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 By Ian Darke

Everton face battle to improve team and repair relationship with many of their fans

What has gone wrong at Everton?

It's a club soaked in history, tradition and boasting very many fine teams and magnificent footballers. The fans, knowledgeable and noisy and revelling in Everton's old reputation as the "School of Science", have become restless and disillusioned. This was supposed to be the season when the mood changed at Goodison: The prodigal son, Wayne Rooney, returned and there was hope the club would occasionally give a bloody nose to the top six and possibly win a Cup.

Instead, the Toffees look adrift, with acrimony between some fans and the club. How did it come to be at Everton, which has proudly retained top-flight status since 1954 (only Arsenal has had a longer run). A statue of "Dixie" Dean, the man who hit 60 goals in a season for the Toffees, stands at the gates of Goodison Park.

The history books are replete with stories about sixties idol Alex Young ("the Golden Vision") and the 1970 title -winning midfield masters Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball. Later there were the vibrant 1980s teams that won two Championships, the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup, featuring the likes of Trevor Steven, Andy Gray, Kevin Ratcliffe, Gary Lineker, Graeme Sharp and a goalkeeper signed from Bury who seemed virtually unbeatable, Neville Southall.

But there has been no trophy since Paul Rideout won the FA Cup for Everton against Manchester United in 1995.

David Moyes, more often than not during his tenure as manager from 2002 to 2013, had Everton in the top eight with tough, well-organised teams who were nobody's pushovers.

But times change and you sense today's fans -- and not just at Everton -- crave something more.

Ronald Koeman started the campaign with what seemed an impressive list of new signings, headed by the return of Rooney. The mood was upbeat as Rooney revealed that all through his Old Trafford glory years, he had slept in Everton pajamas.

Koeman, remember, had been hailed as a major coup when making the move from Southampton and taking Everton back into Europe. All looked rosy as Rooney scored the winner against Stoke in the opening league game and another in a creditable draw at Manchester City.

But things began to deteriorate. Expensive signings like Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, and Sandro Ramirez were not firing. Long term injuries to Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Yannick Bolasie did not help.

Crucially, Koeman and his recruitment team failed to find a top striker to replace the goals of Romelu Lukaku, who left for Manchester United.

The Europa League campaign ended in a miserable failure, with Atalanta exposing the Toffees ageing defence 5-1 at Goodison. Five months after finishing 7th, Koeman was gone amid stories of him not being the right fit or bonding with fans in the way Jurgen Klopp does half a mile away at Anfield.

In many ways, the vilification of the Dutchman became an ugly echo of the toxic atmosphere in the later stages of Roberto Martinez's 2013-16 Everton reign.

Wayne Rooney returned to Everton in 2017.
Wayne Rooney returned to Everton in 2017.

After a month-long caretaker cameo from dyed-in-the-wool Evertonian David Unsworth (a respectable seven points from five games), Sam Allardyce was the somewhat surprise and contentious choice to manage the club. He has taken Everton from 13th to a probable 8th place finish. The team has lost just one of the last eight league games, without exactly setting pulses racing.

Yet again, significant sections of the Goodison support are unhappy and want Allardyce out. They see their team as too dour, pragmatic and negative, while the manager points to his record, clearly believing there is no case to answer.

Will owner Farhad Moshiri decide to twist again this summer with yet another new managerial appointment? There is even speculation that Arsene Wenger might be offered the job, but that might be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire from his perspective.

Are expectation levels too high?

One lifelong Everton devotee told me: "We are in danger as fans of looking very hard to please. Both Martinez and Koeman were hounded out -- and now we might be doing the same with Sam".

Everton supporters know their football and their proud history. And, of course, they look across Stanley Park and see the red revival that has taken Liverpool to a Champions League Final.

In a perfect world, Evertonians would find a manager who can wow them with good football and win a trophy such as the FA Cup, league cup or Europa League. Is that realistic in today's new landscape? Have potential recruits been frightened off by the experiences of the last three bosses?

Whatever happens at Goodison this summer while the transfer window is open, peace needs to break out between this famous club and their fans sometime soon.

Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN's lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.


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