Hire and Fire Culture Does Football No Favors


London – My dad laughs about it now but having his name against the record for the shortest managerial reign is no joke. I very much doubt Frank de Boer, having been sacked by Crystal Palace after four games in charge, is feeling too jovial either.

For those who don’t remember, Leroy Rosenior was holding his press conference on returning to Torquay United for a second spell while behind the scenes the club had been bought by new owners. He was fired later that day and even now people ask him incredulously: “Aren’t you the guy who got a job and the sack on the same day?” He smiles and nods but I’ve seen the toll it takes when a proud and hard-working football man is humiliated by people who promise you the world and then throw you off the deep end when it suits them.

And I’m not even talking about Torquay – that was farcical and just an instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dismissal which hurt my dad most came at Brentford where he took over when the club were in disarray but was told he had complete control because they had no budget and needed to develop young players. De Boer was also told to bring through players at Palace and the common theme doesn’t end there.

Brentford’s directors employed my dad because they wanted to instil a new style of play – a philosophy of possession-based, expansive and exciting football which Dad has always believed in. He believed he would get time to put his ideas across to the players and staff, and was challenged to make his name as a coach by transforming the club.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t realised how dire the club’s finances were and that his record signing would be “won” by fans who had entered a competition sponsored by a fizzy drinks company. No matter, he stayed and put heart and soul into his job because he believed in himself and his ideas. Things went well initially but then results changed and so did he.

He’d come home from work and be withdrawn and silent for long periods. I saw my dad change from a man who felt blessed to be doing a job he loved to someone I could barely recognise. After about four months he was sacked because the same people who hired him to reverse the club’s fortunes were scared to keep the faith they’d shown in the first place.

From all accounts, it seems De Boer was sold a similar pitch at Crystal Palace and whether you think the decision was correct or not, we have to ask the question is the process of hiring and firing managers on a regular basis damaging our game?

Surely most clubs invest a significant amount of time researching and deliberating over the appointment of a new man at the head of their most important asset – the team. And in doing so, they commit to his methods and authority – even more so when much was trumpeted about De Boer’s footballing philosophy and his ability to change and improve Crystal Palace’s playing identity in the long term.

Surely four games is not the amount of time needed in order for those ideas to bear fruit. There seems to be a lack of responsibility regarding the appointment process – chairmen/directors need to be clear on exactly what they want. If survival in the Premier League is a club’s true ambition every season then there’s nothing wrong in stating that case rather than talking about completely changing their playing identity.

The lack of stability does not only hurt the coaches who are fired. You may see an upturn in performance or even league survival but in the long term clubs are left with players on expensive contracts who were bought for big transfer fees by previous managers and are now surplus to requirements and unable to be moved on.

Maybe a managerial transfer window, where coaches cannot be sacked but are locked in with their playing squad for that period of time, is the way forward – at least the constant game‑to‑game speculation would disappear and players would know that no matter the result of the next game, the man in charge would remain for the foreseeable future. This would reinforce the authority of the manager and so make clubs think about who they appoint in the first place, creating accountability at all levels where bad results don’t just land at the manager’s feet.

The boardroom isn’t the only place where people get twitchy in a bad spell. I’ve been in dressing rooms where the manager is under pressure and there are unhappy players, because they’re not playing every week, undermining everything he says and does in the knowledge that with a couple more poor results he’ll be gone.

This is where the phrase “he’s lost the dressing room” comes from but it’s also football at its most cynical. Neither is it just in the Premier League. This is happening – League Two and National League level managers are losing their jobs at an astonishing rate. We despair about how few homegrown managers are coming through to work at the top level but how many are afforded the chance to really formulate and execute their philosophy when they are constantly firefighting and fear they are three games from the sack?

We all talk about a desire to see free‑flowing, exciting and expansive games at every level but I’ve seen my father forced to sacrifice his philosophy in order to hang on to the job at Brentford. In doing so, he lost authenticity as a coach in order to satisfy the short-term demands of surviving in a job rather than flourishing in order to stay employed.

It’s easier and quicker to coach direct, safety-first, percentage football that’s not great on the eye but gains short-term results as opposed to playing a technical, expansive offensive game that needs time and belief to succeed but improves and benefits players and clubs in the long term.

I fear the overall quality of our national game will continue to struggle while this short-term policy of hire and fire continues to dominate and if you don’t believe me go ask my dad or the many other coaches who’ve lost their jobs as a result of it.

The Guardian Sport

Frank de Boer Left Crystal Palace after 77 Days. Dave Bassett Didn’t Last 77 Hours


London – Frank de Boer didn’t win a league game in his short tenure at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. Back in 1984, Dave Bassett didn’t stick around long enough to see the team play.

Bassett’s stock was on the rise in the summer of 1984. After guiding Wimbledon to the Fourth Division title with 98 points in the 1982-83 season, he had just led them to a second consecutive promotion. His style of play may not have been to the taste of the football purists but, with the club jumping up to the Second Division, the ends definitely justified the means.

Attention from Football League clubs up and down the country was inevitable and in May 1984 a vacancy opened up that tested Bassett’s loyalty to the Dons. Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades thought his squad was “good enough to have finished in the top eight” but he had just watched manager Alan Mullery produce 15th- and 18th-placed finishes in the Second Division. With average attendances dropping, Noades decided to wield the ax.

Bassett’s contract with Wimbledon expired in October 1984 and he was immediately installed as the favorite to make the short move across south London. After spending a decade at Wimbledon as a player and then a manager, leaving Plough Lane would prove difficult. He was unveiled as the new Palace manager just three days after Mullery’s sacking but he sounded torn over the move. “It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in football,” said Bassett. “I have spent a great deal of my life at Wimbledon and you cannot turn your back on that sort of thing quickly. This is a new challenge and one that I feel capable facing. Palace can return to the top. This club can get back to where it belongs.”

The appointment was announced on May 17, giving Bassett a full summer and pre-season to assess his resources and transmit his ideas to the players, but he didn’t allow himself enough time to get his feet under the table. On May 21 he addressed the media to inform them of his change of heart. “I preach loyalty and integrity to my players at Wimbledon and I do not believe that this is the time for me to leave,” Bassett explained to shocked and confused journalists. “Having taken Wimbledon in to the Second Division, I have a big challenge here. We have a tremendous bunch of players and they are doing so well at the moment. I really should have thought more deeply about the matter before agreeing to go to Palace.”

