Rio Ferdinand waded into the debate around Everton’s form, Roberto Martinez’s style of play and the development of the club’s young players after hearing a frustrated reaction from supporters inside Goodison Park and on Twitter during the defeat to Swansea City.
Ferdinand in a series of tweets criticised the Toffees’ fans for voicing their displeasure during the match, with John Stones seeming to be the target. Perhaps the most notable barracking came not when Stones’ short back-pass gave Tim Howard a test, to which he responded to by hesitating, fouling Andre Ayew and conceding a penalty, a failure of defender and goalkeeper alike, but later, when Everton tried to play out from the back.
Stones dallied on the ball, as he often does, and the fans, having more than once in Martinez’ two-and-a-half years seen players turn over possession in the most ridiculous of areas, reacted. But the reaction wasn’t entirely anger with Stones, though he does have a tendency to make the same mistake again and again. It was more widespread than that, aimed at the other nine outfield players for a complete lack of movement to create a pass for the England international, and at Martinez for placing too much emphasis on possession for possession’s sake.
It should also be remembered that these are Everton fans who have seen their team win only three times at home in the Premier League this season, and not at all since Aston Villa were dispatched 4-0 in late November. That was five games ago. Since then Everton have lost at home to Leicester City, Stoke City and now Swansea, conceding nine goals in the process. Defensive or goalkeeping mistakes have contributed to more than one of those goals. Is it any wonder the home fans are nervous when the ball spends an extended period of time near Howard’s goal?
Playing out from the back and lumping the ball forward are not the only two options defenders and goalkeepers face; they’re the far ends of the spectrum. There’s a whole range of other choices. And while Stones is rightly lauded for his composure, it’s a skill in itself to judge when to play out from the back and when to exercise caution. It’s one he doesn’t have, and Martinez shows little sign of wanting the youngster to develop it, or indeed of having the coaching expertise to bring it out even if he wanted to. Everton’s defending has regressed enormously under his watch.
Everton are widely praised for the football they play, but, paradoxically, not by the supporters who watch them regularly. Instead, those fans, particularly those starved of victories at Goodison, are tired of the platitudes. Results are not good, and they haven’t been for the last season-and-a-half. After 21 wins in the first 38 league games since Martinez replaced David Moyes, it’s now 18 in 61.
Martinez’s attachment to possession football is part of the problem, not the cure. It’s bred a one-paced team with no other game plan than having more of the ball than their opponents. Everyone moves towards the man in possession, no one breaks behind the opposition defence, the ball is lost and, seconds later, it’s in the back of Howard’s net. It’s a scenario repeated over and over.
Teams who sit back and defend get results at Goodison, and with the defence so feeble, they’re guaranteed to score – Villa were the last league team to draw a blank. The only teams to have conceded more goals than Everton this season are the league’s bottom five. Martinez is rapidly losing support from the stands, and the players are bearing the brunt. Few really expect the Spaniard to be sacked but fewer and fewer would be sorry to see him go.
Perhaps Ferdinand should consider the bigger picture before commenting on an issue that has been building for more than a year. It’s not about one defeat to Swansea or one mistake by Stones, Howard or anyone else. It’s about a manager whose principles are a detriment to results and a team whose potential is being squandered.