensive and negative.

I, along with many others, were calling for the club to take action quickly – as soon as the Brentford defeat away in November – and remove Rafa Benitez earlier in the season rather than keep waiting and waiting in the vain hope things would turn around.

As it was games came and went in November, December and into January and despite constant defeats with the team sliding down the table, nothing happened.

Supporters became increasingly angry while the club seemed to be coming apart at the seams and fracturing at the very moment when unity was most important.

It was obvious that change had to be made once the situation had become irreversably toxic rather than holding on until it was almost too late for his eventual and inevitable successor to turn things around. That’s what happened of course and it very nearly was too late.

Of course, the reason for this mess in the first place was Moshiri’s determination to ignore all the problems with appointing the former Liverpool manager in the summer.

To be fair, neither he or anyone else had expected Carlo Ancelotti to walk away so suddenly at the beginning of July last year leaving Everton without a coach yet again.

I think this was a particularly bitter pill for the owner to swallow as Ancelotti was the man he had always really wanted as manager. And it came after the club had just spent heavily again to back him in the transfer market, further compounding all the emerging financial issues.

So, the Toffees’ were looking for their sixth manager in five years since Moshiri had taken control.

However, once again the owner seemed to be seduced by an established big name coach rather than looking for the right fit who would potentially work well with people like Brands (about to be given that new contract of course) and suit a clearly defined footballing strategy, which the club clearly didn’t have!

Despite the obvious dislike some Evertonians haboured for Benitez because of his Liverpool past and the questions about whether his tactical approach and defensive philosphy suited modern football, he became the club’s only choice once it seemed clear Moshiri had decided on him.

I was prepared to try and give him a chance as with any Everton manager, although it was obvious that absolutely everything had to go right for him straight away and keep going right or else things would turn sour very, very quickly because of all that past baggage.

At first it did seem to but then once the inevitable injury curse struck and the form of other players dipped, it quickly unraveled.

Like his manager, Moshiri seemed stubbornly determined to continue on the course he had charted regardless of the situation and mounting evidence it was going badly wrong.

And, as I’ve said having got rid of Brands in December and effectively given the manager a renewed vote of confidence, he almost had no choice but to carry on with Benitez in charge.

So, all this is evidence of a lack of football knowledge and strategy and also a tone-deaf inability to appreciate the importance of keeping at least the majority of supporters onside at a club which has much greater dependency on those fans than some others – as the last few weeks have again underlined.

One other smaller and less critical example of this sort of almost eccentric meddling was Moshiri’s decision to push for the loan signing of Anwar El Ghazi in January.

No one seemed to want to bring in the Villa winger (apart from Moshiri and the players agent!) and it took up a precious loan signing slot meaning new manager Frank Lampard couldn’t add another player he might have wanted to.

And to underline the waste and stupidity of the whole situation, he’s hardly played a single minute of football since joining Everton and will presumably be returning to Villa asap.

Moving onto the future the Blues’ have a young manager in Lampard who they will presumably continue with as I can’t see the club getting rid of him or finding a better replacement.

The ex-Chelsea and England legend certainly seems to get the club’s culture and has established a strong rapport with the majority of supporters.

There are still questions about his tactics etc, which will be addresed in more detail in these articles, but he would seem very safe in the job especially having just led to the team in a successful battle to avoid relegation.

In addition, the Toffees’ have a new Director of Football in Kevin Thelwell so the board need to give both men time, space and resources to try and turn this sinking ship around.

Is all this a forlorn hope on my part? We will see.