“I know people will say I’ve ducked out, but that was never the case. I personally think mine was a braver decision to make. I’ve lost weight, sleep and years off my life not knowing what to do for the best. But my loyalty to Wimbledon proved the decisive factor. I’ve managed them from the Fourth to the Second Division and this is the time I’m needed most.”

Bassett, who had not yet signed his contract with Palace, suggested his close friendship with Noades had played a part in the decision. “Ron Noades was bitterly disappointed but I think in the end he understood my reasons because he said: ‘Go on, off you go. I’ll see you later.’ There was no animosity. I’ve known him for 20 years and I feel our relationship would have suffered if it became boss and worker.”

Noades’ loss was Stanley Reed’s gain and the Wimbledon chairman was delighted. “The door was shut but not bolted as far as Dave was concerned,” said Reed. “Now we can really get down to celebrating our promotion.” The club went from strength to strength under Bassett, gaining promotion to the top flight in the 1985-86 season.

The Palace job subsequently went to Steve Coppell, which made the 28-year-old the youngest manager in the Football League and began a beautiful partnership that would span nine years (in his first spell) and take in promotion, an FA Cup final and a third-placed finish in Division One.

Twelve years after his brief stint at Palace, Bassett returned to the club to work with Noades for over a year. Naturally, when Bassett was appointed the second time around in 1996, a lot of talk surrounded his previous spell at the club. “I was a bit younger then and it seemed a good idea at the time. I soon realized I had made the wrong decision.” Steve Parish knows how he feels.

The Guardian Sport

Crystal Palace Revert to Short-Term Policy after Itching Frank de Boer Experiment


London- Steve Parish had taken to Twitter on Sunday night on the way back from Burnley and his team’s latest scoreless defeat. There were irate supporters to address and plenty of disgruntled fans pointing fingers at a board who, up to now, have been relatively immune to criticism given their achievements in hoisting Crystal Palace from the second tier. The chairman’s responses verged on the defiant, from “football teams lose games” to “we know we are better than this”. In among the series of tweets, too, was one suggesting “we have to stick together”.

As it transpired that call for unity, echoed by first-team players on social media, did not extend to the relationship between hierarchy and manager. After a night contemplating what happens next, Palace confirmed Frank de Boer’s tenure would not extend beyond the 11-week mark, provoking an understandable wave of bewilderment from those on the outside looking in.Why sack De Boer for managing like De Boer? Surely he needed proper time, and more investment, to instigate the change in style even Parish had acknowledged was desirable? Did the improved performance at Turf Moor, where 23 chances were created but none taken, not demand a stay of execution at least until Saturday’s visit of Southampton?

Parish and the club’s American major shareholders, David Blitzer and Josh Harris, who were in attendance in Lancashire, would acknowledge that logic. They would surely concede, too, that mistakes have been made. Embarrassing errors that damn all the due diligence conducted over that month-long summer recruitment process following Sam Allardyce’s surprise resignation. The chairman, it should not be forgotten, had admitted “every time a manager fails at this club, I fail, so if Frank fails it is my failure too”.

There is no hiding from this fiasco, whether or not talk of fans’ protests is followed through on Saturday lunchtime, or even if Palace rouse themselves under Roy Hodgson to clamber clear of trouble. The fact remains that it was always unreasonable to expect a manager schooled in one clear footballing way to be parachuted into a club and an unfamiliar league and successfully change everything overnight. He is even less likely to succeed if his squad are bolstered by only two young loanees and a £7.9m signing from Ajax. There was a splurge on Mamadou Sakho, a talismanic figure for Allardyce’s side last term, on deadline day but, by then, De Boer’s influence on transfer policy had all but evaporated. Looking back, what chance did he realistically have?

Not that the owners will have warmed to the idea of Palace becoming a laughing stock. There is nothing to celebrate in a club emulating a 93-year record for dismal top-flight starts one day, then casting the manager adrift after the fewest number of games in charge the next. But at some stage, for all the desire to develop on the pitch, fear kicks in. Palace cannot afford to drop out of this division. This is a fifth year at elite level, the longest in their history, and their wage bill has never been higher. The owners – it is safe to assume the American investors, in particular – cannot contemplate slipping into the Championship. Once De Boer offered no clear plan as to how he would kickstart the team’s season in a meeting with Parish and the sporting director, Dougie Freedman, on the last Monday in August, the writing was on the wall.

Given the schism that had developed behind the scenes, the surprise was not that the axe fell after four games but that the manager had still been in charge for the trip to Burnley. This relationship had fractured beyond repair after the defeat by Swansea last month when a manager who had pledged for most of the week to revert to a more comfortable system had ended up reverting to type just before kick-off in selection and tactics. The sight of the Dutchman bemoaning his players’ lack of “courage” on the ball in his post-match observations was too much for the owners to accept. One would have hoped the interview process might have highlighted any potential personality clash but clearly something had been lost in translation mid-summer. De Boer had apparently pledged “evolution, not revolution” but his approach suggested otherwise. Parish might argue some of the Dutchman’s tactics were evidence he had been hoodwinked.

What so infuriated the board was De Boer’s apparent naivety when it came to the demands of the Premier League, as perverse as that may seem in relation to a man who excelled as a player at Barcelona, earned 112 Holland caps and claimed four Eredivise titles in six seasons as Ajax’s coach. Tony Pulis and Allardyce proved at Palace that the starting basis for any kind of success at a club of this size is a solid defence; be hard to beat first, and build any kind of progressive play from that base. De Boer could point to a fine defensive record in Dutch football but fell back on his principles, his weight of experience as a player and coach, and a favoured tactical game plan: a 3-4-3 forged on possession and patient buildup as if it was lifted from his Ajax days.

It did not seem to matter that some of the players he had inherited, purchased by Ian Holloway to Pulis, Alan Pardew to Allardyce, were clearly uneasy with the whole approach. Or merely confused. So it was hardly a surprise what they delivered wasa mishmash. Palace have still regularly flung balls forward in hope for Christian Benteke – no other Premier League side have played as many long passes this season – but they have lacked the width to exploit their target man and, before the game at Burnley, any zest in their buildup play to stretch opponents.

Before Turf Moor, when the manager’s selection had hinted at a willingness to change, the players had looked bewildered. Their only periods of dominant play had come in the final half-hour of the Carabao Cup second-round tie against the youngest team Ipswich Town have ever selected, the second half against Swansea once the visitors were sitting on a 2-0 lead, and in arrears at Burnley. On all occasions, Palace had reverted to something akin to a 4-3-3, the formation that would appear to fit the personnel.

