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Opinion: We need to talk about Everton

Craig Rimmer shares his views on another lacklustre season for Everton Football Club and manager Roberto Martinez.
“We salute the heroes who gave glory to our name.
Dixie Dean and all the boys who lit the sporting flame.
They’re still marching with us in the spirit of our game,
while we go marching to glory!”

I, a self-confessed hater of Roberto Martinez, left all negativity and rage at the door yesterday and got myself right up for the semi-final. If we could beat United, we would be looked upon as favourites to win the FA Cup and finally bring an end to the trophy drought at Goodison Park. The fans were brilliant as ever; in full voice and high spirits, temporarily suspending the nuclear fallout following that on Wednesday night, and ready to partake in the occasion and cheer the lads to victory.

So why is it that the players were not up for it? Why did it take the players the best part of an hour to finally show any sort of fight? United were up by a goal and looked to be cruising to the Final until the penalty and then, all of a sudden, they looked less than comfortable. This did not look to be as a result of a dip in their levels but rather that Everton raised their collective game.

This has been a recurring theme throughout Martinez’s tenure; an inability to stay focused and perform for 90 minutes. I still believe all blame ultimately flows downstream to the gaffer as he manages, praises and disciplines the players but if your players cannot get themselves up for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley or a Merseyside derby at Anfield, then you are in more than a spot of bother.

It seems glaringly obvious that the team just do not want to play under him anymore and I can somewhat reconcile with their viewpoint. I lost patience with the man in January 2015 so credit to the players for sticking with him for so long. Their desire, fight, heart, passion, intensity, will-to-win, urgency… that needs to come from the players themselves. And before Martinez’s ineptitude to set up a team or his relentless positivity, it is the attitude and mentality of all custodians of the club, top-to-bottom, that is in desperate need of a makeover.

We have losers in the boardroom; figures like Bill ‘What a Manager!’ Kenwright, the self-proclaimed ‘Biggest Evertonian in the World’, who has watched this club remain uncompetitive year-on-year. He has stood by and watched the likes of City and Chelsea gatecrash the Champions League party, Liverpool win the Champions League, Arsenal win consecutive FA Cups and now Leicester steaming towards the Premier League title. It is much less his bank account which offends me but rather his mentality.

His vision of where we should aim to be has long betrayed the rich history and tradition of the football club. Kenwright was looking for ‘investment 24/7’ at a time when every other club was getting bought out and seeing huge cash injections. The likes of Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour were able to plough money into Chelsea and City respectively, elevating their clubs to a much higher plateau. In the post-FFP world, we can no longer do that as easily. Shutting. Door. Horse. Bolted.

It just so happens that he can find a buyer when he looks so poorly? I refuse to believe that and am of the opinion that he has directly, or indirectly through his asking price, turned multiple buyers away down the years.

The growing unrest and disharmony would have been weeded out long ago at any other club. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, City, United all would have sacked Roberto at some point during the 2014/15 campaign. In fact, I cannot think of another club in the football league, pound-for-pound, that would have let this mediocrity and under-performance fester for such a sustained period.

Kenwright refused to sack David Moyes in the 2003/04 campaign and was somewhat vindicated when Everton finished 4th the following season. It seems ever since then he has developed a patience/blind faith fetish and it is because of this we have not yet seen the board act on the Martinez issue. An Evertonian on Twitter stated that they would rather have no manager for yesterday’s game and I tend to agree; the mere presence of Martinez on the touchline is looming over the team like a dark, grey cloud.

Martinez himself is a loser. His tendency to blame everything from lady luck to referees is the trait of a loser. He blamed the referee in the Carling Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg for not spotting that Sterling had carried the ball marginally out of play. He did not address the capitulation and bad defending on all three goals. He implies we never catch a break and are unlucky…I now call him Roberto ‘One of those Days’ Martinez. He moaned about Terry’s goal coming late and being offside in the 3-3 at Stamford Bridge, again brushing over the fact we were 2-0 up and cruising and conceded two goals from nowhere. He said at 2-0 up, Lukaku’s missed penalty against West Ham changed the game. It did, but so did the three goals conceded in the last 15 minutes. All these are the excuses of a defeatist and a loser.

martinez1

Then there is his unwavering positivity. His addiction to the word ‘phenomenal’ is well-documented and widely mocked at this stage but what about his declaration that “Tom Cleverley will be one of the most sensational free transfers you are likely to see in the Premier League”? Or describing the 0-0 draw with Palace as ‘incredibly satisfying’? Or the recent draw with Southampton as ‘a positive result’ even though Koeman was noticeably annoyed at not getting all three points? There are endless examples of his interviews seeming to not pertain to what actually happened on the football pitch. I will not bore you.

