Switch does wonders for Koeman & club

Ronald Koeman is off to an excellent start at Goodison Park, delivering a bright change from their recent struggles under Roberto Martinez. But while he brings a structured, disciplined approach, he is not inflexible.
Ronald Koeman is off to an excellent start at Goodison Park, delivering a bright change from their recent struggles under Roberto Martinez. But while he brings a structured, disciplined approach, he is not inflexible.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Dutchman's a revelation at Everton with his top-down methods seen as effective so far

LONDON • It is odd to relate given the two clubs' respective league positions that many of Southampton's players were pleased to see the back of Ronald Koeman after his departure to Everton this summer, although that may say more about them than him.

The Dutchman's distant and detached manner had begun to grate with a group accustomed to almost perpetual change in the dug-out at St Mary's, and his farewell did not cause much anguish.

Koeman achieved outstanding results in guiding Southampton to seventh and sixth placings respectively in the English Premier League in two seasons at the club, and has started even better at Everton, where he appears to be a classic example of the right man at the right time.

The same characteristics that had begun to alienate some on the south coast have been hailed at Goodison Park as a much-needed antidote to Roberto Martinez's failed reign.

Koeman's great advantage in his new job is that he is the polar opposite of his predecessor and he has made the most of the contrast, whether by accident or design.

In terms of personality, methodology, training sessions and attitudes to discipline, the 53-year-old could not be more different from Martinez.

"Seniority and authority are his watchwords," explained one source at the club on Friday, who did not need to point out the obvious contrast with Martinez's touchy-feely regime.

Koeman has wasted little time in establishing his authority at the club. "He has an aura, a swagger about him," as one member of staff at Everton put it.

The Finch Farm training ground has been transformed, with Martinez's holiday camp replaced by a boot camp.

Koeman's first act upon taking charge was to bring forward the start of pre-season training by a week, a move that set the tone for much of what has followed.

Training takes place an hour earlier than under Martinez and discipline is more rigorously enforced, with latecomers immediately fined.

A raft of new rules and regulations have been introduced, including banning mobile phones, caps and headphones from the team coach, while strict times have been put in place for compulsory team meals.

On home match days, the players must arrive at Goodison Park at 11.30am for a 3pm kick-off and be sitting down for lunch in the players' lounge at noon.

He has also made it clear that the first team is his overwhelming priority, to the extent that academy players are not permitted to use the gym at the same time as first-teamers.

Koeman has a similar approach to training and match preparations, with only the players who can help him at that precise moment of any interest to him.

Only the 18-strong match-day squad are invited to the tactical meetings that follow lunch, with any injured or suspended players encouraged to spend time with their families.

In other circumstances some players would resent what could be seen as an authoritarian, occasionally divisive approach, but there is a sense at Everton that it has been much needed.

Several players, including Ross Barkley and the now departed John Stones, have privately admitted that they felt they were going backwards under Martinez.

The focus of the training sessions has also changed, with more time spent working on set pieces and team shape than under Martinez.

Despite his top-down approach, Koeman is not a football obsessive, and makes sure that his management team and the players have plenty of days off.

Above all, his pragmatism shines through, and his methods clearly bring results, at least in the short term - with Everton fourth in the standings after yesterday's Premier League matches.

The biggest question for Koeman is whether the initial bounce can be sustained, particularly when their fixtures become more difficult next month, when they face City and Chelsea in the space of four games.

Everton may already be wondering how long they can keep hold of Koeman, as his record of never having stayed in one job for more than four years is a cause for concern.

The test for both parties is whether an excellent impact manager can build on the strong foundations he has already laid.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Switch does wonders for Koeman & club'. Print Edition | Subscribe