*The below interview took place prior to Everton’s Premier League fixture with West Ham United on January 21.*
Mr Moshiri, thank you for agreeing to meet with me today and answer some of the questions Evertonians are keen to get answers to. The Fan Advisory Board has been carrying out in-person and virtual meetings over the last couple of weeks and supporters are concerned about the current position of the club and are seeking reassurance about the future. I hope you do appreciate some of these questions may be challenging but they do come from a place of passion and care from fans for their club. Supporters are very frustrated and I’m sure you know they have concerns with the club’s hierarchy. I know you are aware of the campaign group and their activities, what would be your message to them and other Evertonians who are unhappy with where things are at the moment?
FM: “I have read all their concerns, as listed to you before the interview. Every point raised by every fan group is in my diary. I am sensitive and deal with everything.”
It could be argued, if you compared the board of directors at Everton to other Premier League clubs, we have a small board in terms of numbers – some of which are filling executive roles – would you consider adding more expertise to the board, in a football or business capacity?
FM: “All aspects of a football operation are not run by the board. We have a director of football. A substantial part of expenditure in a football club is incurred on the football side. Kevin Thelwell, the director of football, is primarily responsible for recruitment, academy development and medical science. All these facets of the football business is run by Kevin Thelwell. Under the board, there are 26 additional appointments recently made after our review. It has been an exhaustive review, and I am going through every part of the review that was made.
“In some areas, we haven’t progressed as much as we wanted, such as recruitment, but we are dealing with it and are making additional appointments. Every part will be considered. We are not complacent, we understand where we are. Whenever you try to make dramatic changes, the results will not appear the next day. We need patience, but they will come true. If we need additional personnel, we employ. If we think the board needs additional executives with different, more diverse skills – we’ll appoint them. But we cannot just appoint them under pressure and disrupt the business.”
You recently expressed your faith in the board of directors while there are some supporters who question their competence. Can you talk about where your faith in them comes from and how you measure their performances?
FM: “I think it is a great time to be able to talk to fans. I have sent a few open letters and would actually like to meet fans in person, to have a face-to-face with them. This is the most critical time in our history and almost an existential point. Bill Kenwright is one of the most loved and respected men in football and Denise [Barrett-Baxendale], I have seen first-hand the work she does on the stadium and all facets of club development. We have a very able finance director, who is a chartered accountant, and one of our former legends on the board; the skillset and mix is good. I have faith in this board. In the past, I have removed directors and have appointed directors… I am not shy to make changes. We make changes when there is a need, and we will be ruthless.
“We need calm and we need to go past our current position on the pitch. I feel the pain, I hear what the fans say; they have points and we will be addressing them. I don’t miss out anything, I have a list of all the points and I deal with everything. I am committed to this club, not just the stadium but to join the elite. But I need your help: the fans are the most important part of the Everton institution and we need to go through this together. Only we can go through this together. Everton has been dependent on Goodison and the twelfth man. I know we are much weaker without the full-hearted support of the fans and I will do whatever it takes to get fans on board. I will meet them, you can talk to me, but I am on it 24 hours a day. It is not a position which is sustainable for a club of our standard. We just need to address it, but we can only address it together.”
The recognition there that the fans are instrumental is massive – have you or the football club ever considered having a fan on the board of directors?
FM: “In my industrial businesses, from time to time, I have had members of trade unions to sit on the board and it is never a bad idea. I think the same objective must be shared among us and we need to believe in that. Board representation is not a solution, it is not a bad idea and I am open to it. But more forums, more dialogue, more communication, maybe selected numbers of fans talking to the director of football and going to Finch Farm to understand the extent of work which is being done to revamp. Remember this is an old, historic club. When I bought it I said ‘I don’t want to preside over a museum, we want to be competitive’. I thought to change the culture you need a symbol, and I still believe in it.
“As a club in the North West, with the most modern and most impressive stadium, we have something to fight for, a home to fight for. But a glossy stadium and great masterpiece in architecture will not support us alone on the pitch, and we are aware of that. I support the addition of recruitment and we will get there, but we can only get there together. Players cannot be worried before going into a match at Goodison. These are our players, they wear the Everton shirt. We need to fight for them. We need a striker, and we will get one. We strengthen the team and I have no doubt the second half of the season will be stronger. Any deficiency in team performance will be dealt with – that is the objective. The objective will be achieved, together.”
