The Everton flags flying from every lamp post on the Walton Lane approach to Goodison Park parade an identity that the club’s fans have held dear for 17 years.
‘Welcome to L4, home of The People’s Club,’ they state, mischievously appropriating as their own the postcode which is Liverpool FC’s, too.
Little did David Moyes imagine that the definition of the club he threw out, slightly off the cuff, in his inaugural press conference as the club’s manager in 2002 would retain such deep and lasting significance.
Marco Silva is struggling to get his side playing with confidence with mental frailties evident
In Friday’s unremitting rain — an encapsulation of Everton’s grey start to this Premier League campaign — those words resonated more than ever.
They defined a club which compensated for a relative lack of money with a socialist spirit of endeavour and indefatigability. Yet as the money came in through the front door in 2016 — from owner Farhad Moshiri, a close friend of billionaire former Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov — the old ways went out through the back.
Marco Silva sent out a starting XI with a value of £231.4million at home to Sheffield United seven days ago. The stadium was emptying out long before the end of the desultory 2-0 defeat.
Silva, whose side face the challenge of Manchester City at Goodison this evening, insists that the old qualities have not gone.
The aim is ‘to be Everton,’ he claimed a week ago. ‘We cannot change our culture at this club —never, ever,’ he said by way of elaboration on that point. ‘Always the 100 per cent commitment. Never give up.’
Yet in the aftermath of successive league defeats he has implied a psychological brittleness never known in the Everton of old. There was a ‘lack of confidence’, he said last Saturday. There was a ‘nervousness’, he said after the 3-1 loss at Bournemouth.
In the aftermath of successive league defeats Silva implied a psychological brittleness
Silva turned things around last season and will need to go again as Everton risk fading out
It was supposed to have been so different when chairman Bill Kenwright found the club a benefactor. But Everton have squandered millions, initially over- promoting Steve Walsh to oversee the spending in the flawed conviction that his work at Leicester City made him a transfer market genius. The summer of 2017, when he and Ronald Koeman bought three No10s, Davy Klaassen, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney, was the nadir.
Walsh’s successor Marcel Brands has steadied things and is respected for an attention to detail which extends to always knowing the names of everyone sitting around a table with him.
But this summer’s £100m summer outlay was accompanied by desperate attempts to remove from the books the remnants of spending which had actually left the club at risk of breaching Financial Fair Play rules.
Such a monumental spend, yet still Everton lack two of the fundamental requisites for Premier League success — a proven, top-class striker and a defensive leader.
Neither Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 22, nor 19-year-old Italian summer signing Moise Kean — an emblem of the club’s strategy to buy young developing players — are the finished article.
Richarlison, who initially bristled with menace, seems lost without trace.
The Toffees have implemented a young and hungry strategy highlighted by Moise Kean
Everton lack a proven, top class striker that will launch them into the top six giants
A rush to judge before the leaves are on the ground is dangerous. The young players Everton have invested in require time. Silva turned things around last season but his players were surprised there weren’t more goalscoring reinforcements this summer.
Crystal Palace blocked Wilfried Zaha’s move but Danny Welbeck, now fit again at Watford, was a free agent.
‘The players like Silva and enjoying working with him,’ said a source. ‘But the failure to buy another striker astonished them.’ Only three clubs have scored fewer than Everton’s five league goals this season.
There is evidence deep in Everton’s past that money does not necessarily bring them happiness or an identity they can be sure about.
An excellent new book about the dominant title-winning team of the 1960s by Gavin Buckland entitled Money Can’t Buy Us Love tells how, under the largesse of local Littlewoods tycoon John Moores, the club were characterised as lacking soul and buying their way to success.
Everton are short of a defensive titan to build the foundations of their team from
‘England’s most unpopular team,’ was sportswriter John Arlott’s description.
Buckland describes how the struggle to be loved was exacerbated by the contrasting personalities of the managers on either side of Stanley Park — the charismatic Bill Shankly, who was beginning to rebuild Liverpool, and Everton’s far colder Harry Catterick.
Everton’s feelings about those days do seem mixed. The impressive timeline of images from down the decades plastered across the Goodison stadium exterior afford Catterick no greater prominence than Billy Bingham and Gordon Lee, who brought far less success.
It is no fault of Silva’s that his arrival at Everton has coincided with another charismatic Liverpool manager building one of the best sides in the land, although it might help if he displayed a little more personality.
At his press conference he answered all the questions politely and implacably. He makes the right noises but never sets the room on fire. The 42-year-old remains an enigma in so many ways nearly three years into a Premier League career still to provide proof that the ‘mini-Mourinho’ tag — which Portuguese football sources consider to be hyperbolic — is justified.
He has managed five clubs in as many years since his one genuinely successful managerial spell taking second-tier Estoril to Portugal’s top flight and clubs have not seemed desperate to keep him.
Everton have seen a sea change in culture since the takeover of Farhad Moshiri in 2016
The Ronald Koeman experiment didn’t go to plan as Everton have splashed the cash
His boss at Sporting Lisbon, Bruno de Carvalho, had a chance to get Jorge Jesus in as manager and seized it — finding excuses as ridiculous as Silva not wearing official training kit at games to get him fired.
Silva retains huge respect in Portugal, where reports linking him to the Sporting job emerged on Friday. But it is unclear whether Kenwright — who is thought to have been asked by Moshiri to return to a greater supervisory role at the club — has quite the same enthusiasm about him as the British-Iranian.
A wild, wet night on Merseyside may tell us more. In the Moyes era, City matches were always keenly anticipated.
Moyes never forgave City for the way they pursued and signed Everton’s Joleon Lescott and beat them seven out of 10 times in the Premier League in the five years after the Abu Dhabi take-over.
Everton have arguably never known such good times since and a straw poll taken outside St Luke’s Church on Goodison Road on Friday morning saw six out of 10 people agreeing that the original People’s Club manager would be welcomed back.
‘City wouldn’t want to be facing us with Moyes in the dugout,’ said Charlie Slater, one of the six. ‘They won’t be worried now.’