An Open Letter to Roberto

Subject: An Open Letter to Roberto
From: Steve Stobie
Date: 9 Mar 2015

Dear Roberto,

My name is Steve Stobie and I warrant that you will not have heard of me, and unfortunately, I have to say that I am not a regular visitor to Goodison Park either. With a family of three children, all 7 years and under, and living down here in beautiful Berkshire, a trip up to the mighty Goodison Park is not on my radar at the current point in time. However, I have supported Everton since 1985 and have therefore seen some of the best teams in Everton Blue, including players the likes of Southall, Ratcliffe, Reid, Bracewell, Sheedy, Steven, Heath and Sharp, and also some of the worst, especially throughout my school years, with players such as Tiler, Ward, Thompson, Farrelly and Angell gracing the team. But there were always heroes as well, Hinchcliffe, Ebbrell, Kanchelskis and Ferguson to name just a few.

Anyway, I digress. I am writing to you to express my deepest dissatisfaction with the way that you are currently managing my team, and sending them towards relegation from the Premier League, which is something that I cannot even believe I am writing at the current point in time.

For the last ten years, we have been a team that has always been knocking on the door of the monied elite in the Premier League. Your predecessor, David Moyes, very nearly had us breaking the so-called 'glass ceiling' on a fairly regular basis – in fact once, he even broke it and we made it into the 'Holy Grail' (not that I would deem finishing 4th in the Premier League to be an amazing achievement, but in today's crazy age of money laden football clubs, getting the opportunity to play against the 'best of the rest' in Europe and all the money that comes with playing in the Champions League, has to be given some level of credence) of the top 4 of the Premier League, and actually qualified for the early stages of the Champions League. (I do wonder how he managed to do it however with players the likes of Pembridge, Kilbane and Bent in the team, but do it he did.) And we are one of only two different teams, outside of the normal candidates to have qualified for the Champions league over the past ten years or so, Spurs being the only other team to have crashed the party in the same period. Since then, however, we have always been knocking on the door of the top end of the Premier League, always there or thereabouts, but never quite breaking through.

I have to say – and please don't be too offended by this – I was mildly underwhelmed with your appointment as our manager, having relegated the team that you had managed in the Premier League previously, although to your credit, you did win the FA Cup with the same team that you got relegated! But, I have to hold my hands up and say that you surprised me throughout your first season in charge.

For the majority of the season, you had us playing some of the most exciting football that we have seen as Everton fans for a long time. Certainly the only time we had got close to it in the recent past was when we had a midfield of Arteta, Pienaar and Osman playing intricate passing patterns and switching positions all over the pitch, with Yakubu firing in the goals to finish off the numerous chances that were created during that 2007 season, I believe it was.

As a result of this new and exciting brand of football, which included: swashbuckling performances week in and week out from our two full-backs, Seamus and Leighton; a solid central midfield partnership with seemingly a great balance between experience and enthusiasm, in Barry and McCarthy; an exciting young prospect whom you had finally given the chance he deserved, in Barkley; and all spearheaded by a rampant Romelu Lukaku, whom at just twenty years old was scaring the bejesus out of defenders all over the country; you achieved the highest points total that Everton have ever accumulated within the Premier League, and you had created an expectation, unrealistic expectation maybe, but still an expectation, amongst us Everton fans that we were going to win every game that we played in, and if not win, we were certainly going to put up a decent fight and make the opposition work damn hard to get any sort of a result out of us.

Things did begin to unravel a bit towards the end of last season however, notably with weak performances against Southampton away and Crystal Palace at home, which ultimately ended our challenge for the Champions League places. Questions were beginning to be asked by the fans like: Why did he leave Barry on the pitch for the entire Southampton match when it was obvious he was knackered from the off; I do like this new brand of football, but sometimes we do hang onto it at the back a bit too much, why don’t we get it forward to Barkley and Lukaku a bit quicker? So questions were already being raised at the end of your first season in charge, but I do believe that after that first season, optimism was the general feeling around Everton Football Club.

Then, this season began, after what can only be described as a shambles of a ‘Pre-season’ including defeats to the likes of those mighty giants of German Football: FC Paderborn, and although I appreciate Pre-season is all about fitness more than anything else, winning football games breeds confidence, and much as your first season ended successfully, in recent Everton terms anyway, with the way it petered out at the end, a successful pre-season would have put to bed the little mutterings of discontent, that were beginning to rumble around Goodison Park.

