Everton have done it again. The managerial merry-go-round has spun at break-neck speed at Goodison Park for almost a decade now, nauseating fans with its velocity and never-ending tailspinning towards an almost inevitable conclusion.
While these waters are from uncharted, Everton have never been so deep in them. They’re beyond the safety of shore, passed the depths of the Titanic and are quickly entering the abyssal zone, where light from the surface no longer reaches the eye.
They may not be surrounded by the scarcely believable fangtooth or viperfish, but Farhad Moshiri and Kia Joorabchian still infest these murky waters, and have proved just as scary. It may not be water pressure closing in on the hierarchy, but the fans are exerting plenty.
But, somehow, this particular manager hunt felt different, despite Everton being in the worst position they have ever been in at this stage of a Premier League season. Joint-rock bottom with Southampton, but there was hope that they could be winched to safety. By whom? Sean Mark Dyche.
During his time with Burnley, Dyche did so much of what Everton need right now. While the club were ultimately relegated in their opening season back in the top flight in 2014/15 (following an unlikely push for promotion the season prior when the Clarets were one of the favourites to be relegated to league one), he rebuilt, reinvested and went again.
They returned for 16/17 and finished six points away from danger in 16th, defeating Everton and Liverpool, drawing with Chelsea and taking a point from Old Trafford. They lost just two games by more than two goals, but crucially, they took points off the teams around them.
Burnley remained unbeaten from the six games against that season’s bottom three, hurting the clubs around them while strengthening their own bid for survival. Ten clean sheets impressed, and represents the same tally Everton have accrued in their past 53 games.
Then came the 17/18 season which, incidentally, saw Burnley and Everton move in opposite directions, as Dyche appeared to wave on the way past. Moshiri’s cheque book, which should have been the ticket to success but quickly became the root to all evil, splashed out over £150m on a mishmash of signings, while Burnley spent 30 million quid. (-£15m net!)
There were too many chefs in the Toffees’ kitchen but Dyche was cooking up something truly delicious, schooling Everton in their own backyard in October when Jeff Hendrick capped off a 24-pass move to sink the Blues and soar up to 6th in the table themselves.
Burnley were flying while Everton were scrambling around, frantically trying to find receipts. Ronald Koeman was soon fired and replaced by Sam Allardyce after the first of the now annual drawn-out managerial hunt. Dyche was supposedly considered, but Allardyce was chosen and while his steam train rocketed up the table, there was no catching the Turf Moor club.
Sat seventh at Christmas, Dyche kept the ice-cool Clarets on the straight and narrow while Everton gasped for air below board. They remained in seventh for every match day bar one from the midway point until season’s end, including a five-game winning run in the spring which completed the double over the Toffees.
If the infamous Super League had come to fruition back in 2020 and their most recent honours stripped, Dyche’s tough-tackling, hard-working, gravity-defying Clarets would have been worthy champions. A seventh place finish meant that Burnley had not only qualified for a major european competition for the first time in nearly 60 years, but they have done so more recently than Everton.
While the pattern of making it into the European places didn’t continue, a different – but still impressive – pattern did: Burnley were surviving in the Premier League, and comfortably. In 18/19, they came 15th, six points above the drop zone and didn’t so much as dip a toe into it throughout the second half of the season, before coming an even more remarkable 10th in 19/20.
They were just two points and two places behind Arsenal, while once again finishing above Everton, as well as Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa. Dyche, who by this point had a pub named after him in the town named The Royal Dyche, didn’t spend a second in the bottom three that term after spending just £20m in the summer.
The 2020/21 season was certainly tougher, as the Clarets finished 17th in the table, but they were still not in any real danger. Flirting with the bottom three ended by the 11th game of the season when they took all three points away from the Emirates, before going on to win twice as many games or more than the three sides below them, finishing eleven points clear and all after spending just £1m in the summer window.
The Clarets eventually succumbed to relegation in the 21/22 season, however, as years of neglect in the transfer market finally crept up to the board and Dyche himself. He couldn’t keep it fresh, and while Maxwel Cornet, Nathan Collins and Wout Weghorst all came in throughout the season, it was too little, too late. But it is worth remembering that Dyche was relieved of his duties in April 2022, and was not in charge when Burnley did eventually face the top flight gauntlet.
Keeping a side like Burnley comfortably afloat in the Premier League, with little to no investment, with a net spend of £60m (less than a third of what Chelsea have spent during the current transfer window at the time of writing), hasn’t received anywhere near the plaudits it deserves. Many will say he was ‘lucky’ to have a strong spine with Ben Mee, James Tarkowski and Nick Pope, but he signed two of those and turned Mee into a very serviceable Premier League defender.