Then what about his willingness to move on/not dwell/forget bad results? He said after the mid-week Derby embarrassment that we could not dwell on the result and had to focus on United at Wembley. That is what losers do. Dropping points, conceding goals, losing games, getting embarrassed – they put all this to the back of the mind. Winners let bad results and performances consume them until they can find redemption. They carry defeats as learning experiences and use this as motivation for the next match. Roy Keane has recently spoken about his time at Aston Villa and it could not be more relevant to the loser mentality that Martinez possesses.

“At United we had a culture where, if you were beaten on a Saturday – people talk about bouncing back and moving on quickly – but Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, lads would still be fuming, and I loved that.

“When I went to Aston Villa, Paul Lambert said to me, ‘We have a policy where, if we have a bad result at the weekend, we stew on it for 24 hours and move on quickly’. And I said, ‘Well, I can’t do that’. For me, it might be closer to 24 days. Obviously, Villa were used to it, I wasn’t.

“At Villa I couldn’t understand the environment where everyone is laughing and joking on the Monday after a bad game. At Sunderland, people thought that I used to drag the week down — you’re dead right I did. I was used to winning, it was a good habit.”

If you do not dwell on results and opt to forget about them, you are destined to repeat the same mistakes again and again. Had you dwelled on the Bournemouth 3-3 then you could have avoided the carbon-copy Chelsea 3-3. For that match to happen once in a season is pretty spectacular but for the exact same thing to happen twice is downright unforgiveable.

Martinez has the opposite philosophy of Moyes but is equally stubborn. He learnt about ball retention watching Rijkaard’s and Guardiola’s Barcelona teams on the Revista couch and thinks that is what the modern game is all about. I generally tend to agree with this but how fitting that Atletico knocked Barca out of the Champions League with 28% possession. Or how fitting that Leicester are about to win the league without dominating teams through possession. One swallow does not make a summer, of course, but the lesson here is that there are other factors which affect the outcome of a football match.

Side note: I will never let Martinez’s failings excuse what Moyes did at this club. I was one of his earlier dissenters (we all know it became cool once Moyes left but some of us were never sold on him or his brand of football). We were never going to win anything under Moyes because we could not dominate and control games. It was percentage football and we generally had quality at both ends of the pitch which won us matches. He was good in the transfer market and motivating his players but not much else.

Leicester have everything we do not; confidence, fight, passion, fitness, organisation, commitment, spirit, teamwork, endeavour, focus….all that good stuff that we have never had under Martinez. What can we do? Pass the ball around the back and the midfield when other teams let us but when we need to keep it and assert ourselves we struggle as the other team will not permit us the time and space. The semi-final was a case in point; the first half there was no composure at all. We just needed someone to put their foot on it but were chasing shadows and were two seconds late to everything. When United had the ball they cut through us at ease. We are too easy to attack and defend against.

It is okay playing possession football but it is important to still play it with conviction and aggression. You should always be playing on your toes and never on your heels (I have seen John Stones walking with the ball at Goodison at times this season). You should always be aware of your gears and be able to change the tempo of the game as you see fit. There should always be a purpose to what you are doing. Passing it around the defence a few times is not the only symptom of possession-based football.

You also need to win the ball back quickly. If you lose the ball high up the pitch you have to press as a unit and defend from the front. Unfortunately, Everton players never throw in a tackle (or compete aerially for that matter) so if they lose the ball in the middle of the park they instantly drop a yard or two and start running back towards their own goal.

Yesterday, we were set up like a Wigan or a Hull (no disrespect) enjoying a big day out at Wembley. Thanks to the sheer idiocy of Ramiro Funes Mori midweek we were reliant Besic at right back who was at sea all afternoon. We had two industrious, defensive wide players in Cleverley and Lennon. Lennon can cause trouble for teams if he has the players and support around him. If he remains isolated, then he only offers defensive qualities. Cleverley is not a wide player in a month of Sundays.

This leads nicely to the players. All of the above could have really been written at any point in the last 18 months. We all know Kenwright flies in the face of the club’s proud history and tradition and we all know Martinez is overly positive, a loser and out of his depth. But the players?

Everton fans at Wembley 2012

In the 2013/14 season we looked generally good both on and off the ball. Something inexplicably changed in the summer of 2014 when we adopted this pedestrian, casual, tika-taka pass-pass-pass system. I have always blamed this on the manager and do believe ultimately this formed part of his larger philosophy. He should be able to recognise when the players need to raise the tempo and move the ball with greater intent. It is important to note at this point that moving the ball quickly is not synonymous with direct football. You can still pass the ball around but sometimes you need to jack up the gears otherwise it runs the risk of being very predictable, telegraphed and easy to defend against.

Unlike winners, we do not respond in the face of adversity. A few years ago I would expect a big response had we just had our pants pulled down in a Merseyside derby. We have unfortunately become accustomed to disappointments and bad results and the response we would like to see is seldom forthcoming.