Fast forward to today and little has happened this season to suggest that last season was anything but a fluke, especially when you consider your previous years experience in the Premier League with Wigan. I believe in fact that a great deal of credit for your first season has to go to your predecessor for the high level of discipline, intensity in training (as divulged in Ossie’s book), and meticulous eye for defending, that carried over into the beginning of that season. This enabled you to implement your style with the rest of the team, and as a result of having that solid base, we won the majority of games that we competed in, with what seemed to be the prefect blend of defensive acumen and attacking flamboyance, led by the two most attacking fullbacks in the game in Seamus and Leighton, and two of the most exciting youngsters in the game, in Barkley and Lukaku.

Today, now that your style has been fully implemented across the team as a whole, everything seems to have fallen apart and what seemed to be creeping in at the end of your first season in charge, whatever it was, has now gripped the team in its entirety, every time that they play. There are no more swashbuckling runs from our fullbacks with our two defensive midfielders seamlessly filling the gaps when they charge forward; there is no more defensive solidarity, with clean sheets being the norm; there is no creativity from the centre of the park, with Ross Barkley being a shadow of the player he was last season; and there is no more Lukaku bullying defenders across the country, instead we have a player, who most of the time seems like he doesn’t even want to be on the pitch. As a result of this, we have a team with no confidence which currently doesn’t look like it could win any of our remaining games between now and the end of the season.

What I want to know, is how in the space of less than a season you have been able to turn a team who have been perennially knocking on the door of the top 4, into a team that is now embroiled in the midst of a relegation battle?, and believe me, that is where we are, in the midst of a relegation battle!! You have turned our team into an embarrassment, whom it seems no longer have the will to win games, but instead seem to want to have the highest possession statistics and highest pass completion rates in the league, regardless of whether that possession or those passes are of any use, or are in areas that will do damage to the opponents that we are up against.

Why is it that you continue to play with a formation where we have three, yes three, defensive midfielders in all games? It would seem that this is because you are covering for the fact that Gareth Barry no longer has the legs to play as the defensive foil to James McCarthy’s youthful exuberance on his own, but needs another player to cover for him as well. Gareth Barry was a revelation at the beginning of last season, but now, and every fan can see this, so we do wonder why you cannot see it? He simply doesn’t have the legs to play every game. Would it therefore not be a sensible idea to just drop Gareth Barry and play another midfielder alongside McCarthy who can provide the cover that James McCarthy needs, all on his own. Alternatively, why not temper McCarthy a little and develop him into the defensive mastermind and play Barkley or Gibson alongside him, to give a little bit of creativity to our central midfield area, which has been sorely lacking from the team all season.

Why is it that you have now nullified the attacking threat of our fullbacks, pretty much altogether? Throughout last season, Coleman and Baines (and if not Baines then Oviedo) were the impetus to the majority of our attacks, and defensive balance was provided through McCarthy and Barry covering for them when they charged forward. Why does this no longer happen? Was it that Barry and McCarthy were not coached to do this by you, but actually did it of their own accord? It seemed to be one of the best ways to play attacking football, and one of the reasons that England fell apart at the World Cup was that although they played the same 4-2-3-1 formation that we were playing that season, Gerrard and Henderson did not provide the same cover for Baines when he charged forward, thus nullifying his threat, or, leaving him exposed without cover when he did charge forward. Our attacking fullbacks always had the knowledge that they would be covered when they did charge forward, so for something that worked so well last season, why change it for this season?

Why is it that you continue with central attacking midfielders such as Naismith and Barkley in the wing positions of a 4-2-3-1, or, as the front two of the current inept 4-3-2-1 system that you seem to want to employ. Neither particularly have great pace (especially Naismith) to go round a player and get to the byline to put a cross in for Lukaku, and neither seem to have the understanding that Pienaar has had with Baines in the past and dare I say it, that Mirallas was building with Coleman? Both are good players, I have to say I like Naismith, but unfortunately for him, it was always supposed to be one of either him or Barkley in the central position of the 4-2-3-1, and with the form that Barkley had shown during last season, it was meant to be Barkley’s position to excel in this year, but you just haven’t played him there. As it turns out Naismith at least puts in a fight whatever position you put him in, and he does have talent, albeit with a severe lack of pace, but on merit and form at the moment he deserves to be played in his correct position, but when I think what could have been this season, the fact that Barkley has been wasted, and is now a shadow of his former self, is a travesty !!

