Amidst the current frenzy of international play, one recent Premier League move full of intrigue seems to have had the impact of raindrops on the river Seine. While reports had indicated a deal one week prior, Everton did not make Ronald Koeman’s appointment as manager official until June 14th. After firing Roberto Martinez, Everton snatched up the boss from Southampton–a team continuing their trend of losing key personnel to teams higher up on the English football food chain. The most recent chapter of Koeman’s story represents a fascinating snapshot of the crossroads currently traversed by two middling Premier League teams. Everton, forever sufferers of Little Brother Syndrome under the shadows of the mighty Liverpool FC, closely resembled a zeppelin struggling to stay afloat under the bloated weight of expectations this past season. Meanwhile, Southampton is a traditional afterthought, sequestered in the southern basement of England like the proverbial red-headed stepchild, intent on making itself known to the world.
The high hopes that naturally gravitate like bugs toward the flashy neon lights of “raw talent” awaited Everton’s 2015/16 season, and were in turn greeted by a surprising pattern of mediocrity. Employing a number of skillfully imposing players and a highly personable manager in Martinez, the meager results were somewhat shocking as the team failed to coalesce into something at least greater than what they were the previous season.
In that 2014/15 season, Everton finished in 11th place with 47 points, all the while battling through the Royal Rumble known as the Europa League. In the 2015/16 season, Everton yet again finished in 11th place with 47 points, an ironic consistency in one of the most strange upward-and-downward roller-coaster of Premier League seasons. Yet this time, attrition could be of no excuse as they never left British soil.
Eventually, this buildup of frustration would burst just before the clock struck twelve on the season. Noted good guy Martinez finally received notice of his expiration with the team. While Evertonians are left to consider the cosmic quandary of their place in the footballing universe, optimistic heads are looking ahead toward the fresh leadership of Ronald Koeman, as well as backward to his past accomplishments with Southampton.
Koeman had been Southampton’s manager since the summer of 2014, after his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, was unceremoniously taken away by the talons of Tottenham. But, despite the loss of their Argentinian frontman and his Dutch replacement, don’t cry for Southampton. In January of 2013 and Southampton’s first season in the Premier League since 2007, the club mercilessly sacked manager Nigel Adkins. Adkins had guided the club from League One to the Premier League. Adkins was keeping the club on target of avoiding relegation by early 2013. Adkins was great. Yet, in a widely panned transaction, Southampton inexplicably replaced him with Pochettino. All this to say that Southampton and sentimentality are not two things that go nicely together (well either that or they were impressively prescient regarding Pochettino’s managing skills).
As such, Southampton is a difficult team with which to form an attachment. Yet, there is something admirable in their emotionless Moneyball-esque business strategy, which heavily relies on advanced analytics and a strong youth academy. Despite having an unstable lineup, Southampton have managed to create a stable club that achieves a higher position every year, much like a well-run business. In comparison to the sinking airship that is Everton, one might posit that Southampton more closely resembles the paradoxical Ship of Theseus, surging ever higher above the waters.
Despite the transitory nature of Southampton’s players, results speak for themselves. Since rejoining the Premier League, Southampton’s final places have had the following sequence: 14, 8, 7, 6; with Koeman having overseen the last two digits as well as the great purge of the summer of 2014 which saw Liverpool pluck three players from his team. Despite the adversity, including Liverpool taking another highly-regarded player in the 2015 summer transfer window (Clyne), Koeman took his team to new heights and a full win worth of points above Liverpool by the end of this season. This ability to climb the ladder is exactly what Everton hopes for in their new man. And with some stability to work with, Koeman should be able to take his own success to new levels.
And so, as Captain Koeman steps up to helm a different ship, two vessels diverge, carrying treasure chests full of intriguing tales and dreams of grandeur. The only question remaining is whether or not the riches of silver or gold will shine upon the faces of the eagerly awaiting.