Smith let down by transfer dealings

Scot's position undermined by poor player relations and weakness of tactical judgement
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Walter Smith will go back to Scotland with a heavy heart and full pockets, but no amount of financial compensation will make up for the disappointment of his failure at Everton.

The dream of emulating – even slightly – the feats of his close friend Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United is unfulfilled, thwarted by a shortage of money, Goodison politics, and sadly a lack of tactical or transfer nous for the big-time that is the Premiership.

To the end, Smith thought he could see the latest crisis through, as he has done with so many before, but the league table does not lie and, after Sunday's embarrassing defeat at Middlesbough, the FA Cup no longer provided camouflage for a struggling team.

Smith's desire for stability at Everton was ultimately undermined by his own lack of achievement. The manager who came south of the border with silverwear-strewn credentials from his era at Rangers took his time to sort out the squad he inherited, made some poor signings, fell out with too many players and was betrayed by some of the club's biggest earners.

Duncan Ferguson's return has been a catastrophe, Paul Gascoigne's high-profile capture a sad sham and the deal for David Ginola a badly-judged investment. When Everton's owner and deputy chairman, Bill Kenwright, backed Smith with cash recently he signed three midfield players when the side cried out for a striker.

Ferguson's injuries – nothing new there – and the wearing-down of Kevin Campbell have left Everton bereft of the forward power that flickered occasionally at the start of the season.

As the inquest begins on the "Smith Years", the truth is that this Everton team are as poor as the side left by Howard Kendall's ill-advised third spell in charge, who came within minutes of relegation.

Smith was dogged at first by the unpopularity of the former chairman Peter Johnson. The detested Johnson appointed him in July 1998 following an embarrassing failure to prise Brian Kidd from his position as No 2 at Manchester United.

He soon found out that Johnson's hard sell did not match the amount of the money he had available and players began to leave. Everton's strength at that time was the number of young players coming through, headed by Francis Jeffers and Michael Ball.

However, Smith felt that they were too big for their young boots and had disputes with them, selling both for personal reasons as much as to reduce spiralling debts. Those fall-outs also included Don Hutchison, the maverick Scottish international who was sold to Sunderland.

In, and almost as quickly out, came and went Marco Materazzi and Olivier Dacourt. Both have proved to be good players since moving on, but they were dogged by disciplinary trouble during their seasons on Merseyside.

Their replacements were of the fading matinée idol variety. Everton fans cannot escape criticism as they welcomed the return of Ferguson and Gascoigne. Quite who decided to go for that showbiz duo is the subject of much sideways pointing between Smith and Kenwright. They smelt of the West End theatre, but insiders insist Smith wanted the pair and thought he could get more out of them. The only extra factor they provided was time spent on the treatment table.

Everton have lurched towards trouble this season after a promising beginning, when Smith's assertion that the first team was good enough but the squad was bare seemed an accurate assessment. Nagging doubts emerged as the numbers were whittled down.

The unhappy hat-trick of signings, Ginola, Lee Carsley and Tobias Linderoth, have not been the answer. Ginola is not rated fit enough and has sulked into a corner, Carsley is chasing his third successive relegation at different clubs and Linderoth has already been played in several positions.

The criticism of Smith's tactics could have been heard at Ibrox, the home of his Rangers triumphs, as many fans felt he would too often put men in the wrong roles. His signings in Glasgow were also mixed, for every Michael Laudrup there was a Marco Negri.

Smith is a genuinely nice man, perceived as dour for his interview style but sociable away from football and with a dry sense of humour. Once, after I had written that he was considering quitting, we met in an Italian restaurant and rather than rant he was warm and amusing. When asked how close the trattoria was to his home he replied with a grin: "I just rent up the road. Of course, I won't be staying."

He never did put down roots on Merseyside, even though this was his fourth season at Goodison. Perhaps he knew deep inside that he was only passing through.

Everton have no time for sentiment. They are nose-diving towards the First Division and look certain to appoint a Premiership novice in Preston North End's David Moyes. It will be a gamble, but one they have to take.

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