The consequences of not finding a suitable long-term managerial replacement for Ronald Koeman are many and varied for Everton at the moment. From impacting player motivation to making long-term planning much more difficult, it’s clear that one needs to be found soon. Even if that means announcing David Unsworth is in the job at least until the end of the season.
Since Koeman was sacked, Everton have slipped further into relegation trouble – although they have plenty of time to get out of it and a squad which is far too good to be so far down the table – and they have been eliminated from the Europa League with two games of the group stages left to spare.
If there’s to be a blessing for the Toffees at the moment, though, then it’s surely that one fact: having no European commitments for the rest of the season is clearly helpful at this point. Right now, damage limitation and a good second half of the season surely has to be the aim. Whatever dreams they might have had at the start of the season about competing on many fronts are surely over. Maybe the FA Cup is the only pillar of redemption left for what could turn out to be a long old season ahead.
And yet, there are still two meaningless Europa League games left to play, against Atalanta and Apollon Limassol. Two sides who probably know their fate is already sealed: only a win for the unfancied Cypriot side against Lyon will keep the group alive. Barring that, everyone knows what’s coming next.
That unappetising scenario is perhaps useful for Everton. It might be a stretch to hope that victories in these games will kick-start the season, but the lure of blooding youngsters will be very hard to resist for Evertonians – especially when the man currently in charge of the team is the former coach of the U23 team. No fewer than five of the England team who won the U20 World Cup in the summer were Everton players, and one competed in the successful U17 World Cup team this autumn, too.
That makes the Goodison Park outfit one of the foremost footballing academies in the country, and if the main problem for most of those English champions is first team minutes, then the fact that there are two pressureless games coming up for a team who are already out of European competition might be the perfect opportunity for a coach who knows those players well to rectify that particular problem.
Now, no one could argue that two games constitutes regular first team football. Less still could you describe what may well be considered friendlies against Atalanta and Apollon as important games in which to give young players a real taste of what’s to come for them later in their careers, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Indeed, it’s a chance for someone to burst through with a couple of good performances and opportunity to impress a manager who might be more open than a permanent boss to actually playing him in the Premier League.
The issue around youth development in England is a complex one, but at its root, young players don’t get the chance for a very simple reason: there’s too much pressure on managers to get results, and they can’t rely on inexperienced starters to deliver them. If Unsworth were given the job permanently, he too might feel like he can’t take a chance, but given he’s not, there’s a real opportunity to take the pressure off and allow Everton the chance to see some of their younger players in action over the next two European games, and perhaps even beyond.
With an already-unbalanced squad that is currently underperforming, you sense that there’s a real chance for a fresh face to come in – especially up front, where Oumar Niasse, who’s been starting, isn’t registered for European competition – and make a name for himself.
Finding a bright spot at Goodison Park this season is hard, but there could be a chance to try to plan for the future. And that could well be the biggest success for Everton in this season that could very soon turn into a write-off.