The issue had been raised with the manager before the Swansea match, the hierarchy almost pleading with him to give himself and the players the best chance of thriving, but it fell on deaf ears. By the end of that plod of a performance, Palace had reverted to playing Joel Ward at left-back, Lee Chung-yong on the flank and Martin Kelly at centre-half. It came as little surprise that the latter’s display was so frazzled given he had effectively been made available for transfer only to be thrust back into the picture almost overnight.

Maybe those players’ involvement reflects the inadequate nature of Palace’s squad, a highly paid yet imbalanced playing staff blessed with seven centre-halves but only one fit centre-forward. Plenty of players were permitted to move on but their contracts are bloated and prohibitive for suitors outside the Premier League. That they were not shifted limited what changes the new man could implement.

Other issues alarmed the ownership. The fact Luka Milivojevic, a revelation in defensive midfield after signing in January, featured as a centre-half throughout pre-season before being deposited back in midfield on the opening day against Huddersfield seemed self-defeating. The same could be said of Ward – deployed at centre-half for much of the summer only for De Boer to pick him as a right wing-back in the first competitive fixture. Ward duly laboured, scored an own goal and appeared utterly lost.

Plenty about the selection for that game against Huddersfield had alarm bells ringing, not least the fact Jairo Riedewald, at 20, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, the 19-year-old secured on loan from Manchester United a few days previously, flanked Scott Dann in the new-look back three. As talented as the two youngsters may be, it seemed unwise to fling them into the fray in tandem in such a brutal division, even against promoted opponents. Better teams than Palace would struggle if reliant on such a green backline.

Then came the inevitable rumours of player discontent, always the precursor to managerial change, which had been seeping out for a while. Some did not take kindly to De Boer’s showboating in training, tricks and flicks and free-kicks bent in from distance, a la Glenn Hoddle. Others, it should be said, had no such complaints and felt they were steadily growing accustomed to his demands. The corner would be turned. Palace would revive. We will never know whether that was realistic.

Perhaps De Boer and Palace was never going to be the right fit. Even after four years dining at the top table, this club can still feel like a throwback. A set-up where only a certain kind of manager can thrive and, even then, not necessarily for very long. Sean Dyche, linked heavily with the post in the summer, would have been a more appropriate appointment in the circumstances when money is relatively tight and the implications of failure so immense. De Boer probably realised how awkward the alliance felt as quickly as the owners. He might argue he was too progressive at this stage of Palace’s development. The club would presumably counter by pointing at the dreadful results which have left the team playing catch-up, and ask whether De Boer is equipped for a dogfight.

Hodgson, in contrast, suddenly feels a safer option. He is anything but a leap into the unknown, and can come in and be as pragmatic, as he was with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. Yes, he is saddled with memories of Iceland but the Croydonian will consider Palace a homecoming and a chance to restore his reputation. Coping with the unremitting scrutiny of Premier League management will arguably be his biggest challenge because there is quality aplenty in this team which, if tapped properly, will steer them clear of trouble.

Turning to a 70-year-old hardly smacks of long-termism but Palace have probably waved goodbye to that aspiration. Four games in and everything is about survival once again. The board decided De Boer was not the man to achieve it.

The Guardian Sport

Palace and Arsenal Epitomize Premier League’s Lack of Joined-Up Thinking

Frank de Boer has made a disastrous start at Crystal Palace but his players are struggling with an extreme transition after a relegation battle under Sam Allardyce.

Now the honeymoon period has well and truly fizzled out, extinguished by so much sideways football that soon Louis van Gaal will be making a pilgrimage to Selhurst Park to see what all the fuss is about, it comes as no surprise to learn Crystal Palace appear to be wondering whether the man who said he would make his new team play like Ajax might not be up to the task of managing in the Premier League.

Judging by the grumbling emanating from south London last week, some members of Palace’s squad appear to have made up their minds already about Frank de Boer. If the writing is on the wall for him, it is largely because his apparently dissatisfied players have wasted no time sharpening their pens and, although that kind of insurrection could be seen as yet another damning indictment of the state of modern football, it is worth remembering no manager is safe if his methods raise eyebrows rather than spirits in the dressing room.

Perhaps it reflects poorly on English football that De Boer, who led Ajax to four consecutive Eredivisie titles in his first managerial job, has encountered early resistance at Palace (highest Premier League finish: 10th in 2015). After all, everyone was on board when he outlined his vision in the summer and demonstrated an awareness that refining Palace’s style would not be easy, promising “evolution, not revolution”. Three matches in, however, Palace fans are still waiting to celebrate a goal, let alone their first point. More worrying than the results are the insipid, cure-for-insomnia performances, the dogmatism that makes Van Gaal’s Manchester United look even more freewheeling than Brazil’s 1970 team.

But why did the Palace hierarchy not see this coming? Before De Boer, the home dugout at Selhurst Park was the domain of the Proper Football Man. Since winning promotion under Ian Holloway in 2013, Palace have employed Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce, and the result is a gritty, direct team with few frills and little creativity or flair. One has got to go back 19 years to find the only other time they had a foreign manager, Atillio Lombardo, who could not save them from relegation during a brief spell as caretaker player-manager. Hiring De Boer was a departure from the norm for Palace and maybe it was to be expected they would experience teething problems. They will be accused of impatience if they decide to cut their losses; in reality, however, their biggest crime would be failing to lay the proper foundations for such a big change to their identity.

It would hint at the kind of structural shortcomings stemming from a lack of a philosophy within the club. Allardyce one minute, De Boer the next: it was too extreme. Palace had just survived a relegation scrap and there was no sense they had been gearing up to become the English Ajax. It is no wonder the squad has struggled to adapt to De Boer, who said his players lacked courage on the ball after the home defeat by Swansea City.

This can be a consequence when clubs attempt a quick fix instead of building gradually. Last month Palace hired Dougie Freedman as a sporting director. Yet it is difficult not to conclude Freedman should have arrived before De Boer and it is baffling that clubs with Palace’s resources do not seek to emulate the model at Southampton, where long-term planning ensures they are equipped to handle a change in the dugout. The expertise of the Pozzo family helps Watford punch above their weight despite their rotating cast of managers. What mattered more when Leicester won the title: hiring Claudio Ranieri or scouting N’Golo Kanté?

The director of football role remains staggeringly underrated in England. When it was put to Arsène Wenger that Arsenal could benefit from appointing one, he sounded as if he had been told to change his name to José. “I don’t know what it means,” Wenger said. “Is it somebody who stands on the road and directs the players left and right?”

