David Unsworth has been at the centre of the media debate during recent days after he was given the Everton manager’s job on a temporary basis. The Toffees have lost both of his matches in charge so far and there has been little sign of improvement from the team that regarded as a failure under Ronald Koeman.
The main opposition to Unsworth has been Joey Barton and the boyhood Evertonian hasn’t been shy in coming forward in his criticism of the 44-year-old. The former player turned radio pundit is an explosive character and there could be some sense of sensationalism in his comments, but he has given an interesting take on the situation during the TalkSPORT Alan Brazil breakfast show.
“He’s a glorified PE teacher. He’s an academy coach who shouldn’t be managing a men’s team. I watched him waddling on to the coach. How can you get players to exert themselves physically when you’re out of shape? I used to watch him as an Evertonian and he was the most immobile left-back I’ve ever seen. He’s not a manager and doesn’t look like one.”
This comes across as a personal attack on Unsworth and his appearance, which will make several uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of criticism on Barton and the reference to the caretaker manager’s weight, as that shouldn’t have any impact on an individual not getting a job. If this comment had come from a fan on the terraces, it would rightly be taken with a pinch of salt, but as it comes from a former player, it deserves to be taken into consideration.
It remains unknown whether Barton truly believes this view or if he was saying it to get a reaction, but if it is the former, it is a worry for Everton supporters if Unsworth gets the job. It is an abhorrent opinion and one that shouldn’t be present in football, but if Barton holds the view, then there will be current players with it too. There are a lot of biases that remain at large in football and they need to be accounted for when making decisions at the very top. Later into his attack, the former Newcastle United and QPR player makes a more pertinent point regarding the 44-year-old’s suitability for the job.
“He’s talking a big game in the papers saying he wants the job and thinks he can handle the job full-time. He is saying this on the back of having never managed a senior side, not really done an apprenticeship and gone down the leagues to ply his trade and work his way back up into a position to manage a Premier League club.
“In my opinion, he has cosied up to Bill Kenwright, who he knows is a romantic, who he knows likes former players to be involved in the football club, and is attempting to take a shortcut. He doesn’t look right to me. He is not the right man for the Everton job. If he takes the Everton job, Everton will get relegated.”
Barton clearly believes that Unsworth isn’t suitable for the Everton job and this point carries a lot more relevance than the first. It is becoming a common theme for British managers to complain about lack of opportunities at the highest level, but they aren’t willing to drop down and earn experience to develop as a manager before taking a top-flight job.
Unsworth has done a great job at youth level and brought through a lot of players to the first team, but it is completely different dealing with senior players. They have bigger egos and it is a much bigger challenge to keep all of them happy. Another difference is the tactical demands on the manager in the Premier League. He is now coming up against the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho rather than other inexperienced managers.
The pressure difference is chalk and cheese. The attack on Unsworth’s appearance leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but it is difficult to argue with Barton on this view, as the Everton caretaker hasn’t managed in senior football before.
The alternate view
Not every ex-footballer shares the thoughts of Joey Barton and former Everton player Phil Neville has come out in support of Unsworth, stating that he deserves the job on a full-time basis in his BBC Sport column.
“I would love to see David Unsworth get the Everton job on a permanent basis and it riles me when I see him described as not having enough experience. Unsworth has done the hard yards as a coach and has done a fantastic job with the Everton Under-23 side, where he has done everything that was asked of him. He won the Premier League 2 title with them last season and has also produced a lot of the young players that are now playing for the Everton first team. The next step now is for him to go and do that at first-team level in the Premier League and hopefully that is at Everton, because it seems the perfect match.”
It is an interesting counter-argument to the one put forward by Barton, but ultimately a lot less convincing. Unsworth has done a great job with the Under-23 side and deserves to be in the discussion for the permanent position as a result. However, he shouldn’t be regarded as a leading candidate as he has never been in a senior management role. People who have never been in football can attest to the huge difference between youth football and senior football, which is why some players can’t make the step-up.
As a former footballer, Neville should know that better than most. The next logical step is senior football, but it should come lower down the pyramid as the Premier League is a highly pressured environment and Unsworth would be learning on the job. Caretaker managers that are given a permanent deal are rarely a success. The recent dismissal of Craig Shakespeare is a great example of that. The BBC Sport pundit follows it up with a point on the lack of opportunities for English managers.
“From an English coach’s perspective, we are not getting opportunities. We are seen as second-class citizens at the moment, and that has got to change.”
This is a lazy narrative that is being pushed by a number of British pundits. Welshman Ryan Giggs recently put himself in the running for Premier League jobs, despite having never held a management position in senior football. Phil Neville has done similar and tried to get into coaching at Valencia and Manchester United. It seems that these British players that want to go into management are only interested in taking posts at the highest level. Their arrogance is preventing them from making progress.
Back to Unsworth, he has been a good servant to Everton, but it would be a mistake to give him the job permanently. It would send out the wrong message to the players and undo a lot of the good work that the club has done in recent years. They have the ambition of breaking into the top-six and they need to match that with an appropriate managerial appointment. Unsworth isn’t that.