Sit down and get yourself a long drink…..
Well then, as Everton’s season ends in a disappointing whimper rather than an amazing bang (stop sniggering at the back), it’s time to reflect on what we saw, what we didn’t, and what might have been. Yes, it’s the Everton fan’s favourite pastime! But relax, this isn’t going to be a litany of misery, it’s going to be as upbeat as I can make it, whilst ensuring that obvious flaws or cock-ups are not swept under the carpet. Not sure if you can sweep a cock-up under a carpet, but let’s not dwell on the lewd, let’s focus on as much positivity as I can find after the last vestiges were drained from me on Sunday.
The best thing we can say about Sunday is that it was mostly sunny. We could also say that the defeat, rather than a glorious but in vain victory, allows us Blues to be realistic about the future as we sip our Sangria* and dip our toes in the murky Med* (*insert ‘Carling’ and ‘even murkier North Sea’ if you’re in Skegness) rather than get over excited about the prospects for the season ahead. We wouldn’t be football fans if we didn’t get optimistic over the summer when our team isn’t actually playing and thereby helping to deflate our balloon, but we also wouldn’t be Everton if we didn’t have ambitions for Top 4, a trophy, and a new stadium. At least Sunday, painful as it mostly was (with one or two exceptions), will lead us to be a bit more circumspect about what the future may hold. Whether it’s fair not to be given space to dream is a different topic. From here, we can at least see a more sensible pre-season emerging rather than the farce that was last year, and most if not all the players will get sensible time off once the post season internationals are completed.
What do we make of 2014/15 then? I don’t need much in the way of super-human powers to know your answer to that one, and I bet most of your responses have only four letters, and probably rhyme with ‘hit’. Who knows, that might even be 3 of the 4 letters. Let’s look for the bright spots, like looking down the back of the sofa for the pound coins, you always find something interesting amongst the old pizza crusts and the dog’s chewed bone.
Yes, a positive. One of the few clubs to secure the Group title with a game to spare, a win away at Wolfsburg (that not one Bundesliga team achieved in the league this year) and creditable performances away in the Backofbeyond (Krasnodar) and Lille, plus a sensational performance against Young Boys away (and at home actually), before the disaster in Kiev. But we have to take positives from the campaign even if the end product wasn’t quite there, rather like a McGeady cross.
As awful as we were in Kiev, little could we have known then that thanks to the benevolence of the Bar Codes, we were one game in to a purple patch in the League, that saw a real life flirtation with the prospect of relegation summarily stamped upon with a 6 game streak of 5 wins and a draw, including the finale, a 3-0 home thrashing (and it was) of Man Utd. It may be slim pickings to focus on March and April in this way, and of course we’d have liked to have beaten Kiev, but after that proverbial kick in the nuts, Everton did remarkably well to win away (ok, it was QPR) and then put so many positive results together. Nothing to demand an open-top bus tour and hey, we finished 11th everyone and lost 15 League games, but let’s try and at least accentuate the positives of a very troubling time for our Club.
What of the players? Remarkably, there are plenty of positives, it’s just that the positives didn’t always coincide with one another in the same game. Anyway, here goes….
Let’s start with a tough one. After an outstanding, one might even say astonishing, World Cup, Howard landed with a bump, and of course, as a result, dropped the ball. Not once, but far too many times. When he wasn’t flapping at a ball going over his head, he was fumbling in the area (again, stop smirking), or parrying a shot in to the path of an opposition player, usually one that hadn’t scored for decades, but who happily snapped up the chance afforded by Howard’s benevolence. Interspersed with this were nights like at home against Wolfsburg, when he saved anything that came his way in the first 90 minutes, which of course made his inconsistency all the more baffling. I hope like hell that Howard this season was suffering a World Cup hangover and not just getting a bit ring-rusty at a time when some ‘keepers are getting in to their prime! His injury over Christmas seemed to be a bit of a watershed, because his form has been much better of late, so let’s just hope that his rest in the sun and his exile from the Amercian National team means he’ll arrive back and give us a full season of thrills, not spills. I’ll give him 4/10 I’m afraid
Talking of spills, Howard’s sojourn on the treatment table meant an elevation to the first team for Joel, our much maligned keeper, who has shown in his few first team outings that he has much to be maligned about. But who else, including me, were pleasantly surprised at a reassuring stint between the sticks for our toothy Spaniard and even called for him to stay in situ when Howard came back from injury? I’m delighted for the lad, after all, he doesn’t get much football at all as a back up, rarely seen at U21 level, and being thrust in to the first team when we were on a bad run anyway, things could have gone horribly wrong, but he equipped himself well and who knows, he may even make it with us. If someone told me we’d signed Cech and Timbo was now reserve keeper, I wouldn’t complain, but that little pink pig ain’t flying nowhere near the Gwladys Street. Go for it Joel, give Tim a real run for his money. 6/10 for me, just for his resilience as a person, and for his cameo spell in the Premier League for us.