You mentioned the stadium there, what are your other goals and ambitions for Everton?
FM: “Ambition for Everton is to always be among the elite. We were part of the elite. Our goal is never to be in the bottom three, our ambition is to play European football. We haven’t succeeded today, but we have laid the foundation to do it. Not just through communication and hollow words, but through implementation and demonstration to fans, we share this step-by-step progress to success. Together.”
Thank you for outlining the long-term vision. I’m assuming the club has a plan to get out of the current situation we are in?
FM “Yes. We have a plan, and the plan is in place. In terms of recruitment, it is about performance and every part of the performance is being measured, the weaknesses are analysed and we are addressing them. We have the [transfer] window to address it.”
A lot has been made of the strategic review of football operations that took place about 12 months ago. Did that include player recruitment?
FM: “Recruitment was a big part of it. Kevin Thelwell has concentrated on that, the medical department is strengthened and we are still strengthening the medical [department]. That is the most important part of the performance criteria. Another ten per cent utilisation from a player by efficient rehab and early diagnosis would lead to extra points. Our injury list has shrunk and it will improve. At Academy level, a number of high-level appointments have been made to attract better quality talent at different age groups. A lot of work has gone into the Academy by Kevin and the coaching staff are monitored and reviewed by Thelwell. He writes detailed match reports after each game and detailed injury reports are presented to us. The information database has significantly improved. With recruitment, we still have room for improvement and we will improve.
“That is the most important part of the whole sport competitiveness, finding that early talent, and we are looking at a few more appointments on that. That is what is interesting to fans and me: sport. There are appointments in the commercial areas to improve better quality sponsorships, more commercial deals and all those areas are covered. The stadium, I must say, is probably the best-performing area of our operation currently. The only fixed contract in the history of stadium construction in the UK on time, on budget. Of course that is something not tangible for fans, today, but once we get through the current underperformance fans can, with me, start dreaming about the new stadium, Europe and everything that goes with that type of facility.”
You have mentioned Kevin Thelwell a few times now. He is our third director of football within six years. Is that role of director of football something you still believe in and have they been allowed to do their jobs?
FM: “I think the director of football is important. Clubs which are now very successful all have directors of football. The function is just too much now: there are interviews, press, what you need to do for sponsors and the functions are immense. No manager has time to do scouting in the fashion that David Moyes or Alex Ferguson used to do. The current managers are close to continental coaches, they are trainers. They have players they need to train and improve by coaching, but the recruitment department needs to provide them with what they need. If they need a right-back or support at striking level, that’s what they need to come up with. The process at Everton is a well-structured process, so there are requisition forms for a new player. Either the director of football or the manager will propose a player’s name then, once they have both signed, a document will be sent to the chairman and myself. The document will involve detailed scouting reports, recommendation of the manager and director of football and any references from experts who know the particular player, in terms of character and everything else.
“Once the chairman signs, I sign. That is well-structured. In the six years since I bought the club, I never proposed a single player. It goes through a well-structured system. Why hasn’t it worked? I think that is a big question as the structure is there. We have had Steve Walsh from Leicester, a very experienced scout, Marcel Brands, one of the top European directors, and now Kevin Thelwell. I think the reasons are that some of the deficiencies in various departments of football management were not addressed. Those are imperative to proper recruitment, that affects the performance availability and Financial Fair Play. Once you buy these players, you cannot buy additional players. We got very little out of these players. Our additional expertise in the medical and rehab department may support more utilisation. That is what we saw from the review – you need to have all the other areas in place. That is what has been taking place. Most things are at a good level but talent-spotting still needs to improve.
We touched on the stadium a little bit earlier and Evertonians are very grateful for the role you played with that. Do you remain fully committed to delivering this project?
FM: “Completely. That is the most important part of the Everton project, for its future. We have suffered three years of Covid and, under this board, they have managed to contain and progress the project and get it to a point where we are very close to stadium financing and I hope to be able to announce that to you. This is a board that is committed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unless you secure that income, you will always have a Financial Fair Play problem with that income we have with our stadium. Of course, thousands of fans …