Doubts over Sam Allardyce as Everton panic amid Premier League struggle
Broadcaster and presenter Jim White announcing the impending arrival of Sam Allardyce as the next Everton manager almost two hours before the club released any confirmation felt like an apt conclusion to a curious managerial search.
From the departure of Ronald Koeman to the unveiling of Allardyce and all the chaos in between, there are some vital lessons to learn from this saga, not to mention the perplexing way this recruitment process played out within the media at the expense of official club channels. Haphazard and indecisive, Everton seemed to lack forward planning, rightly sacking Koeman but unsure on what to do next.
The first step of this protracted search seemingly consisted of waving a chequebook around and hoping Watford would name suitable compensation for manager Marco Silva. With Watford unbending in their rejection, Everton had to move on, and the confusing mix of names linked with the vacancy thereafter highlights a club unsure of what they actually wanted.
Moving from Silva to Allardyce is a dramatic leap in logic and just about everything else. Failure to prise Silva from Watford and subsequent heavy defeats to Atalanta and Southampton in the space of four days led to Everton seemingly pressing the panic button and offering the job to Allardyce, who had ruled himself out of contention just two weeks earlier.
The result of which is Everton heading into December with Allardyce preparing for his first match as Everton manager, a sentence that even the most imaginative supporter could not have dared dream up when the season started. For better or worse, this is the new reality, as Allardyce becomes the third occupant of the Everton dugout in the past five weeks while preparing for the visit of Huddersfield on Saturday. Against a visiting team with four successive defeats on the road and without an away goal since the opening day, the new boss begins his tenure in front of a sold-out and expectant Goodison Park.
Allardyce does at least inherit a squad lifted by their 4-0 win against West Ham on Wednesday, a match Allardyce watched from the stands. Viewed as something of a relegation messiah, swooping in to rescue the doomed from the precipice, Allardyce saved Crystal Palace last season. But with victory against Huddersfield potentially lifting Everton into the top half of the table, the hope is that particular skill set is not required here.
What Everton do need are some of the qualities Allardyce can bring within his usual survival blueprint. Prioritising clean sheets and organisation, a solution to the lack of defensive cohesion evident this season would be a good starting point. The clean sheet in midweek was the first in the league since the opening day, but there are unlikely to be other teams quite as accommodating as West Ham. Everton stopped the rot on Wednesday, but Allardyce will be wary of previous results. Two or more goals conceded in nine successive matches before then offers a more accurate picture of recent struggles.
If Allardyce can shore up the defence and stop Everton constantly conceding first in games, attention will turn to the final third. Fitting Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson into the same team is one such dilemma. David Unsworth managed it against West Ham, but it was an isolated success among several failures and the tactic will need testing against better teams than West Ham.
Everton will also hope to see the tactical planning that saw Allardyce beat Arsenal at home and win away to Liverpool and Chelsea in the same month while at Palace last season. With Everton winless at Anfield since 1999 and Stamford Bridge since 1994, and a trip to Anfield next weekend the first away league game for Allardyce tenure, the ability to win these matches against the top teams would certainly kick-start the process of winning over any sceptics.
That upcoming trip to Anfield is one of eight matches in 29 days in a chaotic December. With five of those eight games away from home, Allardyce will have plenty of early opportunities to rectify form that shows Everton without an away league win in 11 months. Such a hectic opening also means Allardyce cannot afford to repeat the slow start that saw him win just one of his first five league games with Palace.
A familiar refrain after each positive result is that this is the turning point and the moment Everton jolt their season into action. On the back of a four-goal win with the added bonus of a clean sheet and a new manager finally appointed, it is time for that sentiment to ring true. Allardyce has to succeed where those before him could not. Fashion a team that wins games and fans can identify with and any doubts about this appointment will soon fade.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.