A director of football could have challenged Wenger’s authority, forcing Arsenal out of their comfort zone. Instead his bosses shied away from making a tough decision at the end of last season, condemning Arsenal to two more years of stasis.

These are troubled times in the capital. Only West Ham’s miserable goal difference keeps Palace off the foot of the table. Time is running out for Slaven Bilic, who was found wanting tactically a long time ago. Yet while Bilic is fortunate to have his job, West Ham’s main problem is David Sullivan’s idea of a director of football seems to be David Sullivan. Gaping holes have not been filled and the club’s decision to focus on short-term acquisitions has left the team looking slow and old. How appropriate was it for the man in charge of transfers to be on holiday in Spain on deadline day?

So nothing changes. With the De Boer project looking doomed, Freedman is expected to step in on a temporary basis before making way for Roy Hodgson. Another emergency will force Palace back to square one, but it could have been avoided with greater foresight.

De Boer, schooled at Ajax and one of the most technically gifted defenders of his generation, appeared to have the credentials. More relevant than the 85-day stint at Internazionale, however, is the way Ajax became stagnant in his final two seasons, boring the Amsterdam Arena with laborious passing. Johan Cruyff disciples came to view De Boer as a Van Gaal man. He promised to bring excitement to Palace but so far he has offered precious little evidence of his Cruyffism.

(The Guardian)

Premier League: 10 Talking Points from This Weekend’s Action

Clockwise from the left: Raheem Sterling, Arsene Wenger, Harry Kane, Antonio Conte, and Frank de Boer.

1) Guardiola learning from Sterling, rather than vice versa
After Raheem Sterling again came to the fore, for the second time in six days, it was inevitable that Pep Guardiola would face questions about the in-form winger. What was not quite so expected was the Manchester City manager’s revelation that he has not been inspiring Sterling in training but that it has, in fact, been the other way around. “I learn from him,” Guardiola said. “The players improve the managers, believe me. The players have the talent, the talent from Sterling to dribble one against one, two against one, I am not involved in absolutely anything about that.” Guardiola insisted he cannot teach Sterling’s instincts in front of goal, saying that is purely his “talent”, but how then do his players improve? “I don’t know, maybe you improve, maybe you have to find another manager, I don’t know,” he said, grinning. Ben Fisher

2) Conte tries to reassure Chelsea he won’t walk out
Tension has been festering at Chelsea all summer, born of frustrations in the transfer market, but Antonio Conte has at least attempted to reassure the club’s support that his future will be at Stamford Bridge regardless of the board’s successes over the next four days. “My message for the fans is: I’m totally committed to the club,” he said. “Totally committed to improve my players. I’m a coach, not a manager. When you want to strengthen your squad, you have to give your opinion and speak with your club, but then the club goes into the transfer market to try and sort the situation. To try and help us. Sometimes it is possible. Sometimes it’s not possible. But I must be focused with things on the pitch and continue to work with my players.” That was not the outburst of a man likely to stomp away from a new two-year contract in a huff this week if things go poorly. Dominic Fifield

3) What next for Crystal Palace? The return of Allardyce?
Managers do not last long in the Premier League. I know that, you know that, Claudio Ranieri knows that. Nevertheless, the news that Frank de Boer is in danger of losing his job at Crystal Palace after four games in charge is pretty astonishing. Yes, Palace have been terrible under the Dutchman, no more so than against Swansea City on Saturday when they deservedly lost a third league match in succession, performing in a manner that was as shoddy as it was toothless, but a new approach – one that is also meant to benefit Palace in the long term in regards to how they nurture young talent – was always going to take time to bed in and having taken a leap of faith the least Palace’s board could do is hold their nerve longer than they appear willing. And what if they do sack De Boer– persuade Sam Allardyce to return? Good luck with that, Steve Parish. Sachin Nakrani

4) Saints should sell Van Dijk unless the circumstances are just right
The official line from Southampton is that they expect Virgil van Dijk to remain in their employment beyond transfer deadline day on Thursday. That makes perfect sense if: (a) the club are convinced that the player will swallow his disappointment and resume performing at his imperious best; and (b) the club have enough money to improve their misfiring attack without selling their best defender. If those two conditions cannot be met, then Southampton should sell Van Dijk this week, even to Liverpool – especially if they could get Daniel Sturridge as part of the deal. Paul Doyle

5) Arsenal brought a paintbrush to a gunfight
Liverpool will swarm plenty of teams this season, but few will collapse with Arsenal’s alacrity. It is important to state how well the hosts played at Anfield, and this must reflect how well they prepared because there are no secrets to Liverpool: they are fast, hard and aggressive, especially at the start. Yet Arsenal sauntered about cluelessly, bringing a paintbrush to a gunfight and the hiding they received was richly deserved. Arsène Wenger will take most of the flak, but his board and players are culpable too. Daniel Harris

6) Will Old Trafford finally make some noise under Mourinho?
What will it take for the Old Trafford atmosphere to rise above the lukewarm? José Mourinho was critical of the noise levels at home last season and was at it again after the win against Leicester on Saturday, making an unprompted half-joke that he knew Marcus Rashford had scored because it was the first time he had heard the crowd. The clearly premeditated point came as no surprise to anyone who, a couple of minutes after Marouane Fellaini had made victory certain, saw Mourinho turn to the fans behind his dugout, cup his ears and shrug his shoulders. The disappointments of the post-Ferguson era may well have taken a cumulative toll but there is clear evidence that Mourinho is taking United in the right direction and perhaps he is right to wonder whether everyone might pull together a little more. United are going well, but there will be days when they need the kind of push he feels they are not receiving. Nick Ames

7) Merino reminds Benítez of Xabi Alonso
If the cold war between Rafael Benítez and Mike Ashley is far from over, victory against West Ham United prompted a temporary resumption of normal life with the manager answering questions about pure football rather than internecine politics. These included a query as to whether Mikel Merino, the Spain Under-21 midfielder and Borussia Dortmund loanee, who excelled in central midfield, showcasing some defence splitting passing, reminded him of Xabi Alonso. “There are similarities with Alonso,” Benítez said. “They’re both Basques and they’re similar because of the way they read the game. Alonso’s long passing was better but Merino is more mobile and dynamic.” Aleksandar Mitrovic simply remains a liability. The scorer of Newcastle’s third goal could well receive a retrospective red card for an off-ball elbow on Manuel Lanzini. While it will be no surprise if Mitrovic departs Tyneside this week, Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham seems almost as uncertain. Louise Taylor

