Commentary

Football: Allardyce can relight fire in Everton's deflated belly

Anger fills Finch Farm and Goodison Park. Anger at the incompetence and indolence of Everton players can be found in the hearts of enraged supporters and David Unsworth, the bruised caretaker manager.

If "Fireman Sam" Allardyce is appointed manager, he needs to tear into underperforming stars, telling them that they need the commitment of the soon-to-be-sidelined Unsworth.

Anger is good in a way. Anger shows the passion still aroused by a famous club Unsworth serves so loyally.

People care deeply about Everton's fortunes. Phone-ins, social media and Liverpool Echo letters pages teem with emotional fans pouring out their feelings.

The time to worry about the future of a club is when there is radio silence, when apathy reigns.

That's not the case with Everton. Anger pervades because fans are hurting. Like Unsworth.

But his days are numbered. Farhad Moshiri's interest in Allardyce makes sense. The Harry Houdini of the relegation zone, Allardyce will drill the defence, instil some belief. He will make Everton tough to play against and probably also hard to watch.

Everton's Phil Jagielka casts a forlorn figure after their 4-1 collapse at Southampton on Sunday. Senior players have not matched the hunger shown by caretaker David Unsworth in the dugout.
Everton's Phil Jagielka casts a forlorn figure after their 4-1 collapse at Southampton on Sunday. Senior players have not matched the hunger shown by caretaker David Unsworth in the dugout. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Allardyce is more an alumnus of the school of hard knocks than the school of science but even Everton purists will not care if he keeps them up.

They are devoid of confidence, as demonstrated by the hapless 5-1 surrender to Atalanta last Thursday and then a 4-1 capitulation at Southampton on Sunday. They need the jump-leads hanging up in Allardyce's garage.

Moshiri can then return to his true love, to Watford's Marco Silva, pay Allardyce off with a big smile and a bigger cheque and build for the future.

Others are linked with Everton, such as Andre Villas-Boas and Martin O'Neill, but nobody offers the obvious buoyancy aid of Allardyce in a sea of uncertainty.

Make no mistake, Everton are in trouble. They are only two points above the line that borders pleasure and pain, a line that would cost them more than £100 million (S$179 million) if they slip below it.

They are devoid of confidence, as demonstrated by the hapless 5-1 surrender to Atalanta last Thursday and then a 4-1 capitulation at Southampton on Sunday. They need the jump-leads hanging up in Allardyce's garage.

If he does arrive at Goodison, Allardyce must embrace the club's deep connections with the past. He may want to bring in Craig Shakespeare as his No. 2, but Allardyce has to acknowledge the affinity between staff and support.

That anger emanating from Gwladys Street partly pertains to frustration that Unsworth has made mistakes, but stems primarily from players not living up to their reputations and equally hefty pay-packets.

This is why so much sympathy exists for Unsworth. Few of those on the field are displaying the hunger of those in the dugout.

It is hardly Unsworth's fault that Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are creeping past their sell-by dates, that the squad are overstocked with No. 10s, that important players such as Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie are injured, and that individuals such as Oumar Niasse reveal idiocy and get suspended.

Too few in Everton blue take responsibility for combatting the club's plight.

The heartache is felt in a dugout mainly packed with some of their own. Unsworth himself emerged through the youth team to make 350 appearances and score 40 goals in his two playing spells. Joe Royle made his debut at 16, going on to score 119 goals in 276 matches. John Ebbrell entered the Everton system aged 12 and played 265 times, scoring 19 goals.

Unlike some of the players, the coaches bleed Everton blue. Duncan Ferguson, drafted in, recorded 72 goals in 273 appearances.

Every club cherish former players and managers but the bond at Everton seems particularly strong. Unsworth readily accepted the hospital pass of tending to the team after Ronald Koeman was eased out, even though failure would tarnish a reputation built during his successful tenure of the club's under-23s, and diminish his prospects of a decent job in future.

But Unsworth did it because he dared to dream that he might deliver, and because he cared.

If and when Allardyce replaces him, Unsworth is owed huge gratitude by Everton. If only others in the Goodison dressing room shared his selfless attitude.

THE TIMES, LONDON

EVERTON V WEST HAM

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Allardyce can relight fire in Everton's deflated belly'. Print Edition | Subscribe