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15th Nov 2016

Ronald Koeman’s honesty is just what Everton need to move forward

There will be no sweetening of the bitterest pills.

Tony Barrett

During an international break in which the only thing left for him to do is an impression of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men telling those who claim to want him to tell the truth that they can’t handle it when he does, Ronald Koeman has enhanced his reputation for being the anti-bullshit man – if not his popularity – among those who would rather he said the things they would like to hear.

Like the diner who would have no qualms about sending a steak back to the kitchen if it was slightly over-cooked, the husband who would willingly tell his wife that her new hair-do doesn’t do her any favours, the father who has no reluctance in chastising his son for not working hard enough off the ball after he has just scored a hat-trick, Koeman does not do polite niceties when there are harsh realities there to be highlighted. He is there to tell it like it is.

In the past week or so, he has taken that quest for truth to extremes. “Everton should not be the end” for Romelu Lukaku, Koeman told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, in the knowledge that such an opinion has long been held by the player himself and by his agent, Mino Raiola. A few days later, Koeman spoke of his own “ultimate” ambition, using an interview with Fox Sports to reveal his desire to manage Holland at some unspecified date in the future.

In between those revelations, Koeman strayed dangerously close to Gordon Lee territory by praising Liverpool. “It’s still too early to say who will be the [title] favourites, but I have been impressed by Liverpool so far,” the Dutchman told ESPN.

“Maybe that is not what you might expect the Everton manager to say but they have been playing some very good football and deserve to be at the top. They have goals in their team and this is what all successful sides need. Of course they can be champions this season, they have a good chance, but they are not the only contenders.”

Everything that Koeman said – about Everton, about Lukaku, about himself and about Liverpool – stands up to scrutiny. It would be difficult to construct an argument that Lukaku has more chance of fulfilling his potential at Everton than at an elite club like Barcelona or that Liverpool, the current league leaders, have not been impressive and do not look like a team which could do on to win the league. The problem is, at football clubs, where rivalries and allegiances often dictate what can and can’t be said, these are the exactly the kind of truths that are rarely allowed to speak their name.

koe1Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For that reason, admissions of personal aspirations, of current limitations and of admiration for the one team more than any other that you need to usurp remain few and far between, yet Koeman achieved that rare hat-trick in a single week. If he was a player he would return to Everton’s training ground later this week with his manager wanting to know why he’d had so much to say for himself during the international break, but Koeman is the manager and, given the authority he has quickly established, no one will be taking him to task.

None of this is bad. There is a strong argument that the truth serum Koeman seems determined to administer is exactly what Everton need. It was as recently as 12 months ago that a squad featuring a past his best Tim Howard, a not good enough Joel Robles, a declining Phil Jagielka, a directionless John Stones, a sub-standard Ramiro Funes Mori, a labouring Bryan Oviedo, a mediocre James McCarthy, a fitful Ross Barkley, an inconsistent Kevin Mirallas and a frustrating Gerard Deulofeu was being portrayed as Everton’s best in a generation by Roberto Martinez.

On that basis alone, Everton is a club that needs more truth, not less, and however hard it might be to take someone has to accept responsibility for giving it out. Koeman has taken that role on exactly as should be expected of someone who Ruud Gullit, his former Holland team mate, says “Just tells you the things exactly how they are.”

In the post-truth era when fascists are called “radical populists” and elections can be won by misleading people, such plain-speaking may seem incongruous and it certainly carries a risk but Koeman has come to Everton to enhance the reputation of himself and the club and he will say and do whatever he feels is necessary for that to happen.

GettyImages-531025678Koeman couldn’t be much more different from predecessor Roberto Martinez (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Players are not going to be told they are better than they are, egos will not be massaged, supporters will not be conned into believing a mediocre team is on the verge of something special, there will be no sweetening of the bitterest pills. He may not go as far as to admit this one given current tensions between Everton and the Republic of Ireland but it is hard to imagine that Koeman did not nod in agreement when Roy Keane suggested the Merseyside club needs to toughen up if it wants to bring its 21-year wait for a trophy to an end.

From the moment he arrived during the summer, Koeman has made no attempt to hide his feelings. From Everton’s early pre-season games when he was regularly seen shaking his head at what was unfolding in front of him to last weekend’s post-match admission that his team had been handed a lesson by Chelsea, it has been impossible to escape the feeling that Koeman does not believe the club he is in charge of is living up to the Nil Satis Nisi Optimum (nothing but the best is good enough) motto that should be its benchmark.

What we know for sure is that if Everton are not good enough, if they fall short of the standards that they have always set for themselves as one of English football’s biggest and most historic clubs, he will not be afraid to point it out. That approach might not always be beneficial to his public image and it might cost him some relationships along the way, but Koeman is single minded and driven enough to recognise that, as Keane highlighted, Everton are in need of the toughest kind of love. That being the case, there is no alternative to brutal honesty. The time for bullshit has passed.

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