8) Heaton the reason why Kane’s ‘August drought’ continues
Harry Kane has scored a goal for Spurs in August; against AEL Limassol in a 2014 Europa League qualifier. So let that be the end of that talk. He is still to get one in the Premier League for sure and the wait will continue for another year after several chances came and went against Burnley. As with the question over whether Wembley affects the Tottenham team, it is tempting to speculate whether this quirky statistic might have been playing on Kane’s mind. Was he nervous? Unlikely. Was he too keen to score? Perhaps. But the most prominent factor in his failure to find the net was the positioning and anticipation of the Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton. In fact, when Spurs forced the game too much at 1-0 up in an attempt to kill the Wembley hoodoo for good, Kane stayed calm and did the rational, optimal thing. It’s what he always does. He’ll be back in the goals soon enough.Paul MacInnes

9) Brighton badly need a striker before the transfer window shuts
For a team yet to score a goal after three matches, the biggest problem Brighton & Hove Albion face is to try to solve the shortage of striking options. Chris Hughton did not shy away from the fact that his team did not even have a centre forward on the bench as they tried to engineer a match-winner at Watford. Unluckily, one of their main summer targets, Raphael Dwamena, failed a medical last week. “It’s not a usual set of circumstances, but all you can do is move on from that and go to the next set of targets,” says Hughton. He acknowledges that is easier said than done with the market unrecognisable from the last time he was in Premier League football. “I’ve not seen a jump in the [transfer fee] levels like we have seen this summer,” the Brighton manager says. The clock is ticking to recruit a striker before the window shuts. Amy Lawrence

10) Does Pulis deserve to be ‘slaughtered’ by his old fans?
Tony Pulis may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it would be fair to say that freeflowing, expansive attacking football has never been his thing, yet it still felt strange to hear the Stoke City supporters at the Hawthorns turning on their former manager and a style of football that they accepted for many years. “Tony Pulis, your football is shit,” was the chant that surfaced from the away end on several occasions. Pulis spent seven years at Stoke in his second spell, taking the club back into the top flight for the first time since 1985. By the end he had outstayed his welcome – the fans were no longer willing to tolerate direct, uncompromising football when Pulis had better players at his disposal, which is fair enough. Whether Pulis deserves to be publicly slaughtered in the way that he was at Albion on Sunday, however, is another matter. Stuart James

(The Guardian)

Do Chelsea Really Need New £34m Signing Antonio Rüdiger?


London- Since arriving in London, Antonio Conte has had one definitive wish: to sign a centre-back schooled in his homeland. In Antonio Rüdiger, to an extent, he has finally got that man.

Yet, Conte would have preferred Leonardo Bonucci and there is a lingering sense that Chelsea have again had to settle for second best in this transfer window, even after winning the title so convincingly. They have stumbled over a number of targets this summer – most notably Romelu Lukaku – and the manager is unimpressed.

Rüdiger has been linked with the club for some time now but his arrival seems like a move designed to appease Conte in the short term. Chelsea needed to make a signing and, while a transfer for Monaco midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko remains close, a deal for the Roma defender has proven more straightforward.

Conte has been keen to bolster his backline with a player who can quickly adapt to his tactical demands and, in that sense, Rüdiger should fit the bill. However, the 24-year-old Germany international is far from the finished article. After moving to Roma from Stuttgart in 2015, he took some time to adapt to a league that, from a defensive standpoint in particular, is different to any other.

While his versatility is certainly an asset, it has also held him back. He has often been asked to cover at full-back, which has restricted him from a run of games in what is clearly his strongest position. Thirteen of his 25 starts in Serie A last season came at either right or left-back, and while he is capable in both roles, Rüdiger is a centre-half.

A relatively meagre rating of 6.78 from full-back last season rose to 7.00 when he was stationed at the heart of the Roma defence, but such a modest figure shows he still has plenty of room for development. He looked more comfortable when deployed in a back three under Luciano Spalletti last season and his ability to play either side of the middle man is likely to have been key to Conte’s interest. It will offer Chelsea the opportunity to shift César Azpilicueta to a right wing-back role too, which would internally upgrade another position within the squad.

Conte’s relentless coaching has improved players such as Bonucci and, more recently, David Luiz. Rüdiger has the potential to develop in the same under Conte, but it remains an expensive risk to take on a player Chelsea don’t really need. He has the physical attributes to make a success of his time in England but his timing in the tackle is questionable: he committed as many fouls per game as he made tackles last season (both 1.7). No Roma player was penalised more often than Rüdiger, which is a rare statistic for a defender to top. He picked up seven yellow cards and one red in 26 league appearances, as well as a further dismissal in the Europa League.

Over the last two seasons, Rüdiger has committed more individual errors leading to a shot or goal than any other Roma player (six), and the third most of any outfielder in Serie A in that time. All in all, he took more time to settle in Rome than his new employers will hope to give him in London.

Rüdiger’s arrival also spells trouble for the young defenders currently at the club. Nathan Aké has has already been allowed to leave – making a £20m switch to Bournemouth – while the futures of Kurt Zouma and forgotten man Andreas Christensen – who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach – have been cast into doubt. Zouma has had his injury problems in recent times but Christensen has really impressed during his time in the Bundesliga and would have hoped to make an impression at the Bridge this season. They both may have to seek opportunities on loan if they are after regular action.

The difference in quality between the three players makes Chelsea’s decision to spend £34m on Rüdiger seem curious. While Zouma spent the majority of last season on the sidelines, he started 21 Premier League matches the campaign before, with tackles per game (1.3) the only key metric in which he fared worse than Rüdiger’s (1.7) figures from the 2016-17 season. Indeed, the 22-year-old Frenchman averaged more interceptions (1.6 to 1) and clearances (5.3 to 3), and he committed considerably fewer fouls (0.4 to 1.7) and was dribbled past less often (0.3 times per game to 0.7).

Christensen also averaged fewer tackles than the new man (1.5) but at the expense of far fewer fouls (0.6), while his anticipation – 2.3 interceptions per game – and distribution are far superior to Rudiger’s. In fact, his pass accuracy of 91.5%, from 62.8 passes per game, was the third best in the Bundesliga last season, and well in excess of Rudiger’s 83.3%. The Danish international is still just 21, but he has only missed six Bundesliga matches over the past two seasons, while also picking up valuable experience in both the Champions League and Europa League.

