Separated by a few feet in the Goodison Park directors’ box, and several decades of experience on their managerial CVs, Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta viewed a drab and dour stalemate which offered little insight into which appointment will ultimately prove the right approach from these two slumping giants of the English game.
For Arsenal, the appointment of a new manager has taken them down the route of unproven potential, the glamour of a former player who has learned his coaching craft at the knee of Pep Guardiola, the chosen one of the global management game.
For Everton, the option came from the other end of the scale, the 60-year-old Italian Carlo Ancelotti who returns to the country where he won the Premier League title and FA Cup nine years ago when in charge of Chelsea.
It was an appointment that was designed to make a statement by the club’s new owner Farhad Moshiri who has invested millions into Everton but failed to generate either excitement, belief, or, more importantly, results in his near-four years in control of the club.
Ancelotti was the man he quickly identified as the credible, iconic managerial figure who would instantly put Everton on the European map.
A career that has latterly featured Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Napoli now sees Merseyside’s “other” club added to it. As a statement of intent and public relations exercise, this was a major coup, to have Everton lumped into such auspicious company.
Little wonder Moshiri spent so long, in terms of hours, courting Ancelotti, and so much investment in terms of the duration and remuneration for his contract, in tempting the Italian to Goodison Park.
The problems are only just beginning for Ancelotti, of course, whose first move was to announce that Duncan Ferguson will remain on his coaching staff — a no-brainer perhaps, but still a wise move given the Scot’s cult status at Goodison and the supporters’ response to his brief, but memorable, caretaker reign.
Beyond that, there are more questions than answers for Ancelotti to contend with.
He inherits a squad that has been poorly assembled by director of football Marcel Brands. There are gaping holes in areas — most notably in the striking ranks — and too many ephemeral, under-achieving players from whom Ancelotti must start to squeeze form and consistency — a list headed by Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott.
But, as advocates of Moshiri and Ancelotti would doubtless point out, the veteran has been there and done that in the managerial game. Little he will face at Goodison will be virgin territory for him and, as his mind turned back to his last spell in English football which ended, coincidentally, at the same stadium following a 1-0 Chelsea defeat to Everton in May 2011, he was presumably already coming up with some solutions.
The contrast with Arteta is, of course, glaring. Where is the well of experience from which the 37-year-old former Arsenal favourite can draw?
Brought in by Guardiola upon his arrival at the Etihad in 2016 and instantly named as the Catalan’s assistant, Arteta’s reputation has risen — steadily at first and then meteorically over the past two seasons of unrelenting success at Manchester City.
He has been praised for his man-management skills, his tactical nous, and his ability to be a voice of reason, whispering in the ear of emperor Guardiola, keeping the often-volatile and over-emotional Catalan in check.
Arteta now faces a different set of challenges, requiring a very different skill set, as he tries to undo the decline that was evident at Arsenal long before Unai Emery made his brief, ultimately disastrous, stab at returning the club to its former glories.
This is no easy task. Years of under-investment, and downright poor business in the transfer market have seen Arsenal fall well behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, and while there is some promising young talent at the Emirates, the club has also fallen behind rivals such as Tottenham and Chelsea in that department.
It was a point not lost on Tottenham’s new manager — Jose Mourinho, who else? — who could not resist the temptation to aim a sly dig at the respective appointments when quizzed about it over the weekend.
“The only point I can find, and it is for us to laugh a little bit, is that years ago the best managers were the guys with more victories and now the best is the guy with the fewest defeats,” said Mourinho.
“So, Ancelotti has three Champions Leagues, won the league in Italy, France, and England and won cups here and there — but Ancelotti has lost, I don’t know, 200 matches?
“I have lost 150-180 — Carlo is a little bit older than me. I think now it is not about how much you won, it is about the matches we didn’t lose. So, probably the best managers now are the managers with zero defeats.
“The only reason I can understand is that they look through the CVs and see guys with more defeats and guys with less defeats, so guys with less defeats are given the job. I cannot find another reason.”