When Marco Silva departed Everton in the first half of last season, it saw a bitter curtain brought down on yet another failed experiment at Goodison Park. The Toffees had been scratching around for a new identity after David Moyes left for Manchester United in the summer and 2013, and they were keen to develop from a hard-working, punch-above-your-weight kind of team they had become known as. They wanted to be progressive, to be entertaining and to be dominant. The road from where they were then to now, pushing for Champions League qualification thanks to the goals of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, has been long and arduous.
Roberto Martinez seemed to fit like a glove when he came in, having left a relegated Wigan Athletic side with an FA Cup medal. Having climbed the ranks of British football as a player and manager, it was a widely held belief that he deserved a big job and, when he got it, he would thrive. Everything started so well, with a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League in his debut season. In 2014/15, though, things fell apart and Everton finished 11th and a year later he was gone, having seen his stock with fans diminish.
Ronald Koeman replaced him and was granted some funds to invest, thanks to new owner Farhad Moshiri. The Dutchman had worked well at Southampton and, like Martinez, was backed to build on that work with a bigger budget. His reign followed a similar trajectory but didn’t last as long; after just one full season, Koeman left, even more unpopular with those in the stands than Martinez.
The fact that Sam Allardyce was next in line showed that there were genuine fears for the club at the point of Koeman’s exit. Although relegation was never, ultimately, a serious threat, the possibility lingered. Allardyce, who has garnered a reputation as a ‘firefighter’, perhaps against his will, steadied the ship, but he was never the long-term solution for a club with ambitions as lofty and now pockets as deep as Everton.
Silva was the most curious case of the post-Moyes scramble, having impressed at Hull City but ultimately failed to keep them in the Premier League in early 2017. The Portuguese moved to Watford and started like a house on fire. He signed future Everton star Richarlison and a push for Europe was on the cards until an approach from the Merseyside club was made. When the Hornets lost their sting, Silva was sacked and Everton were subtly blamed for the decision.
And so, the cycle started again. Silva arrived in the summer of 2018, bringing Richarlison with him and he seemed to take Everton where they wanted to go. They may have finished eighth, but the performances were better and there was a platform to build off. But then the wheels came off, just as they had with Martinez and Koeman. Perhaps the ‘progression project’ needed to be scrapped.
As luck would have it, around Christmas 2019, Carlo Ancelotti was looking for a job after leaving Napoli and was instantly linked with Everton. It seemed fanciful that a manager with his CV — which included winning league and European titles at AC Milan and Real Madrid, as well as other successful spells with Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich — would be interested in any job without the opportunity for instant gratification. But it showed the pull of the Premier League and the pull of helping Everton hit their targets.
It seemed rather fitting that, in Ancelotti’s first match in charge at Newcastle on December 28, Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a brace in a 2-1 win. The Italian heaped praise on the striker, claiming to have held an interest in taking him to Napoli. Until his arrival, Calvert-Lewin’s performances were sporadic, just like his goal record; there were doubts as to whether he could develop into the level of striker Everton had been looking for since Romelu Lukaku signed for Manchester United in 2017.
Big money signings like Cenk Tosun and Moise Kean have failed to make the grade in attack, but Ancelotti has helped Dominic Calvert-Lewin develop into the genuine article, and a very well-rounded striker. His brace that day at St James’ Park was a pre-cursor for what was to come and he has perfectly embodied the job Ancelotti has on his hands. Everton have potential, but no proven recent history as a top side, and this is a manager who has rarely strayed from the elite, but he seems to have found a new home.
Despite a recent seven-game run without a goal, which he ended at Leeds to take his season tally to 16, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is proving to be Ancelotti’s greatest success at Everton. A productive summer transfer market, which saw reunions with James Rodriguez from Real Madrid and Allan, whom he signed from Napoli, as well as shrewd deals for Ben Godfrey and Abdoulaye Doucoure from relegated sides Norwich City and Watford respectively, has helped Ancelotti elevate Everton into genuine Champions League contenders for the first time since Martinez’s first season.
Nobody had seen a rise like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, however. The England international has dispelled all doubts over his ability to score goals regularly at a high level and, with Harry Kane struggling with injury and Jamie Vardy still retired internationally, the 23-year-old looks like a certainty for Gareth Southgate’s delayed England Euro 2020 squad this summer.
Ancelotti has a real task on his hands if he wants to get Everton competing on the same level as many of his former clubs, let alone winning anything. But perhaps his success should be measured in a different way. Everton have floated around rather aimlessly for the most part since Moyes, their leader of eleven years, left. Now, they are going in the right direction and finally have a striker who looks like playing in that role consistently for years.
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