Everton's New Manager Must Learn From Ronald Koeman's Failed Partnership With Steve Walsh
The dust has now settled on Ronald Koeman's sacking at Everton, with attention instead shifting onto who will eventually replace the Dutchman. Post-mortems have been conducted, and a variety of explanations have been advanced as to why the rot set in quite so quickly for the Barcelona legend. For most, it is now time to move on completely- and on the face of it they have a point.
But as the Everton hierarchy ponder their next move, it would be worth looking back just once more, to the failed partnership between Koeman and director of football Steve Walsh, as they attempt to pinpoint the right candidate for the future.
Much has been made of the poor end to the window that left Everton without a proper goalscorer to replace Romelu Lukaku and short of legs in defence, yet another indicator of the Blues' muddled thinking in the transfer market was the age-profile of several of Koeman's lineups towards the end of his time at Goodison - and indeed those selected by Unsworth since.
For the Dutchman's last game against Arsenal, no fewer than six players aged 23 and under featured alongside veterans Wayne Rooney, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines- all 32 and older. That pattern was continued under caretaker manager Unsworth in the recent victory over Watford, where five under-23s finished the encounter with Marco Silva's men. In a sport where players tend to come into their prime between 26 and 30, Everton's reliance on those at either end of the age spectrum showed a lack of foresight when it came to coordinating recruitment.
It perfectly highlights the disconnect between Koeman and Walsh as far as the last few windows are concerned. In the case of the former, players seemingly able to deliver short-term gains were targeted in an attempt to meet a series of lofty goals over the course of his three-year contract. As such, Morgan Schneiderlin, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson were all bought on the recommendation of the Dutchman.
Walsh, by contrast, largely chose to place faith in younger, hungrier players and hidden gems. In Ademola Lookman, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford, the former Leicester City head of recruitment sought to buy players who would grow to form the backbone of Everton sides way into the future.
The two contrasting visions have left Everton's squad lacking identity. Some players have youthful exuberance on their side and others the nous that comes with experience, but few in the ranks have both. With reliable heads thin on the ground, the Blues have been forced to place too much faith in creaking elder statesmen and young bucks with rough edges to iron out.
In the absence of a stable core in the middle, the Blues have often come up short on the pitch. The paradox, of course, is that when forced to make a decision been youth and experience, Koeman regularly plumped for the latter despite overwhelming evidence that the club's ageing core are fading badly. “Of course it's the time for all the experienced players," he told reporters back in September. "Wayne’s always in my thoughts. It's for everybody who starts to be a team and get a good result. In that team there are experienced players who can deal with more pressure."
After that model failed- semi-regular lapses from Williams, in particular, proved to be costly for Koeman- caretaker manager Unsworth wisely went in the opposite direction in a bid to halt the slump. It has been a mixture of fringe players ostracised by Koeman and players developed by Unsworth in the Everton Under-23 setup that has helped the Lancastrian temporarily inject a new lease of life at Goodison.
Ultimately, though, neither approach is likely to yield the success everyone associated with Everton craves over the next few seasons. And so, a compromise must be reached between Walsh and whoever comes through the Goodison Park doors. Whichever path is taken, Everton's director of football and new manager simply have to be on the same wavelength when it comes to recruiting players. As Koeman's demise has shown, contrasting visions cannot be reconciled.
In that sense, those in power in L4 would be well advised to learn lessons from the failures of the past when appointing Koeman's successor.