Why do you persist in intimating that Kone is now back and ready for action, and ready to add to our team, but then never play him? Part of the reason I suspect that Lukaku has looked poor and disinterested at times is because he is the one player in the team that can probably claim to be tired. He plays every single game, both in Europe and domestically, yet he is only 21 years of age. He played every single game at the start of the season whilst injured, and he could probably do with a break. If Kone is ready and available to add to the team, please play him. You never know he may even offer more than a tired, or even potentially, a fully fit Lukaku!!

Why did you bring Tim Howard straight back into the team when after a shaky start (Krasnodar at home anyone, plus a number of individual games dotted about prior to that game as well) Robles was beginning to look like a solid goalkeeper that would offer a decent level of challenge to our American no 1, and potentially even take the no 1 spot from him altogether. Robles had just kept three clean sheets in a row, something Howard hadn’t done all season, and although there were still some shaky moments, he still kept three clean sheets. To bring Howard straight back into the team is a huge blow to Robles confidence, just when it appeared that he was building up a good level of understanding with our defence, and the return of Howard has not exactly been a success has it?

He has conceded in every single game since his return, and for a number of the goals he has conceded, the blame can be placed squarely on his shoulders. I have to say that over the years he has been a top keeper for us. He has his detractors, but you cannot deny that over the years there have been some outstanding performances from him, and to have kept the most Premier League clean sheets in a season as an Everton goalkeeper, is a record that cannot be taken away from him. At the moment however, again it seems that everybody except you can see that he is not up to the job, and we have a young keeper that was on the up in reserve, who could easily have replaced him, and perhaps turned some of the recent poor results, Leicester at home as a prime example, from a draw into a win.

So, as you can see Roberto there are a number of issues that I have with you and the team at the current point in time. I am certain that some of the blame for recent poor performances has to be laid at the feet of the players, as well as at yourself, but I don’t understand how the same players can go from being so good one season, to being so poor the next. There has to be more to it than the players are just playing badly. Throughout the course of this season you have stated something along the lines of: things will come good in the second half of the season, or things will pick up in the next game, or we lost because things didn’t go our way, well, the problem is, they never do!! We have not picked up in the second half of the season, if anything we have looked worse than at the start of the season. We have not started to play better and I can assure you that it is not just bad luck that has caused us to lose against teams that we should be winning against.

We have only won 6 games all season. That is totally unacceptable for a team that played so well the season before and has the players in it that have the quality that our players have. We have only beaten one team above us in the league all season and that is West Ham. That figure has increased to three teams now, but that is only because Crystal Palace and West Brom have now overtaken us in the league. Last year we beat every team in the league at least once I believe, certainly got a least a minimum of a draw against some of the top sides anyway, but this season we are a pale imitation of last season’s team.

We have qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League, and you have to be given credit for that, however I do not believe that the teams we have played so far have been of a standard that could match the quality of the majority of the Premier League. Perhaps Wolfsburg aside, but it has been noted that they were on a bit of a downer at the start of the season and have improved significantly since, including demolishing the mighty Bayern Munich in a recent game, so I cannot see us taking them apart again as we did in the first half of the Goodison encounter, or playing the perfect away game as we did in Germany. Therefore the progress that we have made in the Europa League should not be given a huge amount of credence, especially given that it seems to have come at the detriment of our form in the Premier League, although given the level of tactical acumen, or lack of it, that you have shown so far this season, I don’t know that being in the Europa League has made that much of a difference to our league form anyway.

I strongly believe that you have now ‘lost the team’. They don’t seem to want to play to win for you any more. They certainly don’t seem to want to play to win for my beloved Everton, and they even seem to have lost the passion to play to win for themselves as well. This therefore seems to me to be an untenable position for you to maintain going forwards. You have produced the worst performance that Everton have ever had in the Premier League at this stage of the season, even worse than Mike Walker and Walter Smith, and those were dark days at Everton I can assure you, with players of a far less calibre than you have access to today. In order that we have some chance of maintaining our Premier League status and also offering a crumb of positiveness to a new manager through the possibility of further progress in the Europa League, please can I respectfully ask that you offer your resignation to the Everton Board immediately. You will maintain a record of having garnered the most amounts of points for Everton in the Premier League era, and although I feel you will not be holding your head up high as you leave Goodison Park, you will still be fairly fondly remembered...

Yours sincerely,

Steve Stobie