Everton were in for Wilfried Zaha in the summer and everyone had a good laugh about that.
Why would Zaha go to Goodison Park when there was the chance of a move to Arsenal or Chelsea?
To which, two words: Carlo Ancelotti.
If Everton can get Carlo Ancelotti, why not? If they can change their status overnight, why not?
If Everton renew their interest this January, they now have a unique selling point: three Champions League titles, the domestic crown in Italy, England, France and Germany, four domestic cups, three European Super Cups and the Club World Cup twice. Against nearly winning promotion with Derby and looking smart sitting next to Pep Guardiola.
So the only question, really, is why not? If Everton can get Ancelotti, why not? If Everton can change their status overnight, why not?
Rewind to 1991 and Don Mackay was doing a decent job as manager of Blackburn Rovers.
The club had narrowly missed out on promotion from Division Two, and now had Jack Walker’s millions behind them, but the project lacked credibility.
That arrived in October with the appointment of Kenny Dalglish. Blackburn’s fortunes changed.
Suddenly, they were to be taken seriously. Alan Shearer came. Graeme Le Saux, David Batty, Tim Flowers and Chris Sutton followed. Blackburn needed Dalglish to make that leap.
With Jack Walker’s (left) millions, Blackburn brought in Kenny Dalglish to change their fortunes
And it was easier then, yes. The Premier League was in its infancy, the super clubs had not yet formed. All the more reason for Everton to make a statement.
Bringing in Ancelotti shows they mean business, just as it did when Leicester recruited Brendan Rodgers, or Tottenham replaced Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho. It does not guarantee success but it sends a message about where Everton want to go.
No club that employs Ancelotti is happy treading water.
They have, after all, tried it the conventional way.
They’ve had Wigan’s manager, Watford’s manager, Southampton’s manager. They’ve employed Sam Allardyce. None of this has made a dent on the elite. Maybe Ancelotti won’t either. Football is very protectionist.
It is designed to be unfriendly to interlopers these days. Ancelotti will know that too. It is why his appointment is such a surprise.
Ancelotti moves between football’s elites. He takes stellar players who are underperforming, or where change is enforced, and buffs them until they shine.
Spurs and Leicester showed ambition by bringing in Jose Mourinho (L) and Brendan Rodgers
In Ancelotti’s last five jobs he has inherited two teams who were top of their league (Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich), two who were second (Napoli and Real Madrid) and Chelsea, who had finished third under interim boss Guus Hiddink. Everton are not the only gamblers here.
The worst to be said is that Ancelotti is only coming for the money and has no real ambition for the club. In which case, it is on him, not them. They are taking the man at his word, that he wants to do his best for Everton.
And if his promises are false, if he arrives disengaged and marking time until a better offer comes along, it will reflect poorly on the individual, not the club.
Everton are trying their utmost to break into the elite. What would it say if they could have got Ancelotti but delivered Sean Dyche instead?
And Dyche could be a very good Everton manager. So could Eddie Howe or Chris Wilder. Yet Everton have been down that path, they have been the reward for a coach who has over-achieved elsewhere. Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman and David Moyes all made natural progress to Goodison Park.
Ancelotti moves between football’s elites and has three Champions League titles to his name
This is why Ancelotti’s arrival seems random. Coaches of his standing do not pitch up at Everton, not when they can go to one of Europe’s big beasts.
Yet maybe Ancelotti cannot, right now. The most prestigious jobs in England are taken and Arsenal have looked elsewhere. There is only one top club in France, and Germany, and Ancelotti has worked at both of them.
He has already coached at just about every major club in Italy and being a former manager of Real Madrid prohibits Barcelona.
And while Ancelotti the manager is elitist, the man is anything but.
His autobiography Preferisco La Coppa translates as ‘I prefer the cup’ but with a large pun intended.
Coppa is a cheap cut of Italian salume, made from the neck muscle of pigs.
This is a nod to Ancelotti’s upbringing on a farm but also to his working-class roots; coppa being the food of the poor. Like fans, he enjoys the cup. Like the workers, he prefers the cheaper cold cuts. He’s not the type to look down his nose at Everton.
Does this guarantee it will work for him there? Of course not. He won’t have coached a more ordinary group in years and Everton are not a go-to destination for stellar talents, despite the Ancelotti name.
Yet Shearer said that one tip from Dalglish at Blackburn changed his game immeasurably for the better.
From Southampton to Blackburn he improved by one goal every two games. So why shouldn’t a coach as good as Ancelotti possess similar nuggets to pass on?
It’s not as if Everton have had wisdom to burn of late.
Manchester City’s fury over Arsenal poaching Mikel Arteta should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.
Unless they marched straight through the front door to recruit Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna…
YAYA VIEW ON OZIL IS HALF-BAKED
For a bunch of anti-democratic torturers and thugs, China’s government do seem very sensitive to criticism.
Mesut Ozil has now been erased from the Chinese edition of the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 game, for fear of upsetting the Chinese market after his public opposition to the country’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Now here’s an interesting opportunity. What if other players asked to be withdrawn from it, too, in solidarity with Ozil? What if the lickspittles at PES were suddenly without a whole host of famous names?
The players have more power than they realise. ‘Footballers have to stay with football and politicians to politics because you cannot be involved with this kind of thing,’ said Yaya Toure, most recently to be found at Qingdao Huanghai. ‘I think Ozil was wrong to say that.’
Indeed. Far more edifying as a grown man to whinge about nobody giving you a birthday cake.
