Is Everton managerial search on hold?
Background image: Michael Graham, CC BY-SA 2.0
Full disclosure: That is Duncan Ferguson being so kind as to pose for a selfie with me in my profile picture below. Given the man's patience and class, I can't be happier regarding the result in his managerial debut for Everton.
On Saturday afternoon, Goodison Park finally became itself again. In a not-too-distant past, the blue end of Stanley Park was a ground other Premier League clubs dreaded visiting. The old terraces lost their fear factor in recent years. Fans became muted. Managers and players failed to show the passion and love for the club for which Evertonians live. Everton arguably lost its identity.
Then, following Marco Silva's sacking, a man who played a key part in the Toffees' 1994/95 FA Cup-winning side stood in as caretaker. Big Dunc engineered and cheered on a 3-1 Everton victory over Frank Lampard’s fourth-placed Chelsea.
Ferguson’s entrance from the tunnel was announced over the tannoy to a rapturous ovation from the Goodison faithful. After the victory, the tannoy played the song that fans created for Ferguson while the caretaker manager applauded, backed by an even more enthusiastic ovation. It was all a very different atmosphere to the recent woes under Silva when the club would confirm that the Portuguese was still in charge on a match-by-match basis.
It wasn’t just the fans’ reaction which was much improved on Saturday afternoon. The team performance was almost unrecognisable from the one across Stanley Park just three days before. Everton made 19 tackles in the Merseyside Derby and averaged 19.6 across the Premier League season. They made 37 against Chelsea. That sets a new benchmark for the entire league in this campaign. It was also the most by any Everton side in a league game this decade.
Although Ferguson’s men claimed just 30% possession, they had three more shots on target than the visiting Blues. The Toffees appeared to be playing harder for their new manager than they did for Silva. Dominic Calvert-Lewin confirmed that notion when he ran over to celebrate with the boss after Everton’s third goal.
Ferguson’s own celebrations were something to behold. Like a giant, somewhat pallid Antonio Conte, he raced up and down the touchline after all three goals, picking up any ball boy in range and swinging him around like the lad was Dame Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Afterwards, he showed no regrets for wearing his heart on his sleeve.
“I would have hugged the linesman had he been there.”
His passion was shared by the fans, many of whom see no reason to persist in the search for a new manager if such results continue. David Moyes is rumoured to return until the end of the season, and although he loves the club just as much, he just doesn’t bring the same aura and a bit of enthusiasm is long overdue at Goodison.
Under parade of managers since Moyes' departure, Everton switched identities more times than James McAvoy in Split. Ferguson acknowledged as much.
“The fans wanted a bit of Everton identity and this was a bit of a free hit. It is the template, hard work, pride, passion, bleed for the club.”
Former Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac was in attendance against Chelsea, claiming it was only for leisure. A jobless manager watching a club with a managerial vacancy doesn’t exactly smack of ‘leisure’, but, asked if he was in talks for the job following that performance, you can imagine the Croatian feeling a bit like Pete Townshend imagining the prospect of having to follow Jimi Hendrix at the Monterrey Pop Festival.
For their part, Evertonians will be reluctant to lose the feeling created on Saturday afternoon, especially with a home cup quarter-final and another Merseyside Derby on the horizon.
Unlike Kovac or any of Roberto Martinez, Sam Allardyce and Marco Silva, Ferguson gets the club. He's been through it all with the fans. He was there for the ‘dogs of war’ period in which Everton narrowly avoided relegation as well as winning that FA Cup and the Charity Shield to begin the next campaign. Although he left the club for Newcastle United in 1998, he couldn’t help coming back for more from 2000-06.
Ferguson was asked about keeping the job after the game. At first, he made light of the idea but then let everyone know where his priorities laid.
I don’t know if I could go through that again. I need to get my fitness up with all that running down the touchline.
It’s not about me, it’s about Everton. If they want me to assist I definitely will. I will support every single manager. If we bring in one of the best managers in the world, what a fantastic experience it would be for me to work alongside him, but that will be down to him. I am here for as long as Everton want me to be here.
His lack of managerial experience is a concern, especially if Ferguson sees himself in more of a coaching role than one in the hot seat. The fact remains, however, that Everton have only ever won a trophy with a former player in charge.
Whatever is to happen in terms of the manager’s job at Everton, Ferguson and the fans created memories together on Saturday afternoon that will never be forgotten. It’s up to Farhad Moshiri and Marcel Brands to decide whether there are more to be made and for how long. Obviously, a great deal depends on the next few results.