Stability is Key: Why Ronald Koeman is Everton’s Long Term Future
Everton have endured a tricky start to the 2017/18 Premier League season, so much so that some fans have been calling for manager Ronald Koeman to be sacked after just seven games in charge. Obviously, 7 points from seven games isn’t good enough for a club of Everton’s stature, and there is no surprise that dissenting voices are growing louder and louder.
Ronald Koeman has experienced plenty of success as a manager since he retired from his playing career. He won two Eredivisie’s with Ajax, and one with PSV Eindhoven during his time managing in the Netherlands, as well as the Copa del Rey (in Spain) with Valencia in 2008. He led Everton to 8th in the Premier League last season so there is no question that he is a talented manager. Koeman’s current contract runs out at the end of the 2018/19 season. To sack him with pretty much two years left on his deal would be a very expensive decision, and mistake, for Everton to make.
According to Dutch Economist Bas ter Weel, ‘changing a manager during a crisis in the season does improves results in the short term, but this is a misleading statistic because not changing the manager would be had the same result.’ He analysed the results of clubs whose manager: resigned, was sacked, and who stayed at the club in the Eredivisie over an 18 season period. The results showed that all three groups experienced a similar trend of decline and improvement in results.
If we look at the 2012/13 Premier League season, then there are two examples that spring to mind. The struggling Sunderland sacked Martin O’Neill, and replaced him the the enigmatic Paolo Di Canio, who guided them to safety. The Italian was sacked after just five games in charge the following season. The other example is Paul Lambert and Aston Villa. Villa were, like Sunderland, struggling in the league and facing a relegation battle, but they stuck with Lambert, and sure enough, they experienced a change in form and ended up finishing 15th in the league, five points above the relegation zone. Lambert stayed at Villa for another two years before leaving, showing that stability is key. Examples like Lambert’s are becoming few and far between because of the intense result based nature of modern day football.
David Sally, co-author of the ‘The Numbers Game’ said that ‘in the same way that water seeks its own level, numbers and series of numbers will move towards the average, move towards the ordinary.’ If we consider Koeman’s managerial career so far, it is clear that his ‘ordinary’ is success. With three league titles to his name and finishing 8th in the Premier League in his first season in charge of Everton, this much is clear.
All of the above evidence points to Everton keeping Koeman, as it is cheaper than sacking him. It also makes a lot of sense to retain the manager who signed a host of new faces as he wouldn’t have signed them if he didn’t want them. A new manager may not feel the same way about such players as Koeman did. This would lead to another delay in positive results, and more spending on Everton’s behalf in order to satisfy the new manager. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the stats point to an imminent resurgence in Everton’s form.
There are some other factors to consider as well:
When you consider the teams that Everton have played so far this season (Stoke City, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, AFC Bournemouth, and Burnley), 7 points doesn’t seem all to disappointing for a team who would be expecting to challenge for a top 8 finish. 3 of their 4 defeats have come at the hands of Champions League quality opponents in Chelsea, Tottenham and Man Utd. The one anomaly to this is the 1-0 loss they suffered at the hands of Burnley at Goodison Park, but, even the very best teams experience ‘shock’ defeats to lesser teams. When taking into account that Everton have already got three of their arguably toughest games of the season over with, albeit very unsuccessfully, one could argue that things are only going to get better for Koeman and his side. Of Everton’s next nine fixtures, six are against sides that either finished in the bottom half of last years Premier League, or got promoted from the Championship.
Another factor to consider in Everton’s poor start to the season is the departure of last seasons top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, to Manchester United. His 25 goals were key for Koeman’s side last season. It would be extremely difficult for Everton to find 25 goals straight away from a replacement striker. This clearly points to a dip in form as Koeman tries to find a replacement for Lukaku and his goals from somewhere. Of new attacking signings: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Davy Klaassen, Nikola Vlasic, Sandro Ramirez, and Wayne Rooney, only 2 have Premier League experience (Sigurdsson and Rooney). It would be unfair on Koeman to say that Lukaku has been replaced adequately at this moment in time. Yes, Rooney has 200 Premier League goals to his name, but to expect him to replace Lukaku like for like is unrealistic. While Rooney’s talents cannot be questioned, his goal scoring prowess has waned in recent years. Being moved back into a deeper role hasn’t helped this prowess. The last time he scored 25 or more goals in a season was in the 2011/12 campaign. Sigurdsson is not an out and out striker, and shone at Swansea City for his ability to provide assists (13 last season) as well as chipping in with goals of his own.
It is foolish to think that a host of new singings will work wonders immediately in the Premier League. Time and time again it has proved extremely difficult for proven talent from abroad to adapt instantaneously to the rigours of English football. Robinho, Andriy Shevchenko, and George Weah are just a few players who starred abroad but came to England and struggled. There is no reason to suggest that Klaassen, Vlasic, and Sandro Ramirez will become Premier League flops, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they may take some time to adapt to English football, which will have a detrimental effect on Everton’s performance, seeing that they were signed as first team players.
As a result of Lukaku leaving, England Under-20 striker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has broken into the first team. Fresh off the back of winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Summer with England, and scoring the winning goal in the final, there are very high hopes for Calvert-Lewin. There is no doubting that he has considerable talent, but it would be evocative of English football to heap unrealistic amounts of pressure on him and label him as the next big thing, when in reality he is part of an Everton team that are still developing an understanding of each others play. This means that positive results will not come straight away, but in time, as they grow an understanding of each others play and Koeman’s desires of them as footballers.
Time will heal the current issues going on at Everton. As Koeman and players alike become more used to each other then results will improve. In a sport where patience and trust is seemingly extremely difficult to find, Everton must find these virtues as they will reap the rewards of them in the future.