Seven months. It is a long time to wait for a meaningful match, especially for a club of Everton’s stature and history. Yet arguably their next significant match is so far away they know neither the opponent nor the venue. It is next season.
Some may feel that is hyperbolic. After all, Everton host Manchester City on Sunday. April alone contains meetings with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea: none can easily be dismissed as irrelevant. Yet the fact is that Saturday’s FA Cup exit to Leicester means their trophy drought will extend into a 23rd year. The Premier League’s top six are so distant that the best they can realistically hope for is seventh position. After successive 11th-place finishes, it would offer the illusion of progress.
Yet neither a demanding crowd nor a demanding manager is likely to be satisfied.
Ronald Koeman has spent January becoming ever more vocal in his complaints about what he interprets as Everton's board's delay in signing, particularly Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin, even if Charlton's teenage forward Ademola Lookman has already arrived. He implies the job is not quite what he thought it would be. Everton may wonder if the same could be said of Koeman himself.
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Koeman was hired as the north-west’s fourth managerial Galactico, Everton’s answer to Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. While Koeman has insisted he does not see it as another short-term assignment, his track record suggests otherwise. His capacity to effect an immediate improvement formed part of his appeal to Everton.
But quick fixes have proved insufficient. This, Koeman is fast discovering, is a long-term project. Now he gives the impression of a man who overestimated his inheritance. He has improved Everton’s defence — not hard, given some of their displays under Roberto Martinez — but not as much as first appeared.
And they have regressed as an attacking force. Until Everton went into meltdown in their final few weeks under Martinez, they were at least consistently creative last season. Not now. With some success, Koeman adopted a more direct, urgent approach in the home games against United and Arsenal. Everton’s supposedly sleek cats revisited their past as dogs of war.
Yet there is no real pattern of play. The flair players continue to be conundrums. Rewind to August and Koeman’s invention seemed set to rejuvenate Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley. Now the Spaniard looks likely to leave, the Belgian is on the bench and the Englishman remains an enigma. Yannick Bolasie, his biggest buy, flattered to deceive and sustained an injury that may rule him out until 2018. Romelu Lukaku’s goal return is respectable but he has not kicked on.
Go back to the start of the season and Koeman’s team was built around Phil Jagielka and Gareth Barry, a pragmatist appearing to believe neither needed replacing for a future he may not be around to oversee. Now, neither veteran may be in his strongest side. The shift to rough-and-ready football can render Barry irrelevant – an immobile passer is of little use when a side has 32 or 41 per cent of possession, as Everton did against Liverpool and Arsenal, respectively. Both captain and senior professional have declined faster than they run.
Koeman’s sides have been patched up, notable for inclusions such as Enner Valencia, on loan after failing to sign strikers he actually wanted, and James McCarthy, who he initially underrated. Now he only seems truly happy with Idrissa Gueye and the 19-year-old midfielder Tom Davies.
Everton appear a side who, over the next two transfer windows, require six major additions.
But it is telling that Koeman’s five summer signings are 34, 32, 27, 27 and 27. He arrived intent upon putting the roof on, not laying the foundations Everton now need. Hence his frustration.
Yet an impatient manager has to bide his time. Everton have to wait until August for games to acquire the magnitude of those that really matter.
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