It would be interesting to know whether the sort of press release that sparked a wave of articles over the weekend really drums up much by way of business but even if it does not bring in much cash, the bookies must find it fairly entertaining just how easily they can generate column inches and radio times for the likes of their claim that Martin O’Neill had suddenly become the frontrunner for the Everton job.
No evidence is generally provided in these instances, just the vague assertion that “a rush of bets” has resulted in dramatically shortened odds. If you have it to hand and want to demonstrate just how far fetched this all is, try heading into your local shop today and placing a genuinely significant sum on a real outsider then watch what happens.
Calls will be made, odds shortened and only a small portion, if any, of the money will actually be accepted. The bookies know that at some point in these things, for a brief while, there are people out there who genuinely know more than they do and there are celebrated instances of them being caught out by friends or family members of those about to be appointed. For the most part, though, the business thrives in the vacuum caused by the fact that these processes increasingly taking place behind closed doors.
And if, by some remote chance, they do take all of your cash on Mick McCarthy or Stephen Kenny or Dixie Dean to succeed Ronald Koeman (sadly, neither The Irish Times nor I are in a position here to match one of their celebrated money back – new customers only, maximum stake €3 – offers) and you lose, you will at least enjoy the consolation of seeing your chosen candidate make the headlines for a few hours. First he will be hailed as the new odds on favourites and then, in a second wave of stories he will be ruled out on the basis that – say you have chosen Dean – people gradually establish that he is in fact dead.
In this particular instance, of course, the club do have to take a portion of the blame. It is more than a month since Koeman was sacked and say what you want about the way West Ham treated Slaven Bilic or the fact that they decided David Moyes – who returns fairly desperate for a win to Goodison Park on Wednesday evening – was a better option; at least they had a plan when they showed the Croat the door.
At Everton there really doesn’t appear to have been one, at least not the sort that held water and Unsworth, a decent sort of guy it seems, who came through the youth ranks at the club, spent more than a decade in the first team squad and returned after retirement to play his part in what has been a pretty impressive development set up, has looked increasingly forlorn as he struggles to turn things around.
At this stage, the one-time England international has much the same chance as Dean of actually landing the job and after five defeats in seven games appears to have accepted as much. Perhaps getting the team winning was always too much to ask but as a defender with something like 350 Premier League starts to his name, he must have fancied himself to tighten things up at the back, instead they have continued to leak terribly with Sunday’s 4-1 defeat by Southampton, the ninth straight game in which the club has conceded at least two goals.
Ironically, the one win the team has secured under his stewardship was against Watford, whose own coach, Marco Silva, Everton clearly hoped to recruit. They are widely reported to have offered around €11 million in compensation but, unsurprisingly, Watford – who are sitting pretty in the top half of the table – declined.
In the meantime the club seem to have offered Sam Allardyce the job until the end of the season in the hope that it would allow them a second crack at Silva (Watford, let's face it, are bound to sack him in the summer). However, Big Sam unsurprisingly thought more of himself than to accept the job on those terms and now, as it increasingly requires precisely the set of skills which he has repeatedly shown himself to possess and the clubs gets increasingly desperate, it appears that the 63-year-old is firmly back in the frame and in a far stronger position at this stage to call the contractual shots.
In terms of keeping the club up, Allardyce certainly looks a good bet; there is a fair amount of talent at Goodison and he seems likely to succeed where Unsworth failed by organising the back four after which he will doubtless get substantial funds to address the post Lukaku lack of goals while having a fairly free hand to deal with the glut of number 10s he inherits.
But beyond the end of this campaign he can hardly have been the sort of manager the club or its supporters would have wanted to succeed Koeman, and if the spending last summer or the signs of talented youths being incorporated into the first team last season are anything to go by, then his appointment on a long term basis, should it actually happen, may come to be regarded when the ship has steadied as a significant step backwards.
Oddly, getting O’Neill in until the end of the season might have suited and given their upcoming schedule and the fact that he has yet to sign his new deal, the FAI would probably have been amenable enough to some sort of short term arrangement in the event that the northerner had been keen. The Ireland manager would, one suspects, have secured the club’s survival and bought its board time to come up with a genuinely attractive way forward.
Despite all of the reports, there has not been the slightest evidence produced that either side even contemplated the matter and yet maybe, just maybe, the bookies were on to something after all.