Yaya Toure criticised Mesut Ozil for speaking out on China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs
CLASICO CLASHES DAMAGE SNP CAUSE
A lot of talk this week that politics and sport do not mix. Untrue. If you understand the crisis around El Clasico, for instance, you will also know why the Scottish National Party are not in the position of strength some believe. Here goes.
Barcelona’s match against Real Madrid was played this week, having been postponed earlier in the season due to tensions around Catalan independence.
It did not end well. Masked protesters started fires in bins and barricades, and threw rocks and bottles at police, who opened fire with foam bullets.
There were 46 injuries and five arrests.
Now to Scotland, where the SNP feels empowered to agitate for a second referendum despite the roadblock of a large Conservative parliamentary majority. The priority of this government is Brexit.
Meaning that even if the SNP caused sufficient trouble to win a second independence vote, by that time, Britain would be out of the European Union.
Scottish voters would therefore be supporting a double exit: having already left the EU, they would be rejecting the alliance with Britain, too, and standing utterly alone.
Of course, Scotland could always apply to rejoin the EU.
But that needs the support of every EU member, including Spain, who would be loath to endorse local nationalism, given that one of their strongest arguments against Catalan independence is that they would never support the region as a separate entity within the EU.
Why would they give Catalonia encouragement by welcoming Scotland? So, if you see the problems getting Barcelona’s match against Real Madrid played, you see the SNP’s positional weakness. ‘Without politics, no sport,’ as Arsene Wenger says.
Masked protesters started bin fires and threw rocks at police in Barcelona on Wednesday night
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REVAMP WOULD ONLY REWARD MEDIOCRITY
It is the European Club Association, not UEFA, that continue to come up with plans to reform — translation: ruin — the Champions League.
For once, the governing body are not the bad guys here and that can be seen in their differing proposals.
UEFA want Champions League semi-finalists to be guaranteed a position in the competition next season. The ECA are talking about the top eight clubs in their Champions League having that privilege.
Yet, if we look at the fate of the Champions League last four, against its last eight, the ECA idea favours mediocrity. You have to go back to 2010-11 to find a Champions League semi-finalist that did not qualify for the following season’s competition by right.
Schalke finished 14th in the Bundesliga that season, substantially nearer to relegation than a return to Europe’s most prestigious competition. It would have been a joke that they got back ahead of third-placed Bayern Munich, but also an anomaly.
Top eight is different. In the eight seasons in which all 32 semi-finalists have successfully re-qualified through league position, 10 of 32 quarter-finalists have failed to make it.
Do you think the current Manchester United team merited involvement in the Champions League this season? They were quarter-finalists and would have been included ahead of Chelsea, who finished three positions and six points above them.
It gets worse. Leicester would have been included in 2017-18, too, because their quarter-final place would have trumped their 12th-place finish.
And who would have missed out? The Liverpool team who went on to reach the final against Real Madrid. Their 32-point supremacy over Leicester would have been made irrelevant by a quarter-final appearance.
In 2014-15, Manchester United — seventh in the Premier League the previous season — would have replaced Arsenal, 15 points ahead of them. Arsenal would also have missed out to Spurs in 2011-12, despite beating them by six points in the league.
To give a free pass to the top eight rewards the pedestrian, so no surprise one of the architects is Ivan Gazidis, father of the modern Arsenal. If it’s mediocrity you want, he’s your man.
ARTETA NEEDS TO ESCAPE SHADOW OF GUARDIOLA
There are a great many people in football willing to testify to Mikel Arteta’s worth as a coach. Manchester City have released him not because he is unappreciated but because they accept the chance to be his own man and revive Arsenal is irresistible.
One small worry, though. On April 10, 2018, Pep Guardiola was sent off at half-time during the second leg of Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool.
City were chasing a 3-0 deficit but were the better team and one-up with a good goal disallowed.
The match was very much alive, then Guardiola remonstrated with referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, and was gone. This was the moment it was thought Arteta would step up. Yet, throughout the second half, the technical area remained empty as if City’s coaches had frozen at the thought of supplanting Guardiola.
Liverpool soon equalised and went on to win 2-1. For Arsenal’s sake, one must hope Arteta has grown since and not continued to exist happily in Guardiola’s shadow. His next challenge can only be met head-on.
Mikel Arteta (right) needs to be able to live outside of Pep Guardiola’s (left) shadow at Arsenal
SHERROCK’S WIN SHOULDN’T REMAIN NOVELTY
Fallon Sherrock is a trailblazer but she need not be. There is no reason why darts should not be open, across all tournaments, for men and women. That should be the case in any sport in which physical differences can be overcome.
If Sherrock is right and there are better female players than her, capable of giving the men a game, it seems ludicrous just two places at the PDC World Championship represent pathways for women.
Surely the PDC Tour and the women’s championship can work closer together, so the best players qualify, regardless of gender. Sherrock’s win shouldn’t remain a novelty.
Still, while we wait for equality on the oche, there is always Denise Coates. The founder and chief executive of Bet365 paid herself £323 million last year and, by the looks of it, isn’t even sorry.
The previous record salary for an executive was £265m — earned by Coates, 12 months ago.
Across the last three years she has been paid £817m. When a national newspaper sought a response over whether Bet365 had delayed this latest announcement until after the election and Labour’s assault on executive pay, they couldn’t even get a reply.
So, while winning a darts match is a fine achievement, paying yourself £817m without shame or apology because you are the smartest person in the company by a mile, online gambling and in-play betting was pretty much all your idea, and the rest of the male-dominated gambling industry has merely copied it — well, that’s feminism in action.
Fallon Sherrock is a trailblazer but she need not be… darts must do more to merge competition