LONDON – So David Moyes is not such a bad manager after all.
The Scot, hounded out of Manchester United last season, joined Real Sociedad in November, his professional credentials criticized by just about everyone who could make themselves heard. Six days ago, the Basque club beat Barcelona 1-0 — not a bad scalp — while his former club, Everton, is struggling in the Premier League.
Under Moyes, Everton was competitive, consistently punching above its weight given the budget restrictions he had to work under. Its football was pragmatic, based on a solid defensive unit and midfield graft.
This season, Roberto Martinez’s team has the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League — only Queens Park Rangers have shipped more goals — and they are only four points above the relegation zone.
Martinez won the F.A. Cup with Wigan in 2013, but it was also relegated. While Wigan could play outstanding attacking football, defensively it was poor and it is becoming a similar story at Goodison Park. When Martinez succeeded Moyes at the start of last season, word was the Everton players were delighted to have the tactical straitjacket removed. Now, the Scot’s defensive mindset is what Everton is crying out for.
Because Martinez is the most media-friendly of managers criticism has been held back, but after finishing fifth last season questions are being asked about the Spaniard who promised chairman Bill Kenwright he would deliver Champions League football when he was appointed.
Martinez’s position is not under threat and injuries to Tim Howard, Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Leon Osman have not helped matters, but the manager’s approach is coming under scrutiny. When Everton has possession there are few problems, it is when the opposition has the ball that Everton’s defensive weaknesses are exposed.
The back line has been allowed to grow old collectively and inevitably cracks are beginning to show. Of the defensive unit only Seamus Coleman, 26, is under 30. Howard is 35, Sylvain Distin is 37, Phil Jagielka is 32 and Leighton Baines is 30.
While relegation still seems an improbable danger, it was significant Martinez is concerned enough to alter his trademark emphasis on a passing game. In the 1-1 F.A. Cup draw against West Ham earlier this week, Everton changed to a more direct, un-Martinez style after a meeting with the players.
Striker Romelu Lukaku, who scored the stoppage time equalizer, revealed: “The players were asking about going more direct. I asked them, and we all said to the manager: ‘Can we play a bit more direct sometimes?’
“We have a style of play where we keep the ball a lot, but knew we needed to take more responsibility, play to my strengths more, and they did it perfectly.”
Saturday, Everton attempts to end its four-game losing streak in the Premier League against Manchester City — second to Chelsea only on alphabetical order — but Martinez believes the opposition is irrelevant as it looks to get back on track.
He said: “It is one of those games we need to take responsibility — we’re playing at home, had four bad results and we need to put that right. It doesn’t matter what sort of opposition you’re playing against, we need to look at what we can do and we’re really looking forward to carrying on the positive signs against West Ham.”
The bad run is not yet a crisis, but Martinez’s promise of Champions League football will have to wait for at least another season to become reality.
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THE MOB has won.
Ched Evans, or convicted rapist Ched Evans as he is always referred to in newspapers, will not be joining Oldham because of “enormous pressure from sponsors and threats to staff and their families.”
Planet Twitter, which seems to dictate public opinion these days, has decided the former Sheffield United striker cannot resume his career. Employing a convicted rapist is bound to stir emotions though the principle of rehabilitation for those who have served their time does not apply to Evans.
Protests are inevitable and equally predictable are the anonymous threats from those who believe they have the right to take matters in their own extremist hands. It is alleged one board member was told the address of where his daughter works and that she would be raped if Oldham signed Evans.
This correspondent feels it is best if Evans puts any comeback on hold until his appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to overturn his conviction has been heard.
If Evans is successful there should be no reason for sponsors to withdraw their support, though you can be sure the mob will raise its ugly heads again and make life as difficult as possible for what would be an innocent man to resume playing football.
After all, we live in an era where a gang searching for a pedophile fire-bombed the home of a pediatrician.
However, should his appeal be rejected, Evans will have to seek alternative employment in a lower-profile industry — the likely end scenario whatever the Commission decides.
Evans’ case was hardly helped by crass comments by Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who, in the worst possible taste, compared the Welshman’s plight with the Hillsborough tragedy where 96 people died.
Taylor said: “He wouldn’t be the first person or persons to be found guilty and maintain their innocence and then been proven right. If we’re talking about things in football, we know what happened, what was alleged to have happened at Hillsborough and it’s now unraveling and we’re finding it was very different to how it was portrayed at the time, indeed by the police at the time.”
It beggars belief that the leader of the players’ union could utter such insensitive words and he should be forced to resign immediately.
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SMOKING, AS WE Know, can seriously damage your health. In the case of Wojciech Szczesny it seriously damages his brain.
How on earth the Arsenal goalkeeper thought it would (a) be a good idea to smoke a cigarette in the showers area after a game and (b) that Arsene Wenger, the most pedantic of managers when it comes to living the life of a professional, would take no action, beggars belief.
It is the most expensive cigarette the Poland international will ever have smoked as he was fined £20,000 for his indiscretion. In Szczesny’s case just one cigarette can also seriously damage your wallet.
To add to the bizarre scenario, one former Arsenal midfielder said on radio that “Wenger would have been fuming.”
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.