Second-choice Sean Dyche must prove he’s no anachronism
The general rule of Everton managers is that each is the antithesis of his predecessor. But in a surreal week when events have unravelled at remarkable speed, Everton contrived to veer between complete opposites on a shortlist in a matter of hours. First Marcelo Bielsa was due to replace Frank Lampard. Instead Sean Dyche will.
From the ultimate idealist to the byword from pragmatism, from the ambition of exciting football to an acceptance they will take drudgery if it will save them: that is Everton. Farhad Moshiri has made Goodison Park the home of incoherent thinking: if Dyche proves the right man for one of the most troubled times in their history, they have got there by the wrong way.
Initially, he may not be the man to help their powerbrokers return to favour. Goodison Park has been the scene of protests against the board and Dyche is scarcely a popular choice, albeit by Moshiri and not the directors. Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps, and even as Dyche has finally landed the most prestigious post of his career, he and Everton had started to feel equally desperate.
His achievement in taking Burnley to seventh will stand the test of time but a host of Premier League jobs have come up and Dyche had got none: some went to the footballing philosophers, some to more fashionable choices, some to managers on the up, none to any who wanted a decade-long flat-share with Ian Woan. Football, it seemed, had moved on from the days when Sam Allardyce could be parachuted in anywhere mid-season – including Everton – on a survival mission. Now everyone wanted more.
Since Burnley’s band of ageing, industrious Brits went their separate way, no one seemed to have a squad suited to Dyche: not even Burnley, whose reinvention as purists under Vincent Kompany felt damning of his predecessor’s rather more limited aims. The genius of Everton, however, is that their mismatched squad is not suited to anyone: not Bielsa nor, at the other end of the spectrum, to Dyche.
He will discover three familiar faces. Michael Keane, marginalised under Lampard, produced the best form of his career under Dyche. Dwight McNeil first delivered the best, then the worst, and is yet to recover from his dreadful 2021-22. James Tarkowski probably plays like James Tarkowski whoever is in the dugout. That Everton have defenders who enjoy a rearguard action in their own box makes them more Dychean than Bielsa-esque: few would have relished a high defensive line or the prospect of man-marking all over the pitch.
Yet Dyche became the great throwback, the last devotee of 4-4-2. Everton only have two strikers: an out-of-form, injury-hit Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the impotent Neal Maupay. Even he may have to consider playing a different shape. It forms part of a hugely difficult task. Dyche has four days to sign, the task of replacing Anthony Gordon as well as finding at least one centre-forward and a side who have lost 11 of their last 14 games. His last victory as Burnley manager came against Everton. At half-time, referring to Lampard’s players, he said: “I’m not sure they know how to win a game.”
It feels true again now but also seems a common denominator. When Burnley sacked Dyche, a few days after that 3-2 triumph, they had won four of 30 league matches. They didn’t know how to win either. Some relationships with his players were frayed, to say the least. Now Dyche has to do what Lampard did last April and May and galvanise a club. If comparisons with Allardyce are inevitable, there are notable differences: Dyche went on to do superbly at Burnley but did not have an immediate impact. It bodes badly that the Everton crowd disliked both Allardyce’s football and his personality.
Dyche may have gravitated towards Big Sam by turning into a parody of himself; his arrival does not necessarily mean the School of Science will become the School of Worms, though Everton would settle for Joe Royle’s Dogs of War. In the short term, he is hired to be the Dyche of clean sheets and set-pieces, of ugly 1-0 wins and being difficult to play against.
In the longer term, and his two-and-a-half year deal may be two years longer than Everton had initially wanted, his broader test is to prove he is not as one-dimensional as he sometimes appeared. His eye-catching sight needs to be a better brand of football, not Dyche outside in the snow in no jacket or coat, a misguided attempt at machismo that made him look like an anachronism. The argument that with better players he would play better football ignored the reality he signed virtually all of Burnley’s.
For now, he may eye home games against Leeds, Aston Villa and Brentford, none easy for a team on their worst losing run at Goodison Park for the 1950s but perhaps more winnable than if they were attempting to revolutionise their tactics under Bielsa. Dyche may be second-choice Sean, the man at the other end of Moshiri’s shortlist of the contrasting, but he finds himself in familiar territory. His job at Burnley became a grim battle to try and finish 17th. And for now, that would count as a success for Everton.