Given Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s majority shareholder, did not initially want Frank Lampard as manager, you could argue the former England midfielder did well to last as long as he did.
When Rafael Benitez became the fifth sacking of Moshiri’s reign in a year ago, the top target was Portugal’s Vitor Pereira. Had Moshiri quietly and efficiently got on with that, the preferred choice would have been unveiled before the graffiti artist who led the fans’ protest against the idea had bought the spray paint to decorate the walls of Goodison with the message “Pereira Out Lampard In”.
Sadly, quiet efficiency is as elusive as a winning sequence during the Moshiri era.
Why were the fans so anti-Pereira and pro-Lampard? They felt Moshiri too impressionable to the last super-agent in the room and were seduced by the idea that Lampard, burnt by his experience at Chelsea, would be re-energised to build a team in his image as a player; hard-working, honest, football-obsessed and driven to maximise their talent.
Recognising the mood, Moshiri was swayed by fellow directors who suggested it would be wiser not to contaminate the stadium further with another unpopular appointment.
Lampard, it was argued with some justification, would bring unity and get more patience from the support. He did, although ironically that is because the ire is now exclusively directed at the board who appointed him.
From day one, Lampard struggled to eradicate the flaws that brought down five of his sacked predecessors. Everton have a Frankenstein’s monster of a squad, assembled by eight coaches going as far back as David Moyes.
For every diehard professional such as captain Seamus Coleman, there are another six here-today, gone-tomorrow underperformers who talk a better game in interviews than they ever deliver on the pitch. By the end, Lampard understood how difficult it was to get players to have the same professional pride he did as a player.
It is no surprise that after his last home game – a 2-1 defeat by Southampton – Lampard let many of his players know how selfish he considered them. One of his squad, Abdoulaye Doucoure, was banished from first-team training last week but he was not the only one in the manager’s sights.
The fighting spirit Lampard briefly fostered during an emotional climax to last season was a distant memory in the past few weeks. Hopes were raised last May when the fans mobilised to stave off relegation, fortress Goodison coming to Everton’s rescue more than any significant change in style or form. Benitez was sacked with Everton 15th, six points above the bottom three. Everton finished 16th, four points above the drop.
This was hardly a strong foundation from which to build, and to compound the problems heading into this season Richarlison was sold to Tottenham Hotspur and home-grown hope Anthony Gordon’s head was turned by interest from Tottenham and Chelsea.
He has not been the same player since and has proven a major disappointment to Lampard, who initially seemed to see a little of himself in the fiery Scouser – but not by the end of it. The team’s cutting edge vanished when Richarlison was sold to Spurs, with the money unavailable for a like-for-like replacement as every Everton deal needs to be scrutinised to meet financial fair play rules, a legacy of Moshiri’s first wasteful transfer splurges.
With the little funds he had, Lampard targeted players of character and Premier League experience. James Tarkowski and Conor Coady looked smart buys in their early games, but hopes of a greater sense of resolve were undermined by a lack of punch in attack.
To replace Richarlison’s energy and goals, Lampard considered Blackburn striker Ben Brereton Diaz, but felt it was safer to bank on top-flight knowledge.
He spent £15 million on Brighton’s Neal Maupay. After a few games, it was obvious why the striker was relatively inexpensive. Dwight McNeil joined from Burnley for £20 million, but so far seems to be a player who looks more effective in training than on a match day.
The goals and assists were not there, leaving Lampard in the same position as Benitez and praying Dominic Calvert-Lewin could get fit.
By the time the England striker could put a run of games together, Everton were in the mire, damning statistics showing Lampard’s predecessors were dismissed with superior records. For the past few weeks it has been a matter of when, not if, Moshiri would polish his much-used axe.
What briefly saved Lampard was the Goodison crowd turning their full attention to the executives overseeing the carnage. There is a recognition Everton’s problems go way above whoever is standing on the touchline. But sympathy could extend only so far with the club heading towards the Championship.
Once West Ham inflicted a sixth defeat in eight games, Moshiri was back in familiar territory delivering votes of confidence in one breath while sounding out replacements the next, Everton increasingly looking like English football’s impossible job.
Lampard’s reign ended amid the chaos in which it had begun, official confirmation coming in the form of a club statement five hours after the world already knew his fate. He leaves realising that even those with vast experience must rethink the idea they have “seen it all” in football after a few months working for Everton.