Lots of good things could be said, but maybe he too has not been at his best post-Rio (er, Brazil, not Ferdinand). He is still England’s best left back, but whether it’s been Pienaar’s absence I don’t know, or the anxiety of being caught upfield whilst the opposition flood the space he’s vacated, but he’s not been himself as an attacking force this year, and I’d like to see a few crosses cut out as well in the future. Coleman seems to have added closing down to his list of skills, but I’m not sure Baines has. He also seems to have gone off the idea of taking penalties, which has been a curious development amongst many this season. 6/10
He’s gone hasn’t he? Shame, but he’ll develop as a player quicker playing first team regularly, and it’s just a shame he couldn’t be tempted to do that whilst on a season-long loan at a newly promoted team to the Prem. Let’s hope Oviedo gets fit soon then, because I’d prefer to see Galloway as a Central Defender back up. His performances were 5/10 at best though. Still runs like he’s got a shopping bag on one arm.
He gets a mention because he’s caught the eye in just two starts for the Blues. Lad has potential, no doubt, not sure it’s at left back, maybe more central defence, but he adds height, a bit of pace and energy, a strong tackle, and now he needs to add awareness to his portfolio of skills, sadly lacking a coupe of times so far. He also has a funny middle name. Too soon for a rating really.
I’ve christened him Young John Stones as everyone seems to call him that. The lad is nearly 21, but already has 44 EPL starts for Everton and 4 England caps, so call him ‘young’ if you like, but his age belies not just a maturity, but an ability to play football that most neutral observers think will take him to the very top in the game. And if that’s what neutral observers think, you know what the Blue-tinted ones think. There is no doubting his ability, which is outstanding in the tackle, in the blocks, and the ball distribution, but it’s also his command of those around him, nurturing the talent that’s the same age as him, and even bringing out the best in Jagielka. The only thing for me, is that he mustn’t read this or any other sycophantic ravings, because he’s got in to trouble when Row Z has beckoned, or the lump up to the big man, but because someone said he’s like Moore/Beckenbauer/Baresi/Cannavaro all rolled in to one, he tries to do too much with it. But he’s young and will learn. He’s not arrogant either, he’s just very, very good. 9/10
His World Cup was more Stella than stellar (quite pleased with that one, might use it next season, although hopefully won’t need to), but he too suffered a pretty ropey first half of the season, but pulled it back a) by being virtually ever-present, b) by looking brilliant next to Alcaraz, c) sheer guts and determination, and d) playing alongside the reassuring young chap from Barnsley (which is *just outside* Liverpool, but I think we’ll call him ‘one of our own’) in a Yorkshire Knows Best Central Defensive Combo (after his time at Sheffield Utd, we’ll ignore that he’s from Manchester as that isn’t as amusing). Oh, and e) he’s actually a bloody good defender and has been a bit of a rock of late. Oh, yes, and f) there was that ‘tap-in’ at Anfield (poor lad had no idea how to celebrate!). Thanks Skip, one of my to-the-grave-memories that one. You can have 8/10 as we draw a veil over the bad bits of the year.
Kiev. 1/10, just not good enough. And because every time I praised you (Newcastle) you were pants the next game (Kiev)
The nearly forgotten man that actually made 18 appearances for Everton this season, 13 of them in the League. It’s a pity that something has clearly happened between him and Roberto to lead to the lad being frozen out since Christmas effectively, because one can’t doubt the effort and ability he’s shown over the years since we spent a mere £5m on him in 2009. It’s hardly Colemanesque loose change in the transfer market, but he’s repaid that investment many times over, and I’ll miss him. He’s big, he’s quick (well, he was) and he’s determined. He also has a left foot which helps. Has never really prospered under the Martinez Way 4/10 for this season, 9/10 for his time at Goodison, and probably leaves at the best time for him and for us all.
Not the best start to the season and no World Cup to blame, perhaps it was talk of Man Utd that distracted him.He had a much better second half of the season, and there was something not quite right early on. Like Baines, I fear he suffered from confidence-busting defeats that had their source in the vacated space left behind by our advancing full backs, but over time he developed well, possibly because of the support he got from Lennon, and possibly because he tightened the defensive aspects of his game. He gets much closer to wingers now, he stops more crosses coming in, and his pace allows him to recover from lapses from him and others around him. 6/10 for me.
