All that and more
Should David Moyes be overrated or celebrated? Time to wade into the debate that followed his seventh anniversary at Everton.
On the burning issue of the best manager in Merseyside – surely it has to be David Moyes? Never mind that the Everton chief marked seven barren years with yet another optimistic media spin. Never mind that that occasion was recognised with a home win over Stoke City and the accompanying thought that they have surpassed Liverpool, which failed to beat the Potters at Anfield. Never mind that the Everton board and supporters will eventually pay for their prolonged infatuation with the charming and suave Scot.
So long as the 46-year-old is happy to be used as the stick to beat Rafael Benitez and his evil corporate mob across Stanley Park, the media is reciprocally pleased to perpetuate the myth of Moyes. In England – and here for that matter – mediocrity is celebrated as a redeeming facet of life. These conditions fuel the growth of Moyes as a larger than life persona and obscure his abysmal track record of managing two semifinal places in the League and FA Cups during his tenure.
But tender compliments continue to pour into Goodison Park. Putting four goals past Real Madrid? Pah, Moyes could have accomplished that with Benitez’s team. Savaging Manchester United at Old Trafford? Easy, Moyes would have had that boy Rooney eating his club badge. Clearly, nothing is beyond our hero if only he was given the funding that his counterpart enjoys at Anfield. This week, the asinine inflation of Moyes’ slim talent found its depths of despair when he was touted to succeed his more famous compatriot in Manchester.
It is not nice kicking a team when they are down and the media should not plunge United supporters into an even deeper daze by linking Moyes to the post at Old Trafford – not candidates such as Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti or Jose Mourinho, but Moyes! But the media has this strange proclivity to champion Moyes as a would-be managerial great, which is misleading. This is the so-called award-winning writer James Lawton’s mischievous prophesy in The Independent last March: “We might just be recognising in Moyes … the best football manager seen around Liverpool since the days of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.”
In paying its tribute to Moyes’ seven years at Goodison Park, theDaily Mail last Friday itemised these “achievements” as the high points of his Everton career: the emergence of Wayne Rooney; the League Managers’ Association Manager of the Year Awards in 2002/03 and 2004/05; signing up Tim Cahill for a bargain £2mil; finishing fourth in Season 2004/05; thumping Liverpool 3-0 in September 2006; reaching the Last 16 of the UEFA Cup in Season 2007/08 and the FA Cup semifinal this term.
Moyes has managed cannily and Everton have stealthily moved into Champions League reckoning. They have made Arsenal tough it up for the points both home and away while giving Liverpool a run for their money. In between Jan 19 and Feb 4, the Toffees played these two clubs and United on five occasions in the league and FA Cup and lost only once, to the Red Devils.
The turning point in Everton’s season arrived when they cut short Liverpool’s ambition in the Cup and dented their title aspirations in two 1-1 draws at Anfield. While clashes against Liverpool are measured in terms of Everton’s prospects for the season or as an act of defiance, there was a special ring to the results this time when they were paired with the Arsenal stalemate and the narrow defeat at Old Trafford in that 15-day period, which indicated progress.
There is little argument that Moyes has assembled a compact unit at Goodison Park, which is able not only to combat the well-endowed clubs but also – in contrast with last season’s shortcomings – sweep aside the lowly outfits in the Premier League. The flaws in Moyes’ managerial makeup, however, could be the hardest stumbling block to Everton shedding their status as a top six club and establishing themselves as England’s Champions League regulars.
Moyes has apparently displayed a knack for spotting players of Premiership potential from the lower divisions and tripling their value into the millions. Only Moyes and his admirers know how long he would be basking in the goodwill of landing Cahill as he has not made another significant bargain-buy quite like the Australian.
As for the Scot’s carping that he has been forced to deal with transfer budgets smaller than the braid on Marouane Fellaini’s head, the line-up that he fielded against Stoke was only £10.5mil lower than that which Aston Villa had for their defeat to Tottenham Hotspur over the weekend. Tactically, Moyes is as good as any of his mid-table ranking peers – and we know what that really means – and is ill-suited for a league that is becoming more technical by the season, especially with the invasion of foreign managers and footballers.
Villa are fourth and still within reach of their Champions League debut and Moyes must admit that Martin O’Neill has notched up more advancement than him with a young team. Everton and Villa have targeted Champions League as their Holy Grail – though both are likely to be beaten in the race by an improving Arsenal – and this is the season for the Villans and Toffees to lay down the marker for the future.
The problem here for Everton is that they are tied to Moyes until 2013 – a grand gesture from his principal fan in the club’s boardroom, Bill Kenwright. The chairman’s love for Moyes is due for another extension if his manager safely negotiates a trip to Wembley, which requires moving past United next month. In the realistic world that often eludes Moyes, Everton and their supporters, this has the vague appearance of a more attainable ambition.