Life comes at you fast, and in Ronald Koeman’s case quicker than one of his freight train-like free-kicks he used to leather during his playing days with Barcelona and the Netherlands.
In early May, as a positive season wound down with Everton comfortably planted in seventh in the Premier League, Koeman was confident enough to reveal his ambition to coach the Blaugrana.
His honesty is refreshing in a world of rebuttals, denials and outright lies but it revealed a certain assurance of his own abilities, given it was said in the context of Luis Enrique announcing his intentions to step down at Barca.
That self-confidence is nothing to be sneered at, considering it’s probably a necessity for any manager but, unfortunately those comments are beginning to look drastically misplaced.
Because when the Premier League resumes after the international break, Koeman will be feeling fortunate to be in a job full stop, let alone dreaming of a triumphant return to the Camp Nou.
An awful start to the season has seen the Toffees win just two of their seven Premier League games and struggle to a draw and a defeat in the Europa League against Atalanta and Apollon Limassol.
A mini-crisis, even if we are less than 20 per cent into the season, but against the £149 million (Dh726m) spent on transfers in the summer, the pressure has been heightened even further.
Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to Burnley was the latest confirmation of his struggles. An extremely taxing start to the season gave the Dutchman some breathing space but a 2-1 win over Bournemouth and defeat to the Clarets has significantly reduced any such respite.
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) October 1, 2017
Koeman is widely considered the next favourite for the axe in the Premier League after a summer in which money was spent and expectation was raised.
Except, within the nine figures released by majority stakeholder Farhad Moshiri, lies an eternal contradiction in football. On the one hand, spending so much means you should improve as a team, almost instantly in some people’s eyes. But when introducing so many new faces, it takes time to blend them into the squad and team. Koeman has been provided little of the latter against overly excessive demands of the former.
Sunday’s starting XI contained four new signings, plus Oumar Niasse, his sixth Premier League start in two-and-half seasons, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin who has just 17 top-flight appearances to his name. Further new additions emerged off the bench in Wayne Rooney, Sandro Ramirez and 19-year-old Tom Davies.
It’s no surprise such a discordant display ensued.
Maybe it’s an indictment of Koeman’s coaching abilities that he can’t draw a performance out of that team, or maybe, just maybe, it’s far too early to judge.
Added to this is the departure of Romelu Lukaku. The £75m certainly helped provide Moshiri with greater insurance against his summer outlay, but on the field it’s had a considerable impact.
Everton have scored just four Premier League goals – five fewer than Lukaku at Manchester United. Little wonder when no obvious replacement was signed for the Belgian, but why isn’t any kind of finger being pointed at Director of Football Steve Walsh?
Koeman has a degree of control over transfers but the entire point of having a master market strategist like Walsh is to ensure a seamless transition in the squad. Everton were well aware of Lukaku’s intentions to leave for a long time, yet have entrusted Sandro, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin and, by accident, Niasse to make up the difference.
Perception can be everything and while Moshiri’s demands are undoubtedly high as he looks to back up his talk of turning Everton into a consistent Champions League club, somewhere along the lines expectation among supporters, media and former players, has been raised beyond the realistic.
The mere act of spending £149m plus the romance of Rooney resulted in bizarre giddiness over what could be achieved, while ignoring the faults that remained: a lack of pace in an ageing defence, a log-jam in attacking midfield, precious width and that Lukaku-sized hole up front.
Everton’s squad is nowhere near the quality of depth of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, let alone the Manchester clubs. Years of minimal investment emphasises that. Ambition should exist but needs to be tempered with realism.
Moshiri, to his credit, delivered a vote of confidence on Monday – naturally prefixed with the tried-and-tested “dreaded” – but key was his line, “these are early days”.
Koeman, thankfully, has some time then to correct a horrible start, for him and for Everton. Perhaps if he does, Barcelona may take notice.
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