Rudiger’s acquisition will send a message to players on the fringes at Chelsea that it will be increasingly difficult to make the breakthrough. That, of course, is no new experience for youngsters at the club. However, like David Luiz before him, the new signing has matured over the last year or so. Chelsea will hope he can follow suit and iron out the mistakes and indiscretions that, on paper, make his signature seem like the panic buy the Brazilian’s was billed as last summer – when he was signed for £34m.

The Guardian Sport

Sol Campbell: ‘I’m Prepared to Go to a Non-league Club and Just Get a Win Bonus’


London- During his playing days Sol Campbell went about his business, on and off the pitch, with ice-cold assurance, so it is gripping, on a warm afternoon in west London, to hear him speak with burning desperation about his desire to become a manager. The former England defender may look relaxed as he sips a cappuccino outside an Italian restaurant off the King’s Road but it soon becomes clear that he is at his wits’ end about, as he puts it, “building another career”. Campbell has standing, qualifications and coaching experience but he cannot make the breakthrough and such is his frustration that the 42-year-old is willing to offer his services for free.

“It’s proving difficult and if I have to start at the bottom, I will,” he says. “People may think that I just want to manage in the Premier League but I’m prepared to go to a non-league club, and if they can’t pay me a salary just pay me a win bonus. I’m up for that. I won’t be up for that four or five years down the line but definitely for the first year, as long as it’s a good club with ambition. I’m itching to start, I just need a chance, even just an interview in which I can say: ‘Take me for free and I’ll show you what I can do.’”

It was in May 2012 that Campbell called time on a playing career that earned him 73 caps and two Premier League titles with Arsenal and he has largely spent the proceeding five years preparing for a life in management. A course with the Football Association of Wales earned Campbell a Uefa pro licence and then in February he took up an invitation to become assistant coach of Trinidad & Tobago, working alongside the former Wrexham, Swansea, Crewe and T&T centre-half Dennis Lawrence as part of the island’s attempt to qualify for next summer’s World Cup.

“It’s going really well given the budget and infrastructure we have is limited,” says Campbell. “With the head coach Dennis, Stern John [a fellow assistant coach and a former T&T striker] and a few others, the quality of training has been excellent and we’ve gone toe to toe with some of the big countries only to have been let down by some interesting decisions from officials.

“I go over in two-and-a-half-week blocks and usually eight days before the game we’re building up for. I mainly work on the defensive side but I’m also there to add a general level of quality to the setup. I’ve enjoyed the challenge.”

Alongside his work in the Caribbean, Campbell has visited Italy to watch training sessions at Sampdoria and Milan and travelled to the United States to observe his former Arsenal team-mate Patrick Vieira manage New York City. Each experience has been enriching and strengthened not only Campbell’s desire to manage but his openness to doing so abroad. To that end he is planning to develop his language skills. “A little bit of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French,” he says. “Something that gives me a base to work from.”

But the ideal scenario for Campbell would be to secure a job in England, because he has a young family, so he can continue his ambassadorial work with Arsenal and because that is where he spent the entirety of a playing career that began at Tottenham Hotspur in 1992, ended at Newcastle United in May 2011 (he officially called it a day 12 months later) and in between earned him a reputation as one of the finest central defenders of his generation. Familiarity breeds comfort but for Campbell the search for a post on these shores has become increasingly disheartening.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of agents to help get the word out that I’m available but so far there’s only been tentative inquiries,” he says. “Some clubs may be thinking: ‘We don’t want to talk to Sol because of his history,’ but that’s what an interview is for – meet the person and get to know what he’s actually like. If I don’t impress you in an interview then fine, but at least give me that chance. That’s all I want; to talk to a chairman or owner about my philosophy and what I can do for their team. I’m a winner. I love to build. I’ve got great ideas. I’ve got the passion. I’m very diligent, and if given a chance I’ll work my rear end off to be a success.”
Campbell’s passion is emphatic and what also catches the attention is his mention of “history”, which, it becomes obvious, is in reference to his outspokenness on British football’s attitude to race. In an interview with the Guardian in September 2013, Campbell suggested “archaic” attitudes to black players in this country would force him to begin his coaching career abroad and six months later, in an extract from his biography that appeared in the Sunday Times, he accused the Football Association of being “institutionally racist”.

In both instances it can be argued Campbell has a point, and as for opportunities for black coaches the situation has, if anything, got worse. In September 2013 there were four British and Irish BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) managers working across England’s 92 professional clubs – that figure is now down to two: Chris Hughton at Brighton & Hove Albion and Keith Curle at Carlisle United. Last month Heather Rabbatts stood down as a nonexecutive director of the FA because of her frustration at the lack of British black coaches in football.

Campbell would, then, be within his rights to stand by his views but he is keen to stay away from such controversy. “I don’t want to rub anyone up the wrong way,” he explains. “I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want to keep banging the same drum. I’m a doer and I just want to do it. Whatever attitudes, prejudices, stereotypical ideas that are in front of me, I will break them. But the only way I can break them is by getting a job, and if I need to start in the gutter, I will start in the gutter and work my way up. Money isn’t an issue.”

And how would a Sol Campbell-led side, here or abroad, perform? “Very defensive but amazing on the counterattack,” he says. “Like Arsenal of old.”

There follows a chuckle, with Campbell clearly aware that replicating the style of play that made him, Vieira and others not only title winners under Arsène Wenger but invincibles is easier said than done.

Campbell is serious, however, when tackling the assertion that one reason he may struggle to break into management is because of the widely held view that great players generally fail to become great managers. “Zidane. Cruyff. Rijkaard. Pep. Even Deschamps – they’ve all achieved a heck of a lot as managers and they were all great players,” he replies. “So no, I’m not buying that. It’s about being given a chance, that’s all I want. And once I get into the system, that’s it, I’ll be flying.”

The Guardian Sport

John Terry Out of His Comfort Zone, Ready for New Chapter at Aston Villa


London- John Terry needed no reminding of the day when he was booed off by Aston Villa supporters while lying on a stretcher. It was 11 May 2013, and has gone down in the history books as the game when Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all‑time leading goalscorer. For the visiting captain, however, it was a less enjoyable experience. “I think the [chant] was ‘let him die’,” Terry said, laughing while wearing his new Villa tracksuit.