Still, I thought the occasion of Wembley and a chance to salvage something from this sorry season would have been all the motivation the players needed. If you want Martinez out or not, it does not really matter. The Evertonians put their sulking, feeling-sorry-for-themselves to one side and turned up in force yesterday. The same cannot be said of the players who looked as flat as a pancake in the first half and did not apply themseves at all. United should have been out of sight at half time. It was disgusting; I never thought I would see such a disinterested Everton team at Wembley.

Someone on Twitter told me that they played for the manager first half and the fans second, as if to imply they were playing to the manager’s instruction for the first 45 minutes. Even if the instructions were poor and bad from a tactical standpoint, I would still expect the players to carry them out with vigour, enthusiasm and determination. They were barely even running! Ross Barkley said he was at the 2009 Final and was hurt when we did not win the Cup. So was I and thousands of other Evertonians.

He had a chance to redeem that. He was in that very scenario you imagine when playing football in the local park or back garden. It is 1-1 in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley. It is a time for heroes. Unfortunately, Ross went missing completely. It was unprofessional from all of them but where was Barkley’s sense of personal pride? And all of their personal pride for that matter?

Lukaku is playing like a man who believes he has proven himself. He struts around like he is one of the top strikers in world football and we should be grateful he is even at our club. Unfortunately, this attitude remains because we do not shout about our history loud enough. A certain club that does not play too far from Goodison is very proud of its traditions and lets the World know at every opportunity. Generally, Liverpool players feel that they are at a big club with a proud fanbase who demand success and have expectations. Ours do not. They play as if they are almost doing us a favour.

romelulukaku

Truth be told, Lukaku pales in comparison to Everton legends in the mould of Dixie Dean, Tommy Lawton, Bob Latchford and Graeme Sharpe. He should feel grateful to play for Everton. So should the likes of John Stones (who I thought was suspect on both goals yesterday) and James McCarthy. McCarthy and his agent had the audacity to hold the club to ransom last year over a new contract and then sign one saying how much he loves Everton etc. Turn it in.

The attitude of the media is that we would be lucky to hold onto these players; these players who jog around like they are bigger than Everton and do not care. These players should feel indebted to every fan who follows them at Goodison and up and down the country. They have let us down time and time and time again with no trace of remorse, an apology nor a real, tangible commitment to put things right.

We like to think that Everton players are different to the rest but they are not. They at present do not look too dissimilar to those Chelsea players who could not be bothered turning up for Mourinho but then all of a sudden turned it on when he went. We understand that they do not want to play for Martinez but they should feel an obligation to the fans.

The fans that have come under fire recently from know-nothings like Ian Wright and Glenn Hoddle who had the audacity to question the Goodison crowd against Arsenal. In one of the most abject performances in recent memory, a 2-0 surrender at Goodison where we were actually outfought by Wenger’s boys (not often a team says that), the fans showed their discontent and rightly booed the players off at the end of each half. Wright and Hoddle mentioned on a few occasions how the fans are being too demanding of the players which is making them nervous. If it were Liverpool/United/Spurs, the rhetoric would be “We all know the Anfield/Old Trafford/White Hart Lane crowd expects success”.

Even Gary Lineker, a man who seems to disassociate with Everton at every available opportunity, yesterday mused if Evertonians were expecting too much! What chance do we have when the media, local and national, do not have our backs? Shearer leaned on Lineker’s side of the fence. Shoutout to Kevin Kilbane here who rightfully argued our points and stood up for the values of the club on national television. Well played.

If Kenwright refuses to safeguard our values, thereby causing a trickle-down effect where the club is riddled with losers, and the media will not put Everton under scrutiny then who will? The ‘Red Echo’, as it is known, has remained largely silent on Martinez’s huge underachievement over the last two seasons until it was blamed for misinterpreting Baines’ recent comments. Then the Echo saw fit to intervene if only to protect their own reputation. It is at times like this I am thankful for the likes of Chris Sutton and Stan Collymore who are outsiders looking in but have said what most of us have been thinking for a while.

The very last line of defence for any football club is the fans. And we do truly have some of the best fans in the world. You should not judge a club on the home support. The true following can be measured in how many fans turn up to away games. London was painted blue once again with a sea of blue marching down Wembley Way en masse. As supportive as the Everton faithful have been, the sheer lack of pride or fight in the players, Martinez & Kenwright has recently led to a chorus of boos ringing out at various matches.

I have never seen a team, 1-0 down in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, booed off by their travelling support. It was somewhat less surprising to see no coverage or mention of this in the media.

Even if Martinez was a manager with a great pedigree and impressive track record, he would have to be sacked now. There are far too many bridges burnt between him, the players and the fans. As I have been typing this, a video has emerged of Kenwright calling Martinez “the most wonderful guy you’ll ever meet”. It seems now our only hope is that Moshiri, as the largest shareholder, shares the same vision as most of us about both our proud history and our future.

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Tom Power is a 28 year old trainee journalist and assistant editor of NSNO.
  







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