Somewhere deep in the Lower Gwladys, Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s attempt to write himself into Merseyside derby folklore ended up in the hands of an angry, frustrated, disbelieving Evertonian. It could have been any one of us.
The 21 year-old’s effort should have nestled into the back of Loris Karius’ net, prompting scenes of ecstasy on the terraces and bringing to an end Everton’s miserable 7 year run without a win over their neighbours (17 games). The expected celebration turned very quickly into disbelief for striker and supporter. The club’s previous 12 months summed up in a split second.
After a summer of huge expectation following the biggest transfer splurge in the club’s history, the realisation that circa £150m was not going to end the club’s 23 year wait for a trophy, nor break the glass ceiling of the top six, came thick and fast.
1 league win in 9 ensured Ronald Koeman’s second season in charge of the Blues came to an abrupt end, while the club’s return to Europe was also short-lived, achieving the joint worst points total of any English club at the group stages in any European competition. By the time the Toffees were turned over by Southampton on 26th November, they were without a permanent manager and out of two cup competitions, with just two points separating them from 18th place.
While the news of Sam Allardyce’s appointment brought little joy to the terraces, a run of six league games without defeat (not including the 4-0 rout of West Ham overseen by David Unsworth) saw Everton pick up enough points to hurdle the relegation fodder into 9th place, picking up 12 points.
A dreadful start to 2018 aside, Allardyce and his urine-supping minions had completed their task. The official sighs of relief were only expelled from the terraces upon reaching the 40 point holy grail against Stoke City three weeks ago. Despite the spectre of relegation making a brief appearance there was a widespread acceptance that no matter how badly the Blues played there were at least three teams much worse off. No matter how blood-boilingly poor Everton were, their mid-table-obscurity peers and relegation-bound under-class would do badly enough between them to ensure Everton’s survival.
One summer you’re preparing to break the Champions League glass ceiling; by the following spring you’re left counting how many times Oumar Niasse came off the bench to earn your team at least a point at home (4).
In the 61st minute of the 231st Merseyside derby, it was young Calvert-Lewin the Blues turned to for inspiration from the bench, and but for a bit of composure the England U21 forward might have become the 21st century’s answer to Danny Cadamarteri; the man we’d talk about before all subsequent derbies for the next 20 years…the myth that is surely about to be born: the last Everton player to score against Liverpool.
Miserable runs and unbearable records are part and parcel of the post 1987 Everton experience. We’re used to the disappointment by now but the recent investment by Farhad Moshiri – not just in the playing squad, but managerial and coaching staff, as well as the march to Bramley-Moore – was meant to change all that. Koeman, Walsh, Rooney, Klassen, Sandro, Sigurdsson, Keane and the rest of them.
They were supposed to be part of a glorious new era, the willing pawns in Moshiri’s masterplan to return Everton to the elite of English football. “We don’t want to be a museum”, our steel and energy venture-capitalist overlord declared. They were words that spoke to all Evertonians, because the dust had gathered in our hearts as well as our trophy cabinet, worn down to simply accept our miserable mediocrity.
This grand plan to deliver Everton the glories of the past and create for ourselves a bright new future has not come to fruition. But just because the plan was poorly executed, doesn’t make the ambition misguided. Koeman and Walsh clearly didn’t come up with a recruitment plan that worked in the best interests of the club. The emphasis on stockpiling number 10s while ignoring key areas (striker, wingers, left back, centre half) came back to bite the Blues sorely when the Romelu Lukaku shaped hole became obvious by the first game of the season, and perhaps more damning was the nightmare few months of official club scapegoat Cuco Martina inadequately plugging the gap left by Leighton Baines’ lengthy layoff.
But the forthcoming summer offers opportunity. Opportunity to execute the plan differently, with fresh faces and a new direction. Opportunity to hire a progressive, young manager with an attractive style and hunger to succeed in the English game (recent paper talk of Paulo Fonseca has left Evertonians very excited). Opportunity to pair this manager with a new sporting director (Marcel Brands has been touted by numerous sources to be coming on-board). Someone able to drive recruitment of emerging talent and implement responsible spending. Opportunity for Everton’s young, talented but overwhelmed graduates to prepare for another season, hopefully matured by a toilsome year (those who have played their part: Davies, Calvert-Lewin, Kenny, Baningime; and those out on loan: Dowell, Williams, Lookman). Opportunity to cut our losses on players who don’t see their future as Everton players, to get rid of those who have let us down.
The plan may not need tearing up as much as it needs re-evaluating. Sacking your manager, recruiting a new director of football and replacing players who haven’t worked out is an admission that there was something wrong. But there’s nothing wrong with making this admission. When a striker skies his 88th minute chance over the bar, he gets out onto the training pitch the next day and works on keeping his head over the ball, rather than leaning back. Like Calvert-Lewin, Evertonians will be urging Moshiri to accept what went wrong, learn from his mistakes and find the back of the net at the next time of asking.