There’s almost 2000 words waiting to be written about Barry alone this season. Tying him to a permanent deal last summer was greeted with widespread hoops and hollers, and his first half of the season merited the plaudits for me. But anxiety over our pedestrian approach and the much over-hyped lack of a Plan B, followed by a miserable period of form after he came back after a few weeks out injured, led to Barry being the blame hound. Not sure I get it, but we now have two distinct camps of lovers and haters, but I think he’s still one of the best in the business in his role, he can still boss games, but yes he did have a pretty poor Jan and Feb which won’t linger positively in the memory. Good personal effort to help us avoid winning the Fair Play League. 6/10
Not at his consistent best all season, by definition, but one of the best players in our squad, and well worth the £13m we paid to get the, ahem, Irishman over from Wigan. He has had a quieter time in the EPL but actually overall has almost played as many games this season as last, thanks to the non-comparative Europa League. The change to tactics that has led to more direct runs and, whisper the optimism, more goals (well, two anyway) augurs well for next season. 7/10
One day I’ll learn how to put the accents on his surname properly, and hopefully he’ll also learn when to attempt an outrageous back flick and when not to. That inauspicious start to his career after a brilliant World Cup could have set the lad back a thousand years, but he’s played in over 30 games this season, and quickly developed a cult status in the process. No stranger to a stiff tackle (I SAID STOP SNIGGERING BENKINS!), and possessing an engine to rival McCarthy’s, I reckon we’ll see more and more of this lad next season as he learns how to play DM in the English Premier League, and I think he’s been managed well these last few months to take him away from the match a bit and learn by watching and not by doing. It appears he and McCarthy on the same pitch is a sight for sore eyes for some, but for me it’s a sight of chaos as both run round at pace, sucked too close to the ball, creating space behind them. That’s why Barry +1 seems to work better. No Red Card mists either even though they were expected! Great first season. Has a very scary father so he can have 8/10
‘Age shall not weary him’. Only it has. He spent too long out of the team through injury, and I suspect a younger Ossie would have recovered quicker, but all of us who are the wrong side of 30 (and the rest) know that it’s damn hard when you’ve got to that stage in life when you wake up stiff in the morning (I won’t warn you again Smithers) and it takes a while to get moving again. I suspect that’s Leon. Martinez described his and Pienaar’s absence as Everton missing some of their guile, and you know I think he may be right. Sometimes Ossie can blow over in a stiff breeze, but with ball at feet he can play the right ball, and he can unlock defences. He won’t do it all the time now at the ripe old age of 34, but as a last 20-30 minutes sub against stubborn, tired and packed defences, he may offer something. And still class to have in the squad as a ‘real character’. 5/10
Less than a dozen games at this stage of your career suggests the body, like Osman’s, may be past its best, but on his day, and combined with Baines, he represents an excellent half of a left hand side combination. But at 33 is he past it now, and do we need to look elsewhere? Yes, but keep him for impact from the bench. 4/10
Flattered to deceive at Leicester, and apart from the odd game, he never hit the heights Martinez assures he is capable of. Not sure he’s going to stay, but if I’m being optimistic, perhaps next year will be the season his undoubted talent and rapid feet combine to put in a succession of crosses for the front men. However, would need Roberto to actually play him. 3/10
At Who? Cheerio. 1/10
Of all the wide men, Lennon has arguably had the greatest impact this season, and he seems to have prospered by being loved and wanted. It’s clear Spurs don’t do either, and it’s not clear (as usual) whether we do enough to part with any funds. But he gets people off their seats as he drives forward, he provides genuine cover and nuisance value all over the pitch (as stated, Coleman has benefitted from his support), and he’s chipped in with the odd goal. The question is, does he do enough? How many assists? Is he the future? Or has he proven the need for someone to do what he does, but with a few less miles on the clock? Whatever happens, we may look back and find his influence was far greater than the stats suggest, and perhaps he did more than anyone else to fire us back up to mid table. Such heady heights. 11th. Mmmm… Anyway, thanks Aaron, and you can have a 7/10
Yeh, that Eto’o, he played for us you know. I will forever cherish the line: “Eto’o should have played Hibbert in there you know”, and whoever said it, they were right. He should. He should also have done a lot more on the pitch, and bar a few classic games, like away at Burnley, his appearances and contributions were erratic. His impact off the pitch may never be told, but the suspicion is that it was more divisive than additive. I think he unsettled a few, but I also think he tried to big-up a few, but he’s gone now, and according to reports, not much different has happened in Italy. I’m pleased that a player like him joined Everton, but in retrospect perhaps he was a luxury we didn’t really need? 4/10
Ross is without doubt, on his day, one of the brightest talents in English football; but we all know that the key phrase contained in that sentence is exactly the issue. He was genuinely awful on Sunday, and yet at times he’s been genuinely unplayable. Opposition defences crowd him out and his footballing brain just doesn’t realise the answer is to try and slip a ball in to the gaps this crowd must have left, rather than try and jink his way past them. Sometimes it works, invariably it doesn’t. Where he plays, as much as how he plays, is another key and longstanding debate. But hey, we’ve got a diamond called Ross Barkley, and whether he’s from Wavertree or not, it’s a challenge many a manager would love – how to make the most of an amazing talent; it isn’t a case of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Marks out of 10? Sometimes 10/10, sometimes 1/10, but on average he’s a 6/10 with so much undoubted potential.
