“Just write that I am a tyrant and I have run them ragged and shouted at them,” said Sean Dyche. It might be the simpler way. His reputation precedes him and it is only partly of his own creation. If others have an image to live up to, Dyche has one to live down to. He is apparently the worm-eating dinosaur who likes 4-4-2, Ashley Barnes, going out in the snow without a coat and irritating foreign managers with passing philosophies. By his own admission, he has had his face photoshopped on to various wrestlers’ bodies. “I will live in whatever box you want me to,” Dyche said.
Now he belongs in the category of Everton managers. His recent predecessors include two Champions League winners, in Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez, and a host of other more fashionable figures, whether Roberto Martinez or Ronald Koeman, Frank Lampard or Marco Silva. Dyche may have been the last resort, Farhad Moshiri’s last stand, chosen by a board so unpopular they could not come to Goodison Park. “They felt I was right at this time,” Dyche said.
They might be right. Everton managers, and there are a lot of them, often win their first game, but the odds rarely seem so stacked against them. Dyche was undeterred. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist,” he added. “When I got the opportunity there was no question that I wasn’t coming.” And after one game, there was no question they were a Dyche side.
A team with three league victories all season beat one who had only dropped seven points. Everton may have run themselves ragged, collapsing to the turf at the final whistle in exhaustion, but Dyche had talked to them and listened to them. Arsenal were not beaten by ranting and raving but by asking and understanding. “I asked the team at half-time, ‘What do you think?’ Because they have taken a lot on this week,” Dyche added.
The age of the managerial dictator may be over. Dyche can seem a throwback in some respects; in others, the scourge of snoods presented himself as an empathetic figure. “The hardline Sean Dyche is your rule,” he said. “You wouldn’t have to go far to speak to players who I have worked with. I doubt many would say I am hardline. High professional standards and high demands don’t mean you are a tyrant.”
Aaron Lennon, a player with well-documented mental-health problems in his past, had recounted how sympathetic Dyche was to him. Joey Barton, a very different character, represented another triumph of his man-management.
It has begun at Everton. “There are a few players I have spoken to,” Dyche said. “Horse whispering, I call it.” Abdoulaye Doucoure came in from the cold, a player exiled by Frank Lampard and who Dyche had long liked, being rewarded for training well and with a smile on his face. Michael Keane, another out of favour with the old regime but whose finest form of his career came for Dyche at Burnley, was offered encouragement. “I think he is a terrific player,” said Dyche, suggesting the defender could be pivotal when fully fit.
For Amadou Onana, the man of the match against Arsenal, will come a lesson in “the ugly side” of the game from another gifted Belgian midfielder. Dyche has a reputation for preferring British players but he took Steven Defour to Burnley and he will get Defour to talk to Onana. “Steven will help me possibly educate him,” Dyche said.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin had not had more than three attempts at goal in a game all season. He had five by half-time on Saturday, aided by some footage from his past. “We showed him the goal reels and said, ‘Look where you are where you have scored goals,’” Dyche explained. “We showed him the goal map and said to him: ‘Get between the sticks’.”
If that scarcely sounds a sophisticated message, Dyche often talks about the basics. “He’s not a complicated manager,” said James Tarkowski, who spent six years under Dyche at Turf Moor. “He’s very simple, very straightforward so it’s not hard to buy into what he’s about. To be fair to the manager, he doesn’t care who we play, he’ll play exactly the same.”
Tarkowski marshalled the back four and served as the case for the defence of Dyche. Training does not just consist of shuttle runs. “He’s not that old school that we just stand there with no balls and just run back and forward,” the centre-back said.
But Dyche is happy to borrow from the old school. He has never claimed to reinvent football; rather he reminds himself of arguably Everton’s greatest side and seeks to channel some of their strengths. “You can still take the values of the past and the teams of the Eighties could be powerful and direct but they could play,” he said. “Some players came out of almost nowhere in those years and so that is still to be embraced. Now we have to do a version of it in modern style with analytics, recruitment, science and of course organisation.”
But as his side ran further than any Everton team in any other game this season, they had something to shout about.