13th May 2016. By Ryan Baldi
Upon his appointment as Everton manager in the summer of 2013, Roberto MartÃnez brought hope of a new era at Goodison Park. An era of free-flowing, attacking football. David Moyes had departed to join Manchester United, and MartÃnez was ready to throw out his predecessor's defence-first manual, in favour of expression and entertainment.
And maybe even some silverware. MartÃnez had, after all, guided relegated Wigan Athletic to an unlikely FA Cup triumph the previous season. Could an end to the Toffees' trophy drought be on the horizon?
Not quite. Having finished fifth in the Premier League on an impressive 72 points after his first season in charge, Everton regressed to eleventh last term, accumulating only 47 points. This season has been no better, and the powers that be have decided to part ways with the Spanish tactician.
Everton fans had grown progressively frustrated with their side's underachievement despite having, in many people's view, their strongest team in decades. This Everton team is bursting with an enviable array of young talent: from the sought-after England defender John Stones, to £28 million striker Romelu Lukaku, from home-grown hero Ross Barkley to FC Barcelona academy graduate Gerard Deulofeu.
In addition to the young stars, Everton also have their share of experienced heads in England internationals Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Gareth Barry. There is no reason why this group of players should be struggling to challenge for European qualification, yet they seem unlikely to break into the top half of the Premier League table.
Despite a cast of perfectly capable, international-level defenders, MartÃnez was unable to co-ordinate an effective defensive unit. A sub-par defensive record (55 league goals conceded from 37 games at time of writing) is chief amongst the gripes of spectators at Goodison Park. Abject and disorganised rear-guard displays, like the embarrassing 4-0 defeat to arch rivals Liverpool at Anfield in April, have become all too common.
And in his attempts to present a defiant public front, MartÃnez served only to further infuriate fans. The former Swansea manager fooled nobody when asserting his "incredible, incredible satisfaction" after a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. The Spaniard has been branded delusional for his overuse of the word "phenomenal" when describing average performances.
So it would seem that pressure has grown to the point that the Everton hierarchy cannot ignore the clamour for managerial change. With heavy investment in the squad expected this summer, thanks to Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri taking a 49.9 per cent stake in the club, Everton now want to bring in a new man to take them forward.
Of the myriad potential candidates who'd jump at the chance to take over the newly cash-rich Merseysiders, who should the Everton board put their faith in? Any one of the following three managers would represent an astute choice.
Frank de Boer
Former Ajax boss Frank de Boer left his position at the Amsterdam Arena this week, and he has been the name most strongly linked with taking the Goodison Park hot-seat. The 46-year-old former Barcelona player stepped up from his position as youth team coach to take the top job at Ajax in December 2010, following the resignation of former Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol. De Boer's impact was immediately felt as he guided a youthful side to a 2-0 victory away to AC Milan in the Champions League.
De Boer led Ajax to claim the Eredivisie championship at the end of the 2010/11 season. In retaining the title over the following three seasons, de Boer became the first coach in the club's history to win the Eredivisie four times in a row.
The last two seasons haven't been quite as successful, having finished runners-up to Phillip Cocu's PSV Ajax were leading this season's title race only to be pipped at the post on the final day but de Boer's reputation as one of the continent's most promising young coaches remains intact.
Schooled in the famous Amsterdam club's history of attacking, possession-based football, De Boer's philosophy will not differ drastically from that of MartÃnez. However, the Dutchman has managed to find a healthy balance between solidity and fluidity. De Boer has also had success in developing young players, having nurtured Daley Blind and Christian Eriksen before their moves to the Premier League, and rebuilding his side around the likes of 19-year-old Riechedly Bazoer and 21-year-old Anwar El Ghazi. There is a proliferation of talented youngsters at Goodison Park, and De Boer's track record suggests he would be more than able to help them blossom.
The biggest caveat that arises when discussing De Boer's credentials, is his failure to help Ajax progress in European competition: in five-and-a-half seasons with the club, the former Netherlands international has been unable to take his side beyond the group stages of the Champions League. But with no European football on the horizon, this would not be of major concern to Everton.
Despite being only 38 years old, AndrÃ© Villa-Boas has wealth of top-flight managerial experience for his relatively young age. A league, cup and UEFA Europa League treble with FC Porto in 2011 brought the young Portuguese coach to prominence on the continental stage in his first and only season in charge at the club. Villas-Boas was snapped up by Chelsea in the summer of 2011, seen as the perfect man to replace Carlo Ancelotti, and revitalise a team that had finished the previous season trophyless. But the former Porto coach was sacked after only 9 months in charge at Stamford Bridge with the club adrift in the title race and underperforming in the Champions League.
Villas-Boas was then given another shot at Premier League management by Tottenham Hotspur. His time at White Hart Lane was again short-lived, but hind-sight reflects more kindly on Villa-Boas's Spurs reign. When the Portugese was relieved of his duties in December 2013, after 17 months in charge, he left with the highest league win percentage of any Tottenham manager in the Premier League era. He also finished his first season in north London on a club record 72 points. At the time this was only good enough for fifth place, but to give some perspective, the much lauded Mauricio Pochetinno's current Spurs team sit second in the table on 70 points, with one game remaining at time of writing. But Villas-Boas's copy-book had been blotted by unacceptable 6-0 and 5-0 defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, and chairman Daniel Levy decided a change was in order.
Villas-Boas then moved on to Zenit Saint Petersburg, where he won the Russian Premier League last season, and although he is unlikely to retain the title this year, he has added the Russian Cup to his list of honours. The Portuguese is set to leave Russia this summer to return to his homeland for family reasons, but one more crack at the Premier League with Everton could well tempt him.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe could represent the perfect long-term option for Everton. Howe has done a remarkable job with the Cherries since returning to the club in 2012 after a short spell in charge of Burnley. In the four years since his return, Bournemouth have risen from League One to the Premier League. Many tipped Bournemouth to be relegated following their promotion to the top flight last season, but Howe has steered his team to the relative tranquillity of mid-table, comfortably clear of the drop zone.
All of this has been achieved on a shoe-string budget in comparison to the majority of Premier League clubs. Howe has built a side that not only gets results, but does so in style; Bournemouth earned plaudits during their Championship winning season for their eye-catching passing style.
Howe, despite growing up with Watford as his closest club geographically, is a boyhood Everton supporter. Add this to his CV of sustained long-term development with Bournmouth, and the 38-year-old former England under-21 international may represent the perfect option for the Toffees, as they search for the right man to replace MartÃnez this summer.
Three suggestions for the next Everton manager
13th May 2016. By Ryan Baldi