Wretched football, erroneous boasts: Sam Allardyce was an Everton misfit

Andy Hunter on 16 May 2018

It was overshadowed at the time by his tales of Romelu Lukaku and voodoo, late-night calls from Jim White and Ross Barkley’s contract demands, but even now, four months on, it is staggering to recall Farhad Moshiri telling Everton’s AGM he decided to give Sam Allardyce the most important job at the club after reading the former England manager’s autobiography. No Evertonian at the Philharmonic Hall in January needed to flick through Big Sam to confirm suspicions the latest chapter would end acrimoniously and swiftly. His was a desperate and ill-judged appointment, and his removal alone will not rectify the serious drift at Goodison Park.

Allardyce leaves Everton after six miserable months with his reputation as a survival specialist intact. Therein lies the failure. Everton, as the 63-year-old admitted when installed as Ronald Koeman’s replacement in November, represented the best opportunity of his club career to shatter preconceptions about his management style.

He succeeded only in confirming they were legitimate. Wretched football on a weekly basis, taking responsibility for victory while abdicating it in defeat and an arrogant dismissal of supporters were not the basis for building consensus or hope for the future. Not that the Everton hierarchy have delivered on that score.

Yes, Allardyce inherited a weak squad that, one year after the costliest recruitment drive in Everton’s history – costly in every sense – is in need of major reconstruction. But it was a squad clear from relegation danger by Christmas after a seven-game unbeaten start to his reign. Allardyce had five months to implement improvements in style, performance and results while showing he was invested in Everton for the long term. He did not deliver on any count. The anaemic defeat at West Ham last Sunday, coming after the manager had given players several days off in the buildup, was a fitting farewell to an appalling season from all concerned.

In fairness to those who ignored Allardyce’s unsuitability and oversaw the unpopular appointment, there was a sensible economic reason for seeking insurance when the team floundered earlier in the season. Those behind the decision were Moshiri, the then director of football, Steve Walsh, and the directors Alexander Ryazantsev and Keith Harris, who were promoted to chief finance and commercial officer and deputy chairman, respectively, on Tuesday.

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Everton’s unexpected regression on the pitch coincided with the club negotiating with Liverpool city council and global financial institutions for the £500m required to build a new stadium at Bramley Moore dock. The strength of Everton’s case to lenders is based, in part, on being a safe Premier League concern that has been ever-present in the top flight since 1954. This was not the season to demonstrate the fragility of that proud record by even flirting with relegation. Progress has been slow on the project that will define Moshiri’s legacy, however, when it could have strengthened the case for Allardyce’s appointment in the short term. The council is yet to sign off a proposed £280m loan that could generate a profit of £7m a year in interest for the austerity-battered authority over 25 years.

Everton fans protesting during the game at West Ham.
Everton fans protesting during the game at West Ham. Photograph: John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus via Getty Images

Allardyce’s detractors have argued Everton were never seriously in peril and his claim to have inherited “chaos” from a caretaker manager in David Unsworth who was “struggling to cope” was part of a self-serving PR strategy. There is an element of truth to both sides. Everton were 13th but only five points above the relegation zone following Unsworth’s final game in charge, a 4-0 victory over West Ham that Allardyce shamelessly claimed as his own. That and many other erroneous boasts fuelled supporters’ antagonism as much as football devoid of joy or entertainment.

One undeniable statistic favoured by the former Everton manager pinpointed his impact. Everton conceded an alarming 27 goals in the 10 games before Allardyce’s arrival (he would insist nine games on account of West Ham) but the same amount over the next 20. Defensive organisation apart, his average points return over 24 Premier League matches was almost identical to Unsworth’s over five – 1.41 per game compared with 1.4 under the club’s under-23s manager. And there was not one impressive performance among them. His tenure will be remembered instead, if at all, for attempting to bring on a defensive midfielder, Morgan Schneiderlin, at 0-0 against Watford, only to summon a striker when Troy Deeney scored what proved the winner; for being content with a point at Swansea; for having the second-lowest number of shots on target in the Premier League season; and a style of play that one rival manager branded “Conference football” following a game at Goodison.

Allardyce talked frequently of planning for next season but never convinced anyone that Everton was anything other than one brief, lucrative and possibly final job. He was up against it from the start in that respect. Moshiri initially offered him a six-month contract having been unable to prise Marco Silva from Watford. It took five weeks, culminating in a 5-1 home defeat by Atalanta and a 4-1 loss at Southampton in the space of four calamitous days, before the major shareholder bowed to Allardyce’s demands for an 18-month deal without a break clause. The manager would become a magnet for disenchantment among supporters fed mediocrity under Bill Kenwright’s ownership and now a lack of vision on the pitch under Moshiri. But Allardyce was emblematic of a deeper malaise at Everton, one the club’s board have to correct this summer.

Allardyce’s tenure will be remembered, if at all, for moments such as attempting to bring on a defensive midfielder, Morgan Schneiderlin, above, at 0-0 against Watford.
Allardyce’s tenure will be remembered, if at all, for moments such as attempting to bring on a defensive midfielder, Morgan Schneiderlin, above, at 0-0 against Watford. Photograph: Everton FC via Getty Images

The club exposed Allardyce to ridicule with the survey that asked club members to rate his performance on a scale of zero to 10. It may have been a wide-ranging survey, it may have been a repeat of last year’s exercise under Koeman, but its publication this year, when Allardyce was regularly being told where to go during away games, reflected the leadership vacuum in a business getting the small details wrong.

The Monaco-based Moshiri is expected to acquire a majority stake in Everton soon and can ill-afford his third managerial failure with the team regressing from the top six and the stadium vision yet to take shape. The rate of change occurring at Goodison is recognition of the need for improvement. PSV Eindhoven’s technical director, Marcel Brands, has been appointed as the new director of football in place of Walsh, who presided over a disastrous recruitment policy and will leave. The deputy chief executive, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, has been confirmed as Robert Elstone’s replacement, with the chief executive switching sports to Super League after 13 years. The growing influence of Harris and Ryazantsev behind the scenes was also recognised in Tuesday’s executive restructure.

That leaves the not insignificant matters of a stadium finance deal and a fourth management team in eight months to be resolved. Everton are relieved of Allardyce but in many respects are also back to square one.

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