Ask any Everton fan demanding the end of Marco Silva’s reign why they want him out and where they want the club to be over the next few years and you hear the same responses.
“We want someone to get us back where we belong,” they will say.
I heard it when supporters lost faith in Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman, alongside accusations the board ‘lacks ambition’.
With such observations, you uncover a serious issue as to where the club sits in the Premier League hierarchy.
Where does Everton ‘belong’ in 2019?
Everton fans will say the club ‘belongs’ where it was in the mid-80s, competing for major trophies when for a couple of years they were among the best in Europe.
Sadly, beyond the walls of Goodison Park there are few who share this opinion. There is a clash between self-perception and reality.
Some Evertonians are living in a world where Farhad Moshiri should be trying to lure Mauricio Pochettino or Diego Simeone to Goodison. In the past, I heard Everton fans call for Moshiri to approach Jose Mourinho.
“That would at least show ambition,” I hear. No. It is delusional to think managers of such calibre would entertain the idea at this moment in Everton history. There is a reason the bookies’ frontrunners to replace Silva are David Moyes and Eddie Howe, both of whom I rate as managers and deserve better than the negative graffiti on the Goodison walls their candidacy has provoked.
Everton operate in that market where their next manager can only be an up-and-coming young coach or an established name whose star has waned and is looking to demonstrate he can rekindle old glories.
Everton do not have a 21st century reputation to justify the more outlandish aims of their fans. Their board know it. Change can only come with steady improvement, success bringing in the kind of money via regular European qualification that can feed more success and bring in more lucrative sponsors. That is why a new, cash-generating stadium might be the real game-changer. Until then, judging the club to the standard of those who have already made it to that level is not bold. It is detrimental and self-defeating.
There is a difference between aspiring to be a Champions League club or a title challenger and actually ‘belonging’ in that company like it is some historic entitlement, especially when the recent past tells a more honest story of Everton’s current position.
Everton have never won the Premier League. They have never competed in the group stage of the Champions League. They have not won a trophy since 1996. They do not generate the matchday revenue or attract the commercial partners of the established top six.
As the football world's changed, the greatest achievement of successive Everton managers has been to establish the club’s position in the top half of the Premier League rather than follow the path of other fallen giants with comparable history. Think of the fate of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest or Aston Villa.
A multitude of reasons explain why, most of it due to plain economic realities as much as bad decision-making.
In the immediate aftermath of the Premier League forming in the early 1990s, Everton found themselves fighting relegation rather than pursuing titles.
Today, Everton fans look at Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and neighbours Liverpool and express frustration they have not evolved in the same way. Clearly serious mistakes have been made with the recruitment of players and managers over 30 years which means opportunities to win trophies have not materialised, but the rest of the ‘Big Five’ who led the breakaway to the Premier League in 1992 have generally thrived more because they have raised and spent more.
Alternatively, for a long time Evertonians looked at the acquisitions at Chelsea, Manchester City or Leicester and asked why investors did not look so favourably at their own club?
There was an enduring undercurrent of looking elsewhere and feeling ‘that should be us’.
Moshiri’s arrival was supposed to be the catalyst for the club to get to that level and he has spent an extraordinary amount.
Everton should be in a stronger position, but even if they had used those resources shrewder where would they be now?
Where can any club beyond the established top six get to? Leicester are the anomaly of the Premier League era - the exception, not the rule. They offer hope to clubs like Everton about what can be done when you get recruitment right, but even their success in their title season - and in this one - relies on the demise of Manchester United and Arsenal. When the biggest clubs sort themselves out they will be back because of financial superiority.
Regardless of what happens against Leicester City this weekend, Silva’s days look numbered. He is not paying a price for failing to be in the top six. He is in trouble for struggling near the bottom three. Luck has deserted him as he has been without all of his first-choice midfield, and his big-name striker, Moise Kean, was signed for the future more than now. That does not help.
I do not believe Everton will go down, although because of the upcoming fixtures I expect they will be in the relegation zone after the next five games. They have not taken advantage of a favourable early-season schedule.
I do not like the idea of changing a manager in mid-season. Unfortunately for Silva, it looks inevitable.
It means the club is again searching for its true identity as much as a manager.
I regularly hear those with no understanding of Goodison ask ‘what is Everton football?’ as though it is hard to define. To me, it is not so difficult.
The ideal Everton coach favours a finely-tuned combination of aggressive, front-foot football with a dash of skill. If you want to make a comparison with the best around now, I would say the aspiration of Everton fans is to see a team that plays in the style of Atletico Madrid more than Barcelona. The most successful Everton teams I have watched had more steel than silk, but there was both.
When I think of Everton, I think of Peter Reid’s combativeness with Trevor Steven’s trickery.
I think of Joe Royle’s ‘Dogs of War’ with a sprinkling of the class of Gary Speed and Andrei Kanchelskis.
I think of Moyes finding a place for Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar in a side led by Phil Jagiela.
I think of Martinez’s first season, when he added Romelu Lukaku to the team Moyes left and was close to finishing in the top four.
Because Moyes understands this, I see the merits of giving him a chance to get the club out of a relegation fight until at least the end of the season, even if supporters have concerns about winding the clock back and he would prefer a long-term role.
A fans’ poll in which Moyes was below Rafa Benitez underlines Evertonians’ craving for the club to move on from the past in the dug-out, while at the same time so much of what they want harks back to romantic visions of their history.
This contradiction at the heart of the club makes it hard for Everton to maximise their potential. While some fans want Benitez or Arteta, Moshiri entertains agents suggesting Mark Hughes.
Before Everton can think about getting to where they want to be, they must accept and get to grips with escaping where they truly are.