Norwich City

Norwich City 2 Everton 1


The plan is to write this first bit before the game then cover ‘the action’ further down.

The Canaries have been absolutely abysmal this season but still, it’s an indicator of just how poorly Everton have been playing that you imagine that Dean Smith, Delia Smith, and their whole fanbase must be considering this a game a ‘must win’ if they are to stand even the faintest glimmer of hope of survival.

Are this Everton capable of making an absolute balls of it? Oh you can bet your life on it they can.

Weird is the new normal at Goodison Park now – the mainstream media seem to have almost accepted that we operate in our own sphere of off-kilter decisions and weird internal culture wars and just let us get on with it. ‘Oh that’s just Everton, ignore them, no one has a clue what the fuck they want. What’s happening at United and Spurs?’

What seems to be overlooked slightly when the wider press comment on Rafael Benitez and his relationship with the Everton supporters is that on the current form an extremely popular manager would be under massive pressure, never mind one who comes with the Spaniard’s baggage.

Baggage that he’s left the Istanbul tags on, probably. Right, kids?

For some, his association with t’other lot is enough in itself. For most of the rest it will more likely be the stick they beat him with when things are going badly on the pitch.

Benitez and Moshiri must have known that though. Right from the start. Everton managers do not get a lot of leeway at the best of times. Benitez will get even less.

You can’t help wonder then, what was the dream that Benitez sold the ‘Iranian-born billionaire’ in order to get appointed in the first place and then oversee such immediate, seismic changes? 

It must have been impressive.

Monorail!

He was the hardest of hard choices but Moshiri must have been convinced that the long-term gain would be worth the inevitable pain. 

Clearly one huge advantage Benitez had when doing his Powerpoint presentation (is Powerpoint even a thing any more?), is that the bar was already set so low. There could be no rational defence of the status quo at Everton.

Moshiri appears to have been so invigorated by Benitez and bowled over by this new vision that he made a decision that could shape the future of the club for years to come. From the outside at least, when he got rid of Marcel Brands, he appeared to put long-term, strategic decision-making in the hands of someone who will be judged by short-term results on the field. And who many fans think is a cunt.

The whole idea of the ‘continental director of football model’ is meant to be football’s separation of church and State, but overnight we seem to have turned our back on that whole notion. And in what was already a high stakes game, well, the stakes got even higher. 

You have to hand it to Benitez, like, if he’s told the board he’s going to be an agent of change he’s been as good as his word and not hung about. The departure of Lucas Digne is the clearest example of that.

The former Valencia boss seems determined to prove that he can still cause trouble in an empty house, and so we ended up going through this whole fucking charade. Christ, it was tiresome back when we did it with Don Hutchison, never mind now when most football fans are savvy – or cynical – enough to understand the real motivations of players, clubs and agents. Surely it’s only kids and Kopites who believe in ‘loving the club’ and for anyone doing anything for any reason other than money.

Digne was on great dough and his contract situation meant he commanded a decent fee. All the rest about his personal stats and training ground fallouts – grow up. Everton got him off the wage bill and bought two new fullbacks, Digne got a signing-on fee and a pay rise at Villa, his agent got his cut. 

They’re all made up. Crack on.

Well then, that escalated quickly.

There’s nothing to be gained by covering the actual game. The scoreline tells you almost everything you need to know. Apart from the fact that despite having a number of the better players available for selection, Salomon Rondon started up front with Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

It would be intriguing to get an idea of how Benitez envisaged the match panning out for the voluminous Venezuelan. Because everyone else knew. You can’t even label Rondon as slow, because that would indicate movement of some description. Even if Richarlison – the substitute who scored a tremendous overhead consolation – wasn’t fit enough to start, then just an extra midfielder, Andros Townsend for instance, would have contributed more. 

There have been some head-scratching team selections in recent weeks – lineups more lopsided than Antony Gordon’s fringe – but that one takes the biscuit.

Something, something and then Rondon ate it.

The upshot then is that Benitez has all but been given the bullet, only six months after being appointed. And the powers that be do not have a single clue about how they are going to permanently replace him. 

You would assume that initially it will be with Duncan Ferguson until the end of the season. We need to start winning matches to move away from the relegation zone, and with Goodison onside that’s eminently achievable. The board will remember that Chelsea game and want to rekindle a bit of that fire. Whether that’s then sustainable for any length of time is another matter, but for now just getting a handful of points will be enough to ensure survival.

In the longer term, God only knows. 

A lot of the things Benitez said were correct. We are dealing with five years – at least – of terrible recruitment. And from the outside looking in it does appear like the club’s been providing a cosy existence for a lot of people at all levels. It also looks like it does need one hard-faced, tunnel visioned bastard in charge to make the unpopular decisions, rebuild the squad and, as Roy Keane indicated on Sky, the whole ‘culture’.

It just wasn’t Benitez.

Look on the bright side though, at least we found out that we don’t actually want serial contenders Ralf Rangnick and Nuno Espirito Santo, but without giving them multi-million pound payouts.

So let’s start the dance again.

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