Heart Of Football

Christmas tree just one reason Koeman is red-faced

Ronald Koeman swiftly addressed the error of his ways as the manager of Everton.

During the week, he posted on Twitter a picture of his Christmas tree at home, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. It was decorated with predominantly red baubles.

The Everton manager does not get away with that in the city of Liverpool.

Very quickly the Koemans had changed their decor to white and cream. "Better colour?" the manager asked.

He is being criticised because of Everton's form (one win in eight league games), because of their ageing back line, because he is cautious in not promoting young players who are doing well in the reserves.

And ahead of the Manchester United game at Goodison Park this afternoon, Koeman was put on the spot by the media.

Because of the poor run? Not really, United's form is barely any better with one win in seven, and manager Jose Mourinho is collecting as many touchline bans as his players (including captain and ex-Evertonian Wayne Rooney) have accrued suspensions for repeated indiscipline.

No. The opening questions at Koeman's press conference on Friday were about THAT tree.

"A big mistake of my wife," he said. "Put her under pressure!"

Koeman isn't getting time, in the minds of many Evertonians. It is not the Christmas tree... It is the doubt in the minds of the fans that they will ever see their team rise out of the shadows of teams wearing red - United, Arsenal and, say it quietly, Liverpool FC.

The blue eyes sparkled. "Look," Koeman continued. "I understand the fanatic(ism) of the blue people. And of course, I am the manager of Everton. I am a blue man, but I do like a glass of red wine."

The tree decoration was easily changed. As Koeman pointed out, there are serious things in life, like the tragedy of the Brazilian team Chapecoense.

And yet, as day turns to dusk in Liverpool this evening, Koeman and Mourinho will know that their reputations are on the line. Each man is six months into his latest career change. Mourinho was heading for the sack at Chelsea this time last year, and Koeman was cruising along, taking Southampton into Europe.

Mourinho has since broken the world record to buy Paul Pogba, among others, for a United that, nevertheless, has made its poorest start in the Premier League era.

United paid £89 million (S$160 million) for Pogba. When wages, and the cut for the player's agent, are added, that's well over £200 million for one player alone. After 13 league games, plus the Cup competitions, no one is convinced that Mourinho knows his best line-up, or Pogba's best role.

But United cannot go on seasonally sacking their manager, so the questions as to whether Mourinho is past his best, or whether he knows what, how, when and where to make Man United great again will be given time.

Koeman isn't getting time, in the minds of many Evertonians.

It is not the Christmas tree, although believe me, the hue and cry over that was as serious as it was verbose. It is the doubt in the minds of the fans that they will ever see their team rise out of the shadows of teams wearing red - United, Arsenal and, say it quietly, Liverpool FC.

Now, there is nothing between United and Everton. They started the weekend sixth and seventh in the Premier League - a long way from where they want to be.

Everton, once the "School of Science" in terms of youth production and playing style, have had many false dawns since 1963, the last time the blue team on Merseyside won the league.

What fine players they did produce in the interim, they had no choice but to sell. Rooney to United for £25.6 million, the highest price put on a teenager, happened in 2004. And, though Mourinho has had doubts about him and Rooney is banned for today's game, he is now just a goal away from Bobby Charlton's all-time United record of 249 goals.

It will come, but not today and probably not at Goodison where Rooney said he was once a blue, forever a blue.

Who now is anywhere close to being an Evertonian hero?

The manager Koeman, and the new owner Farhad Moshiri (a former Arsenal director), are on the first leg of their mission to restore Everton.

Koeman inherited from Roberto Martinez perhaps two players capable of growing into legends. Romelu Lukaku, formerly of Chelsea, is 23, and Ross Barkley, Everton born and bred, turns 23 tomorrow.

The Belgian Lukaku looks world-class on his day. Big, explosive, powerful in the air or on the ground, he doesn't have as many good days as critics believe he should.

Jamie Carragher, a Liverpudlian Red, lambasted Lukaku this weekend as a lazy so-and-so who needs to give more.

In the modern way, Carragher used statistics to make his case. Apparently Lukaku is running only 5.4 miles (or 8.7 km) per 90 minutes - compared to Roberto Firmino (Liverpool, 11.4 km), Diego Costa (Chelsea, 10km), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal, 9.5km) and Sergio Aguero (Manchester City, 9.8km).

And in terms of high-intensity sprints, essential in the modern game, Lukaku is almost 500 sprints down on Firmino over the season.

The comparison hurts because Liverpool, despite the loss of playmaker Philippe Coutinho, are challenging for the title. Everton are far from it.

Koeman's answer to that is give him time. Give him, say, two more transfer windows, the January and next August window, to buy key players.

By then, we may know the outcome of the manager's "tough love" towards the playmaker he inherited, Barkley.

Koeman has tried publicly criticising Barkley, dropping him, coaxing him. Whether Barkley has that ingredient of hunger - which was so apparent in Rooney - still remains a vexing question for the Dutchman .

The one new signing who has impressed has been Idrissa Gueye, the Senegal midfielder bought from Aston Villa.

Koeman's defence is creaking. Every man there is past 32, and as much as Evertonians have loved left-back Leighton Baines for 10 seasons, the urgency for younger blood is pressing.

Everyone expects Koeman to go back to Southampton to sign the big Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk in January. There might be competition for the centre-back, maybe even from the Manchesters.

Nailing your colours to the treetop takes time, money, or the sheer impudence of another team in blue, Leicester City.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 04, 2016, with the headline 'Christmas tree just one reason Koeman is red-faced'. Print Edition | Subscribe