Outside of Stamford Bridge, where Terry spent 22 years and racked up more than 700 appearances, there have been plenty of insults thrown at the central defender over the years. Villa Park, where Terry will be playing next season after signing a one-year contract with the Championship club, was no different in that respect. “Quite hostile” is how Terry described his memories of playing at the ground. “I’ve been on the receiving end of that [atmosphere] and thrived on it,” he added.

Both parties will take little time to patch up their differences, now that they are on the same side. That is how football generally works and on that same theme it was interesting to hear Terry’s answer to a question about whether after everything he has achieved in his career, including winning 15 major trophies at Chelsea, he feels fully appreciated in the game. “Maybe not. I don’t know,” he said. “I think that’s a decision for you guys [the media] to make, or the supporters. I’ve run out at Villa Park many times and given as good as I’ve been given and wound people up, and I understand that.

“But when I walk down the street, whether it be a Tottenham supporter or an Arsenal fan, they will say: ‘I don’t particularly like you but you’re a good footballer and I appreciate what you’ve done in the game.’ That’s the message. But what I do get a lot when you spend time and have photos with people’s kids is: ‘You’re actually a nice guy.’

“People see you in a way and put you in a bracket of ‘right, he’s an arsehole.’ But that’s not me. You grow up over the years as well, and you live and learn as a human being, as a professional and a player. I’ve given as good as I’ve got over the years from supporters all over the country and at the end of the day when I retire, if they turn around and say, ‘He was a decent player,’ that will do me.”

By Terry’s own admission it will be a strange feeling to wear another club’s shirt and experience everything that comes with being the new boy. He flew out to Portugal with Steve Bruce, the Villa manager, on Monday afternoon to join the squad on their pre-season training camp, and was dreading the thought of having to sing in front of everyone as part of the sort of initiation ceremony that he has enjoyed laughing at over the years at Chelsea.

At the same time, Terry said that he was genuinely excited at the prospect of a move that “takes me out of my comfort zone”. There were no shortage of offers on the table for him, but Terry claimed that joining another Premier League club was out of the question, because he was unable to contemplate playing against Chelsea next season. Teams in China and Major League Soccer also showed an interest, as did Villa’s bitter local rivals, Birmingham City.

Terry admitted that he got himself into a bit of a state over the decision – “I pretty much wasn’t sleeping” – before Bruce convinced him with his regular text messages that Villa was the right move.

“I wanted it to be that once I decided, then I was 100% in,” Terry said. “I’m not 50-50 or 70% – Aston Villa will get 100% of John Terry this year.” With Terry expected to earn around £60,000 per week on a contract that has an option to be extended for another 12 months – plus huge incentives to be paid if Villa win promotion – the former England international will be picking up a Premier League salary in the Championship. Bruce believes, however, that Terry is “worth every penny” because of the contribution he can make as a leader as well as a player to a squad that finished 13th in the second tier last season and struggled to handle the level of expectation.

For Terry, who turns 37 in December, that challenge cannot start quickly enough. “It’s down to me to perform week in, week out to prove to the players I can still play. I’m not one of them players at the end of his career looking for a pay day. I would be somewhere else if that was the case. The ambition, really, is to get us back to the Premier League and if I can, then that would be an unbelievable achievement.”

The Guardian Sport

Wayne Rooney: A Manchester United Great Who Departs to Muted Applause


London- The oddity of Wayne Rooney’s glittering 13-year Manchester United career is that he departs for Everton to only muted applause. Despite a record that features a glut of trophies and personal achievements a strong sense of “Ta-ra Wayne, it’s about time” prevails among supporters.

This can be traced to the perception Rooney never adopted the fitness regime required to reach the heights of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and the disquiet he caused when twice in three years nearly exiting the club.

This is a footballer who last season passed Sir Bobby Charlton’s mark to rank as United’s record scorer with 253 goals; a footballer who claimed five Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Europa League, the FA Cup, three League Cups, the Fifa Club World Cup, was twice PFA Young Footballer of the Year and voted the 2010 PFA and Football Writers Player of the Year; a footballer who arrived as the 18-year-old starlet who seemed destined to become a global great and registered a debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce in September 2004; a footballer whose aerial volley against Manchester City Sir Alex Ferguson described as the best he witnessed at Old Trafford in 26 and a half years as manager.

That finish came in February 2011 and Rooney’s fall in the eyes of many of the United congregation began with the saga of four months before. On 20 October 2010 Rooney questioned United’s ambition when stating he wanted to leave. Further insult to this injury came when his preferred destination emerged: Manchester City, many fans’ bitterest rivals. Two days later came a scarcely credible Rooney U-turn. This featured him agreeing a new contract at United and apologising to Ferguson and team-mates for his behaviour.

It began the reservations among United devotees, though. The bottom line was Rooney had doubled his salary to £180,000 a week and so his questioning of the club was viewed as a cynical act of brinkmanship aimed at squeezing the best terms possible.

Rooney vowed to rebuild trust with supporters but in the six years since the relationship has remained uneasy, suffering a gradual, irreversible decline.

This was accelerated in summer 2013, following Ferguson’s retirement that May. Towards the end of the campaign Rooney had fallen out with the manager and entered the close season again wishing to depart despite David Moyes now being in charge.

This time another fierce rival – Chelsea – was his intended new club. In autumn 2010 the faithful had not wanted Rooney to go. Now, though, unconditional love was replaced by an acceptance that it might be best if he did.

When the episode once more closed with the Liverpudlian staying and the following February he agreed a bumper new deal – a basic £250,000 a week – this killed any lingering love felt for him among a large constituency of fans.

This erosion of affection was caused by another factor: the perception of a steep decline in Rooney’s powers. In February 2014 he was 28 and should have been at his peak. Yet despite that campaign ending with 17 league goals, his highest tally in the following three years – 12 – came the next season, with the last two featuring eight and five.

It is rare now to hear unqualified praise for Rooney the player. Mention the man-boy who arrived in August 2004 and it is different. United fans freely gush about the menacing tyro whose blistering turn of pace and firebrand mentality tore up contests.

This last point is of particular note. Perhaps the most telling observation Moyes made during an ill-fated tenure of 34 league matches was what he told Rooney when persuading the forward not to go to Chelsea. “He came up to my house. I said to him: ‘If you ask me what’s missing – I think you’ve gone a bit soft,’” the Scot said.

Moyes’s view proved prescient. The late-career Rooney is a footballer whose mental edge has become as dulled as the zip that was also once a prime asset.

Under José Mourinho last season the fall-off was dramatic. Suddenly Rooney’s legs were heavy and he was reduced to a lumbering spectator of many of the games he played in.

