Category Archives: Distin

Everton 2014-2015 – Three games; seven goals for, ten goals against; two points

(Oh) dear

(Oh) dear

Well I was worried, I really was. Scroll back a few posts, and you can see.

Let’s do the mitigation first. Arsenal and Chelsea are two Champions League teams with plenty to prove and, in Chelsea’s case, the hottest striker of the season.

But that’s it. Both were home games; neither followed Europa League matches; both included passages of play in which Everton did not just outplay their illustrious opponents, they dominated them. And yet, two points. Two points.

What’s happening?

Sylvain Distin, as fine a servant to the club as Everton have known, suddenly looks nearly 37 years old. He is half a yard off the pace, despite his still excellent positioning, which means that attackers can square him up and go past him on either side – he knows it and so do they. He is also a step or two too far from Phil Jagielka, which is the gap that class forwards need for the killer run and class midfielders for the killer ball. Jagielka, at 32 and with plenty of miles on the clock, might be half a pace short too, certainly deep in the second half.

It’s not all their fault of course. Just in front and just behind the central defenders, two more thirty-somethings, Gareth Barry and Tim Howard, are yet to bring their A games. Barry is being pulled around the field more than he appears comfortable with, while Tim Howard, after the exultant peak vs Belgium in Brazil, finds the ball going past him rather than hitting him (though it’s almost too much to think of those ten conceded goals and the saves).

Not good, not good at all, but is there something even worse lurking deep in Everton’s defensive dysfunctionality? James McCarthy was my player of the year last season, a whirlygig of tackling, blocking and screening, the base on which attacks were built. Is he covering the ground he covered last season? Is he seeing danger quickly enough to snuff it out? Is he fulfilling that enormous brief handed to him almost exactly one year ago?

Three games in is too soon to leap to conclusions, but Roberto Martinez is very close to Something Must Be Done territory. He might start by asking Distin to take a seat on the bench and asking John Stones to build a regular partnership with the captain. He might also seek to play Muhamed Besic as a 30 minutes substitute for Barry to give McCarthy less running in the last quarter of matches. And, in two days, buy or loan a centre-half from somewhere.

It’s not the time to press the panic button, but can Martinez afford another defeat and still expect to finish ahead of a very strong Tottenham squad? And if he doesn’t, surely that will mean a step back – despite the feelgood factor that suffused the club just a few weeks ago?

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History, Luck and Leadership – Tim Howard and Sylvain Distin 22 March 2014

Captaincy - Bad, Bad and Brilliant

Captaincy – Bad, Bad and Brilliant

Swansea City just don’t beat Everton – that’s what history tells us, but nobody would have been surprised if a new page had been written at Goodison Park on a windy Spring afternoon. In a free flowing game of few fouls and no cards, much good football was played between the penalty areas but, despite five goals, the football inside the areas was of a markedly lower standard. Swansea were, with the influence of Roberto Martinez still evident, more like Everton than Everton – enjoying possession, creating chances and finishing feebly. It was a lucky three points for the Blues in a match that could have ended 3-5 on another day.

If that’s the history and the luck, what about the leadership? Well, I groaned when I saw that, in the absence of Phil Jagielka and with Leon Osman on the bench, the armband had been given to Tim Howard. I’ve nothing against the American stopper – he’s been excellent all season and a worthy successor to Neville Southall and Nigel Martyn and should soon go past Gordon West’s 402 appearances to ascend the third step on the Blues’ goalkeepers list behind only Big Nev himself and Ted Sagar – but is he a captain? Is – with all due respect to Dino Zoff, Peter Schmeichel and and Oliver Kahn – any goalkeeper a captain?

One school of thought claims that football captains’ work is done off the field, in PR exercises mainly, and that there’s little influence a captain can bring to bear on the field for all the eulogising of Tony Adams / John Terry type figures with their supposed Henry V like powers to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. Usually I would agree – but not today.

When, having dominated the first twenty minutes, a Leighton Baines penalty gave Everton a deserved lead, Swansea City – fighting for their Premier League lives, lest we forget – committed men forward, played with a hitherto unseen freedom and dominated the game. Everton looked tired, slightly offended at the affrontery of these upstarts and a touch complacent – somebody needed to “have a word”. Howard, isolated in goal and with plenty to do himself in getting the defence organised (a wall disintegrated when Swansea forced a free kick within shooting range) needed to be a captain in the thick of it – he wasn’t. 

Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines are quiet lads and may not fancy the captaincy duties; James McCarthy seems quiet too and is still a junior pro (though he will captain the club one day). But playing alongside our injured club captain week-in, week-out is a model pro with 180+ appearances for Everton and experience of captaincy in the Premier League. Syvain Distin should have worn the armband and should have been responsible for geeing up the team during Swansea’s long periods of dominance. It’s what he deserved, but more importantly, it’s what the team needed and didn’t get.

Happy Birthday Sylvain Distin 14 December 2013

Billy Bonds played 'til he was how old?

Billy Bonds played ’til he was how old?

When Sylvain Distin signed for Everton in 2009, he was 31 years old and seemed to have been knocking around mid to lower range Premier League teams like Newcastle United, Portsmouth and pre-Abu Dhabi Manchester City for ages. At best, the £5m transfer fee appeared to have bought a squad player who would do little to move the club to the next level; at worst, it brought a player looking to top up his pension as he coasted to retirement. What did we know?

That three year contract has been extended by two more years and who is to say that another 12 months isn’t on the cards, despite the Frenchman turning 36 on Monday 16 December. The big man has lost none of his pace, none of his positioning skills and none of his strength – and he looks as fit as ever, his record number of Premier League appearances for a foreign outfielder pushing on towards the 450 mark, as he looks after himself very well.

All highly commendable, but what makes Sylvain Distin extra special are two characteristics that can only be observed rather than known – at least from the outside. 

The Martinez Project has challenged the centre-back to add to his game very late in his career. All eleven Everton players must be willing and able to give a pass and take a pass in 2013-14 – there is no hiding place, no alehouse ball pumped from back to front, no Row Z as an option. Everyone knew that the reason Distin did not have a single international cap – not one! – was his distribution. He was an old-fashioned stopper, without much of a right foot and, if truth be told, without much of a left foot either. Opposition managers knew this and pressed nine Everton players and left one – you guessed it – free to receive possession and start the attacking plays. Early season matches  – remember all those 0-0s? – showed that the big Number 15 was less comfortable than either of his bomb-forward full-backs or his midfield convert centre-back and captain with this discipline. But Distin has learned, improved and grown into The Martinez Project – the humility of an intelligent and thoughtful man shining through.

Which leads me to the second aspect of Distin’s work for which Evertonians must be grateful. His arrival coincided with Phil Jagielka’s rise to prominence as one of the Premier League’s most consistent centre-backs, recognised by a growing number of England caps. A captain at Manchester City and Portsmouth, Distin is used to working with younger players, finding the right word for them on and off the field. How much influence he has in the dressing room cannot be known from my perspective, but if a young player isn’t listening to M. Distin, they’re not listening to anyone.

When he does hang up his boots, I hope he stays on the staff – but, for now, Bonne Anniversaire Monsieur et Merci Beaucoup!