Some will point to a ‘weaker’ standard in the top flight during Burnley’s time in it, with the likes of Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and laughably bad Aston Villa and Norwich sides helping to prop up the division in that time. But Dyche made his team hard to beat, something those sides struggled (or were too naive, perhaps) to do.
But the main reason why Dyche and Burnley were met with scorn and not flowers was because of the way they played the game, or at least were perceived to. “4-4-2; pretty direct football; defensive; hard-working; strong team ethic; strong feel; good culture”, was Dyche’s response when asked what people perceive his teams as in October of 2022, but why are any of those elements negative?
Yes, Dyche’s side largely played in a 4-4-2 shape in an age where the old favourite of football formations appeared to be dying out. But as the likes of Atlético Madrid and Napoli have shown down the years, there’s nothing wrong with that.
In different games, Dyche arranged a high press which allowed Burnley to put pressure on teams who preferred to have the ball, a more ‘desirable’ tactic to fans as they tried to win the ball back near the opposition’s goal. He pays meticulous attention to how his side can adapt, but also how he imagines the opposition will do the same.
In the 4-4-2 shape, Dyche liked his wingers to work hard and fire crosses into the box towards a strike partnership, but also wanted to see his wingers drift further inside to allow the full-back to overlap and pull the opposition out of shape.
They’d look to make use of their aerial dominance at both ends of the pitch, crunching the centre of the park to force teams out wide so they could head balls away for fun, while getting the ball into the opposition box to cause moments of chaos which Dyche’s men thrived in.
It’s these tweaks and intricacies which means referring to Dyche’s Burnley as a ‘hoof ball’ team in the whole is unfair, and doesn’t pay respect to the man himself. Yes, some of the football Burnley played in the Premier League was very hard to watch, and it didn’t always work.
But it was effective enough to keep a team in the league that would never have reached the promised land without him, never mind compete in it so comfortably for so long. I also can’t recall the last time an Everton team was especially dominant in one area of the pitch, and you’d need to go back to Roberto Martínez’ days for the most recent showing of a true ‘style’ shining through.
The rest is just what Everton need; for too long, each team which has rolled out of Goodison has flattered to deceive, with no manager there long enough to leave a lasting impression since the David Moyes days. But the pair share more in common than perhaps what meets the eye.
Not without his faults, the Scot gave Everton an identity, bought players in for who they were and not just what they could do on a football pitch. Deadwood was shifted out and replaced with a cluster of gems in the transfer market.
Joleon Lescott, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Sylvain Distin, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman, among many others, helped form a side who could compete with the best in all the land on a relative shoestring budget.
So many of those players brought heaps of quality, but they all worked hard for the shirt and gave their all for Everton. To call them work horses would be unkind and disrespectful to their talent, but that hybrid of player has become all too rare at Goodison.
It’s the same type of talent identification that Sean Dyche implemented at Turf Moor. The likes of Jack Cork, Josh Brownhill, Scott Arfield and Ashley Barnes, to name a few, all worked hard but could all play football too. Maybe not pretty football, but Dyche lent on their time in the lower leagues or their backgrounds to form a strong team ethic.
Much like Moyes, the 51-year-old improved players and sold them for large profits. Michael Keane, Dwight McNeil, Nathan Collins, Nick Pope, Chris Wood, Tom Heaton and Andre Gray all moved on for more than £8m profit in his time, while plenty of others proved to be more than value for money, even if they didn’t leave for more than they signed. They became almost self-sustainable, largely thanks to Dyche’s powers of improvement.
Moyes also added flare when he could, as Pienaar, Arteta, Landon Donovan, Kevin Mirallas and Manuel Fernandes, for example, brought something different to the Toffees, and helped make a side who could be easy on the eye and play effective football. Albeit that was less common at Turf Moor, but Cornet, Steven Defour, Michael Kightly and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, tried to change the discourse.
Do Everton want another period like the David Moyes days? Not in some respects. But do they need to regain an identity, instil a better culture and become the hard-to-beat side that nobody wanted to play against? One hundred per cent.
Going into a new stadium, the Toffees need to be a stable Premier League club, and not one who flirt with the bottom. In Dyche, they haven’t employed a relegation dog-fighting expert, they’ve brought one in who, more often than not, totally avoids them altogether, and has shown enough during his managerial career to date to think he could be so much more than that.
For a change, it seems the Everton hierarchy have made the right call – better late than never.
By: James Pendleton / @Jpends_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Gill – Danehouse / Getty Images