Mourinho may have executed a shrewd ploy when replacing Louis van Gaal last summer. In an opening press conference the Portuguese killed any notion Rooney could move back into midfield, stating “with me, he will never be a No6”. Mourinho insisted Rooney remained a finisher, watched as he managed one goal in his first seven matches and dropped him for a 4-1 win over Leicester City on 24 September. This ended Rooney’s status as an automatic starter and United’s captain eventually lost his England place and with it leadership of the national side.

To find Rooney’s last moment of unadulterated brilliance in a United shirt rewind to 15 March 2015. This was also, though, a microcosm of Rooney’s chequered time at the club as it began with a Sunday newspaper splash that featured him being knocked out in his kitchen by Stoke City’s Phil Bardsley.

In the afternoon Rooney responded with a vintage goal in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at OId Trafford. Collecting the ball near halfway Rooney was again the rampaging force of his youth as he made a mug of Eric Dier with a veer to the left, before allowing Hugo Lloris no chance.

The recent revelations that Rooney lost £500,000 in a casino illustrated his private life still lacks cast-iron discipline. But, in time, memories of the off-field indiscretions and slights against United should fade.

Then fans will surely recall how the £27m that Ferguson paid Everton for Rooney allowed them to witness the best years of his generation’s finest domestic footballer, a player who has a case for being one of the greats in the United firmament.

The Guardian Sport

Everton Hoping Early Deals Can Help Them Bridge Gap to the Top Four


London- There is no doubt which Premier League club have made the quickest start in the race to do business in the summer transfer window. One might not go as far as Robbie Fowler, who believes Everton’s resolve and targeted investment are making the rest of the league look stupid, though there is plenty to admire in the way Ronald Koeman and his club backers go about their business.

Everton have made five major signings before most clubs are properly back from their holidays, although Henry Onyekuru will be going straight out to Anderlecht on loan. The others offer straight-down-the-middle solidity, almost literally since Koeman has brought in a goalkeeper, centre-half and striker. Everton set their transfer record when they signed Jordan Pickford for a fee that could rise to £30m, though the former Sunderland player has long been regarded the best English goalkeeping prospect around and if he fulfils his potential he will soon start to look a snip even at that price.

The club then paid roughly the same amount, £25m going on £30m, for the 24-year-old Michael Keane, another proven performer at the right age with no shortage of admirers and a promising future. By Everton standards this is a huge level of investment, particularly as the Holland midfielder Davy Klaassen has also been signed for around £24m, but as soon as someone meets Southampton’s asking price for Virgil van Dijk, or perhaps when Romelu Lukaku finally gets his inevitable move to a club in the Champions League bracket, Everton’s outlay is likely to be dwarfed.

It has not all been big spending either. Picking up Sandro Ramírez from Málaga for a fee of around £5m could be the sharpest piece of business of the summer so far, even if it is unlikely the former Barcelona striker on his own will be able to fill the hole Lukaku leaves. To an extent Everton have been rebuilding in the knowledge that they will have to react and reshape once their leading scorer departs, and to an extent they have been spending in the expectation of a large fee being received before the end of the window. They will probably need to recruit again once Lukaku goes. Koeman is still an admirer of Gylfi Sigurdsson and there are even reports of a move for Olivier Giroud, though regardless of what happens later in the summer it is never a bad idea to have your principal targets identified early and to bring them in with a minimum of fuss in time to take part in a full pre-season.

Were there a prize for this sort of thing, Everton would have just put themselves in pole position, with other clubs still dithering and debating at the back of the grid. Perhaps Everton also deserve some sort of industry award for having the foresight to recruit Steve Walsh from Leicester as football director and head of scouting. Football does not work quite like that, however, and one has to assume that the real prize Everton are after is a place in the top four. “It will be a big season for us,” Sandro said on arrival, possibly a little prematurely. “Everton have made some big signings, I’m excited about being able to compete here and win plenty of silverware. Hopefully we can achieve that aim of getting into the Champions League.”

Any player is entitled to be optimistic upon joining a new club for a considerable fee, and there is perhaps no harm in being unrealistically so, but were this an Alfred Hitchcock film the menacing music would now be building to a crescendo. Were it a Vic and Bob show there would be tumbleweed rolling across the set. Players do not generally move to Everton to win “plenty of silverware”. That has not been the case since the mid-80s, and even then the revival under Howard Kendall was a relatively short-lived affair, bookended by underachievement and far less distinguished managers. In the 21 years Sandro has been around Everton have not won a thing. Their last glimpse of silverware was the 1995 FA Cup, a couple of months before he was born.

Everton have a capable, go-ahead manager, it must be admitted, and a top-four finish seems an achievable ambition for a club of Everton’s stature and spending power, yet it cannot have gone unnoticed that Arsenal and Manchester United managed to miss out last season. That’s the Arsenal currently vying with Real Madrid to pay more than £100m for Kylian Mbappé, and the Manchester United who boast the world’s most expensive player in Paul Pogba and could well end up paying a similar amount for Lukaku.

It was put to Koeman when he arrived on Merseyside this time last year from Southampton that there seemed to be little anyone could do to elevate Everton beyond fourth-best team in the north-west. They would never be able to match the spending power of the Manchester clubs, and could hope to overtake Liverpool only on the few occasions when standards at Anfield slipped. The manager did not disagree, though Leicester had just won the league at the time so anything seemed possible.

What happened in Koeman’s first season at Goodison was that the six clubs with regular Champions League experience strengthened and improved, leaving an improved Everton still best of the rest, a nailed-on seventh. That is not good enough for Koeman, never mind the owners or fans, but it is not difficult to see the same pattern repeating itself this season. This time Everton will have to cope with the demands of the Europa League, too. They may even try to win it, and take the Manchester United route to Champions League qualification, though such a plan would inevitably have implications for their league aspirations. José Mourinho, with all the resources at his disposal, ended up having to prioritise at the end of last season. It is unlikely that Everton would be able to prosper on two fronts, and it will be interesting to see how Koeman approaches the European competition.

Yet for now, before a ball has been kicked, Everton followers can at least take satisfaction in their club doing something right. They should be a tougher proposition this season, and with their fighting spirit and the ability to make Goodison a difficult place to visit, they could prove a surprise package in 2017-18. As long as everything continues to go to plan. Any unpleasant surprises, such as potential buyers driving down Lukaku’s price or perhaps even looking elsewhere for a striker, could make life more interesting still before the start of the season.

The Guardian Sport