Heart Of Football

Madness reflects rage that's festering at Goodison

The latest image of football violence is not what Everton or anyone in English football can condone.

The ground of Everton, the blue half of Merseyside that prides itself on being the equal of Liverpool through applied science and common sense, was the scene of insanity on Thursday night.

The team were led by Ashley Williams who knocked the Lyon goalkeeper to the ground with a body check that was late, ugly and irresponsible. In the mayhem that followed, a fan in the crowd waded forward, his infant son, sucking a dummy, was cradled in the father's left arm.

The dad, wearing an Evertonian tracksuit, lashed out twice with his right fist towards the face of goalkeeper Anthony Lopes.

The players, and certainly the father of the child, are maybe the ones who should be sucking dummies.

Everton announced that the mad fan will be banned from attending games. The police and Uefa may not leave it at that.

Williams, who had often seemed to me to be one of the more cerebral defenders in the game, excused himself with the explanation: "It's what happens, it's football. It is what it is. It's high emotions. We want to win the game, they want to win the game and stuff happens."

Koeman's frustration is clear to see. It feeds into the players like a bout of neurosis. The team lack purpose and positivity, which were core strengths of why Everton coveted the Dutchman enough to buy him out of Southampton in the first place.

He should have been sent off, and he knows it.

Ronald Koeman, his manager, blames the referee.

"I didn't see exactly what happened," the Dutchman said, "but I can understand it. The irritation grew because the referee didn't do anything about the theatre of their team."

Koeman accused the French team's attacker Nabil Fekir of diving 10 times, and accused the Dutch referee of failing 10 times to stop the cheating.

This evening and night, four English teams will be on your TV screens. The physical nature of the Premier League, the intense pressure on the managers and therefore driving the players, will be part of the attraction.

Of the four - Everton's Koeman v Arsenal's Arsene Wenger at Goodison Park, and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino v Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp at Wembley Stadium - only Pochettino will be under no extreme pressure for his team to prove themselves manly and mean.

Coincidentally, of the four, the Argentinian is the one who builds a side predominantly from English stock. His line-up is led from the front by Harry Kane, assisted by Dele Alli.

Yes, they are blended with the Danish flair of Christian Eriksen. Yes, the sheer running power of the South Korean Son Heung Min supplements them.

And for argument's sake, it must be stated that Alli treads a thin line between petulant ill behaviour and diving that could rival Fekir for the dummy award of the week.

However, for the most part, Pochettino earns his spurs with a disciplined and diligent approach to football.

And without too much spending when compared to today's other three contestants.

In part, Everton's inflamed tempers have grown from the sudden infusion of wealth from Farhad Moshiri, who owns 49.9 per cent of the Everton shares.

The British-Iranian businessman will be on edge when Everton play Arsenal today. He sold his stake in Arsenal to purchase control of Everton in February 2016.

He was - and is - the financial power that Everton had lacked while others such as Liverpool, Arsenal and the Manchesters, spent, spent, spent what Everton could not afford.

Four months after the takeover, Everton sacked Roberto Martinez and replaced him with Koeman. They were buying, or believed they were buying, Koeman's steel, and the ability he had shown at Southampton in buying players judiciously.

During the second summer of Koeman's reign at Goodison, the transfer turnover went into overdrive. There was no single player on the scale of the purchases made at Manchester City, United, Chelsea or Paris St-Germain.

But there was a wholesale in-out, shake-it-all-about turnover. By my count, nine players came in and 19 went out at a cost of something approaching the €222 million (S$356 million) that PSG paid to Barcelona for Neymar.

Such turnover in one transfer window obviously takes what modern football least affords, time to gel.

Bringing in Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaessen, Sandro Ramirez, and bringing back Wayne Rooney does not replace the striking power that Romelu Lukaku was worth to Everton.

Or has not done so in the first few months since Lukaku's departure for Manchester United.

There, in a singular aspect regarding a goal-scorer who made it plain to Everton midway through last season that he wanted out, is Koeman's dilemma.

The other glaring failing in his squad is the lack of incisive players who create opportunities from the wings. The critics on Merseyside say that Koeman's redrafting has stuffed Everton with "No. 10s" and failed to address the position that is the end product of any team's attack. The goal-scorer.

His frustration is clear to see. It feeds into the players like a bout of neurosis. The team lack purpose and positivity, which were core strengths of why Everton coveted Koeman enough to buy him out of Southampton in the first place.

One cannot imagine that all the new recruits, and the ones who stayed including the rising youngsters from Everton's academy, drew much purpose from the stories some months ago that Koeman himself has a higher ambition.

He crowned his own playing days with a thundering free kick that won the 1992 Champions League final for Barcelona against Sampdoria, at Wembley.

That power, that shot, enshrined Koeman, the big Dutch defender, in Barca history. Towards the end of last season, when Barcelona were considering the options for their new head coach, Koeman said publicly that he hoped, one day, to manage the club of his dreams.

He still has a family home in Barcelona, still covets living and working there.

Fair enough. We all have aspirations to be the best, to work with the best. On Merseyside, where the quest is to be the best between two clubs, there are some who regard that as infidelity.

There is a rage that boils at Goodison. A rage, and an immaturity that manifested itself in the unacceptable behaviour on and off the pitch on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Madness reflects rage that's festering at Goodison'. Print Edition | Subscribe