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Opinion: Too often, managers are made scapegoats for deeper failings at football clubs

Jurgen Klopp and Ronald Koeman have both suffered from their teams’ transfer inactivity during the summer.

Jurgen Klopp is under pressure following Liverpool's 4-1 loss to Tottenham.
Jurgen Klopp is under pressure following Liverpool's 4-1 loss to Tottenham.
Image: Adam Davy

Updated at 20.46

YESTERDAY COULD NOT have gone much worse for both Merseyside clubs.

Everton were well beaten 5-2 by Arsenal, while Liverpool were defeated similarly comprehensively 4-1 by an impressive Tottenham side.

After the respective games, there were calls for both Ronald Koeman and Jurgen Klopp to be sacked. The former criticisms were listened to, with Everton announcing the Dutch manager’s departure earlier today.

But arguably both sides’ biggest problems are nothing to do with poor tactics or inept motivational skills, and will not be solved instantaneously by a new manager.

The major source of the two teams’ troubles can be summed up in one word: recruitment.

It was obvious in the summer that Everton needed a replacement for Romelu Lukaku, who previously registered 68 goals in 141 Premier League appearances for the Toffees. Wayne Rooney is more of a number 10 than an out-and-out goalscorer, so they must have known he would not fill the Belgian’s shoes.

With just three Premier League goals for the Toffees since joining Everton at the beginning of 2016, Oumar Niasse is simply not good enough for a club of their ambitions.

Moreover, both Sandro Ramírez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have been tried out in attack as well. At 22 and 20 respectively however, at best they can be labelled as ‘players for the future’ with neither having registered a Premier League goal so far this season.

While the Toffees have a number of problems, the failure to replace Lukaku is the most glaring issue and the biggest reason why Everton have gone from a seventh-place finish last season to the relegation zone after nine games this year. They have scored just seven goals during that period, compared with 13 at the same point last year.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have issues down the other end, as was starkly apparent in the Spurs loss.

Dejan Lovren, in particular, had a nightmare afternoon. The Croat defender was at fault for the opening two goals before being hauled off and replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after just 31 minutes.

Liverpool’s defence has been an obvious problem, even before Jurgen Klopp’s reign. The Brendan Rodgers’ era will be remembered most for the title capitulation during the 2013-14 season. And while the 2-0 defeat by Chelsea at Anfield was damaging, the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace, whereby they conceded three times between the 79th and 88th minute, was the game that effectively killed off any hope of a triumph.

Over three years have passed since that memorable game at Selhurst Park, and of the defenders involved — Jon Flanagan, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Glen Johnson — three have left and one (Flanagan) is currently nowhere near the first team.

Yet despite these changes, Liverpool’s present back four is not looking much healthier — the Reds have conceded more away goals than any other Premier League team this season.

Klopp clearly is aware of the problem. Such was his lack of options that he was forced to play James Milner at left-back for much of last season, while he has also chopped and changed his goalkeepers on a few occasions, with neither Simon Mignolet nor Lois Karius looking particularly convincing when given a chance.

Most obvious of all is their need for a centre-back with the necessary leadership qualities. Lovren took much of the flak yesterday, but Joel Matip didn’t cover himself in glory either, and Liverpool didn’t look much more assured at the back after the Croat’s departure.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - Premier League - Wembley Stadium Liverpool's Dejan Lovren (right) is substituted off the pitch for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (centre). Source: Adam Davy

The decision to play a high line and the lack of communication for the third Tottenham goal was particularly conspicuous.

It is obvious that Klopp wanted Virgil van Dijk in the summer but the move never materialised amid controversy over an apparent illegal approach for the player. The lack of a back-up option after Southampton refused to budge meant that Liverpool were forced to persist with the same backline that in the 2016-17 campaign conceded 42 goals in 38 games — more than any other top-six side apart from Arsenal.

Both Everton and Liverpool’s woes are not down to one reason alone, of course, but the failure to replace Lukaku and the inability to buy Van Dijk were clearly major mishaps.

The problems are not due to a lack of finances, as both clubs have not been shy to pay big money for players in recent months. Everton forked out a reported €150 million on incoming transfers in the summer, while Liverpool are understood to have spent roughly €90 million.

However, instead of investing in areas where they are weakest, both teams simply boosted areas where they were relatively strong already in many instances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a decent utility player who can slot into a number of positions, but he is hardly much of an improvement on midfielders such as Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can. Mo Salah has been a good signing and was Liverpool’s best player yesterday, but their attack was excellent last season, so it’s strange that he was prioritised when other departments were more in need of a boost.

Similarly, Everton signed two players who work best as number 10s — Rooney and Gylfi Sigurðsson, along with the acquisition of another attacking midfielder, Davy Klaassen (€28 million), who has already been labelled a “disaster” by some onlookers.

In defence, meanwhile, Michael Keane — a €28 million summer recruit from Burnley — has hardly flourished alongside Ashley Williams. Everton have conceded 18 goals in total since the beginning of the season — only two teams in the Premier League have a worse record currently.

These issues beg the question as to whether Jurgen Klopp and Ronald Koeman should be held accountable for their clubs’ inept summer transfer dealings.

Klopp was hardly solely to blame for the Reds’ unsuccessful and controversial pursuit of Van Dijk, and it’s no secret that Liverpool have others in place to help decide on who comes into the club, even if the German coach insists he has “the final say” on any deals.

Indeed, it is rare nowadays that a manager has a complete control over who enters and exits, and many would argue that it is impossible to leave this responsibility to one man alone, given how complex finalising deals can be in modern football.

As Everton’s Director of Football, Steve Walsh — who enjoyed notable success at Leicester before linking up with the Toffees — bears some responsibility for the current problems at the club.

You could even argue that others deserve to be punished for current failings more so than the managers.

Nevertheless, as the face of their clubs, the likes of Koeman and Klopp will invariably bear the brunt of the criticism when things go awry.

The simplest way for teams to appease supporters and to signify that they empathise with their frustrations is to sack the main man.

It is not always the perfect solution, yet PR is considered hugely important in the modern game, and so sometimes managers become scapegoats all too easily for deeper institutional failings.

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Paul Fennessy

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