Farewell to Marcel Brands. He was sacked on Sunday, a powerbroker who oversaw heavy spending paying the price for a slide. Everton fans could be forgiven for thinking they hardly knew their departed director of football or precisely what he did. If in part that reflects the nature of the job where their input is judged through the prism of others, whether managers or signings, it may also highlight the flawed make-up of the current Everton and the competing interests at Goodison Park.
Certainly, it is harder to judge when Brands appointed none of the three managers he has worked with (or not, as the case might be). Marco Silva’s arrival was arranged at the same time as his, but he was already a target for Farhad Moshiri. Carlo Ancelotti felt a case of the owner being seduced by stardust. Rafa Benitez likes to act as his own director of football.
During Brands’ three years at Goodison Park, Everton became a byword for bad buys. They spent the best part of £300 million during his three-and-a-half years. Arguably, they bought best when they had least money: Benitez at least made £1.7 million go a long way this summer; further, arguably, than the £100 million outlay in 2019 went when Everton acquired Alex Iwobi, Andre Gomes, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Moise Kean and Fabian Delph.
But in each regime, there have been signings that owe far more to the manager than the director of football. Richarlison was Silva’s player at Watford. James Rodriguez and Allan were old allies of Ancelotti. Benitez turned back to his past for Andros Townsend and Salomon Rondon.
It leaves a smaller band of recruits on which to judge Brands. Lucas Digne and Ben Godfrey rank as successes, Gbamin and Kean as chastening failures. Perhaps, but for injury, Gomes would have fared better. Presumably no one is claiming the credit for recruiting the overpriced Iwobi.
Perhaps the more damning part lies in the bigger picture. Brands can argue he inherited a mess – at his unveiling, he cited the 38 players Everton already had and poor buys like Davy Klaassen, Cenk Tosun, Yannick Bolasie and Morgan Schneiderlin predated him – but he also leaves one.
Everton have a mismatched squad, compiled by five managers and two directors of football, perhaps with the occasional input from Moshiri. They have too many players in some positions, though several of their stock of midfielders are invariably injured, and too few in others. They are over-reliant on a small core. The director of football is supposed to bring more long-termism and Brands arrived from PSV Eindhoven talking about his belief in young players. Now Everton have nine 30-somethings and a further four 28-year-olds, showing Brands’ successor will have plenty to do to rebuild them for the future.
Again, it highlights conflicting policies and power bases within the club. The short-term gamble on Ancelotti and Rodriguez scarcely seemed inspired by Brands. Yet he was promoted to become a member of the board in 2019. He signed a new three-year contract earlier this year. Both moves would suggest he was an influential figure.
When Champions League-winning managers underachieve at Everton, it suggests the problem is the club more than the individuals. That may be a mitigating factor for Brands, too, if the verdict is that the owner’s whims made his an impossible job. But he was appointed to bring strategic nous and instead they have acquired a reputation as one of the worst-run clubs in the Premier League. The logical assumption is that Brands won’t be seen in it again. If he leaves a legacy, it is an unflattering one, as a glimpse at the league table, Everton’s form and squad show. But it is still unclear how much of that is actually his legacy anyway.
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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.
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