With 8 goals he was our third top scorer, which in itself says a lot. Our third top scorer should be scoring more, and so should he. But he also has proved many a doubter wrong with his clever runs, and constant movement trying to provide an out ball for the DMs and trying to create space for Rom and the rest. His passing completion I can only guess at, but it won’t be high, and he really ought to be able to do better, after all, he’s had enough practice. I suspect his miles run this season counted against him as the season drew to a close as he seemed decidedly knackered; but his impact has to have been far better than many had expected. 6/10
PS Off the pitch, this lad is a role model for all the work he does for the under-privileged in society, so if karma could just balance this effort with 20 goals next year, that’d be great, thanks.
Oh, Kevin Mirallas. Our second top scorer with 11 goals, but it could have been 12 if he’d scored ‘that’ penalty; or more rightly, still 11, but no rift in the dressing room. I hate it when everyone at the Club supports what Mirallas did that day, even though we know they don’t. What would be refreshing if RM said “Yes, he’s been a phenomenal knob, a real talent, but his ego got the better of him, We all think he was a complete tosser”. And then we’d get over it. Instead, we hear allegations that he wants Champion’s League Football at a bigger club. He can get CL football at the mighty KAA Gent in Kev’s home country if he fancies it. Or he could pull his literal and proverbial socks up, and score 20 and/or pass the bloody ball when the opportunity calls for that rather than some vain (and I mean vain in both senses) attempt at a glory goal. 5/10 Kev, soz.
Well, he scored 20 goals this season, so that’s good isn’t it? Yes, and no. 20 is 20, but he only scored half of these in the Premier League, and he needs to up his game every Saturday and now only occasional Sundays, and get his 20 next year in the domestic league and cup games. He is incredibly talented, we’ve seen that at home and abroad, so it’s just consistency. But let’s be clear, he’s only 22, and only just 22 at that. His potential is enormous, and he needs to be managed accordingly – how many 22 year olds do you know (boys in particular)? How many of them have fully grown up yet? For a young lad to have scored 94 goals in his first class career by this age is phenomenal, and I really mean phenomenal in the true sense, not in the RM he played badly but I’ll call it phenomenal sense. Let’s get behind him, let’s stop grumbling that he doesn’t chase every ball down from the back like Andy Johnson used to (and only 12 goals in our 06/07 season), and recognise he’s a different type of player, and we want him on the ball where it matters, and from minute 1 to minute 95 to be as fresh as a daisy to slam the ball in to the net, not someone who can hardly lift his feet off the ground from having run 10 miles chasing down Scott Dann (or similar) every game. Well done Rom, your first full season as an Everton player, and you’ve scored 20 goals. More next year please 7/10
From Kone to Oviedo, from Gibson to Hibbert, the old and young alike have not shaken off injuries to play a significant part this season. But we have seen Ledson, we’ve seen Dowell, Jones, Browning and Long pull on the first team shirt in what may be their long term club. Not sure about you, but I just hope they’re all fit and ready to start in mid August and we’ll see what they’re made of. I’d like to see Henen sign, and I’d like a few other new faces of course, but most of all I’d like to see a strong and consistent start to the season, not throwing away wins against Arsenal or Leicester, and not playing Keystone Cop style against Chelsea, and facing an uphill battle from Game 1
Which brings us to the manager. The jury is out. He’s still young as a manager, he’ll only be 42 when the season starts, barely much older than some of his players, and younger than Brad Friedel (random stat), and it’s clear he still has much to learn. Firstly, when a plan isn’t working – change it. Secondly, have a back up plan to change it to. Thirdly, and a third plan. Fourthly, be able to do all of these in one game if necessary. Fifthly, when a player drops out and his replacement plays better than the injured incumbent and does so consistently, it means you keep the player in position until such time as you start to see the performance level dip. Otherwise, why stay at the Club? (vis. Garbutt).
Sixthly, and this is for RM and the Board, communicate, communicate and when you’ve finished that, communicate some more. There are plenty of grumbles out amongst the Everton Family, and rather than apparently close ranks and make no effort to explain, try explaining not once, but twice, and explain again. There is nothing worse than a communication vacuum – supporters just fill it, incorrectly in most instances, and that just doesn’t help.
Right that’s it, I’m off to bed for the summer, back again mid August. Have a great summer Blues, thank you for reading my weekly ramblings, and for God’s sake, stop reading the NewsNow posts about who we’re “tracking”, or “battling with Aston Villa to land” or any other cliches. The reality will always be different so let our focus be on what has happened rather than wondering what might happen.
We have a brilliant team, a pretty good squad as it stands, and things are only going to get better. Aren’t they?