Everton face a fight to convince Marcelo Bielsa to replace Frank Lampard after the ex-Leeds United coach expressed reservations about moving to Goodison Park.
Majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri’s succession plan hit an immediate snag because Bielsa is unsure if it is the right move for his career.
Moshiri made Bielsa his number one target and is eager to convince the 67-year-old he can save Everton from relegation. If the South American is unmoved, alternative targets such as former Southampton coach Ralph Hasenhüttl will come under strong consideration. West Bromwich Albion manager Carlos Corberán also has admirers among the Goodison hierarchy, although it would be more complicated luring a coach already in post.
Hasenhüttl - who left St Mary’s in November - was an early contender to replace Rafa Benitez a year ago, but the interest did not progress because he was still under contract and Everton did not want to put together a compensation package when free agents were available.
They would not have an issue now, although Hasenhüttl's stock has fallen after overseeing the Saints’ dip in form at the start of this campaign.
Moshiri needs to move quickly to ensure Lampard's successor is in place before the next Premier League game at home to Premier League leaders Arsenal on February 4. The Merseyside derby is a week later and Everton are in serious danger of being cut adrift if a new manager does not hit the ground running.
Bielsa’s initial reticence does not bode well. There was never any guarantee he would be lured to Merseyside, especially after scrutinising the quality of Everton’s squad. The Argentine needs to be sure he will have the players to impose his unique style, or the resources to recruit those capable of playing his all-energy football.
Everton’s financial predicament is such that no such promises can be offered to any candidates.
Bielsa is known to be meticulous in his studying of clubs who approach him. He will have watched recent Everton games and made preliminary assessments of the players at his disposal. Although he was instantly successful in transforming Leeds’ style, that was after taking over in pre-season.
Should he turn Everton down, it will indicate he does believe the squad capable of meeting his demands in such a short space of time to secure their Premier League survival. It will also be a reflection of Everton being handcuffed in the transfer market given every deal must be ratified by the financial fair play regulators.
History appears to be repeating itself at Goodison Park given Moshiri has overseen a number of shambolic transitions during his tenure, different coaches with vastly different philosophies on the game considered or appointed.
After sacking Ronald Koeman, Everton's first move for Marco Silva - then at Watford - led to a rebuttal and complaint about an illegal approach. Moshiri was forced to appoint Sam Allardyce instead, eventually appointing Silva six months later after paying compensation to Watford and Allardyce.
Last year, Moshiri was on the verge of appointing Vitor Pereira, but was forced to change his mind after Everton fans’ indicated their unhappiness and preference for Frank Lampard.
Before that, Moshiri was about to shake hands on a deal for Nuno Espirito Santo, only to be convinced to appoint Rafa Benitez after interviewing the ex-Liverpool coach.
And 18 months earlier, David Moyes was in advanced talks only to be overlooked for Carlo Ancelotti. There will be a concern of Everton’s managerial hunt becoming a circus again if Bielsa says no.
After another 48 hours of turmoil with Everton supporters craving answers about the pursuit of the next manager, why potential signings are making last minute U-turns, and whether Anthony Gordon will be sold, the club released a video message from Moshiri late on Tuesday in which he vowed to strengthen the team.
“We need a striker. We will get one,” he said.
“I have no doubt the second half of the season will be stronger. We have a plan in place in terms of recruitment and performance. We have the window to address it.”
In a recording before the sacking of Lampard, Moshiri also made the remarkable admission he had sacked some of his coaches too soon.
“I have been impatient. I have been affected and responsive to fans’ feelings and maybe removed managers too early,” he said.
“That’s criticism [of me] not the fans. What I say to the fans is we should all be a bit more patient and measured. We should implement changes on a more informed basis.”
Moshiri also claimed he is not looking for a buyer for the club.
“The club is not for sale but I have been talking to top investors to bridge a gap on the stadium. I can do it myself but I want to bring top sport investors into Everton. We are close to having a deal done.”