"It was the genius of Proust to take for granted that every appearance is either deception or subject to misinterpretation and that the only gift the killer Time bestows is to allow us to see, on later viewings, what it was that we missed first time around."
GORE VIDAL, 'Palimpsest' (Andre Deutsch, 1995).
David Moyes signed his new contract sometime in early-mid October, 2008. Up to the signing we were in the lower half of the league because of our wretched form. We were knocked out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle, although that was admittedly to a very good team. We didn't win a league match between 14th September and 29th October. Afterwards, we gradually improved and reached sixth place, which is where we are as I write. This is no coincidence, whatever anybody says. There can be no doubt the delay cost us, and it left many fans fuming, me included. It was all a needless pantomime.
In mid-December a large envelope dropped through my letter box. It contained the club's Annual Report and Accounts for 2008. It is a well-produced and presented glossy document that illustrates the playing success of last season in accountancy terms. I didn't spend too much time on the figures because any student of the club's affairs could have told you roughly what would be in them before they were compiled, that we don't have any money, that we have to shuffle every penny to avoid disaster, that we are up to our necks in debt like every other club. The entire economic system has followed the same model. As global events have shown, this can't go on. So what's new? In present circumstances the existential trick is to keep the wolf on the other side of the door, not go outside and breathe Guinness all over him in the hope he'll flee for the tree line. And anyway I find accountancy as riveting as any other clerical work, which is to say it usually bores me to tears. Fact is, accounts can say almost whatever you want them to say (banking system/Enron/Andersen, anybody?) even within the rules of that dismal and often crooked profession.
No, what interested me this time round was the front cover photograph of David Moyes. His face, not his sartorial style, (the only person I have seen less comfortable in a suit is the sack of spuds that is my brother) and how it has changed after six years in the hallowed pulpit. Now, any reasonable photographer knows use of light is the crucial element when composing a shot. Also, current computer software means you can produce at least as many variants in the result as a set of final accounts. However, the cover photograph was taken in available light and appears to be largely untouched apart from cropping. Available light can be raw and merciless. This shot is no exception. It is even more so because Moyesy is the centre of focus in a very narrow depth of field. Allowing for circumstances - it looks as though it was taken post-match, externally - it is fairly revealing in a way that you rarely see in structured TV interviews with the benefit of specialist lighting.
Allowing for dishevelment, my impression is that he looks care worn, maybe subject to 45 years old midlife hiatus. After all, everyone needs to stop and consider occasionally. This can take a heavy toll if you have an impatient temperament, which we know he has. Which makes his tenure as the third longest-serving manager in the Premier League even more surprising. In fact I thought he would have gone by now. As we all know, players and managers interchange as often as fans' fickle behaviour. This season's league-wide events once again demonstrate it all too starkly. The financial rewards may be high but they also bear a commensurate penalty when things don't go right. Like it or not, that is the way the system works. But fans don't have the monetary compensation of a Premiership manager. Therefore, they are entitled to feel pissed off when they get the kind of behaviour Moyesy indulged prior to signing the new contract.
All of this suggests a brief look at his Everton managerial record is in order. So, to set the record straight, I had an accountancy moment courtesy of Steve Johnson's unheralded but inestimable website at www.evertonresults.com and used a comparison with the period 1990-2001, which was immediately prior to his arrival. I have excluded 2002 in the arithmetic because it wasn't a season of sole manager control. The following shows the year and our league placing:
1990 - 6th.
1991 - 9th.
1992 - 12th.
1993 - 13th.
1994 - 17th.
1995 - 15th.
1996 - 6th.
1997 - 15th.
1998 - 17th.
1999 - 14th.
2000 - 13th.
2001 - 16th.
(2002 - 15th. David Moyes joined on March 14th.)
2003 - 7th. League Managers Association Manager of the Year.
2004 - 17th. Manager of the Month, September.
2005 - 4th. League Managers Association Manager of the Year.
2006 - 11th. Manager of the Month, January.
2007 - 6th.
2008 - 5th. Manager of the Month, February.
This is a superlative record in the circumstances. At the time of writing, David Moyes has delivered 48.70% wins during his tenure. In the eleven full seasons before his arrival our average finish was 13th (actually 12.8 - see what I mean about accountancy?). In his six full seasons our average finish was 8th (actually 8.3). That's an improvement of about 38.40%. Club revenue has increased gradually as a direct result. Put these figures together with the managerial awards and you can see just how substantial has been his achievement. This is emphasised when you recall his openly voiced apprehension just after his arrival when he said he feared he might be the manager to preside over relegation. None of it shows the personal price he has paid. Nobody can know that except himself, though perhaps the photograph gets close to it. I suspect he is his own biggest critic, and that he is appalling to work and live with if things don't go exactly as he wishes. But nobody of any common sense can gainsay what the man has achieved with the club. Before he arrived we looked doomed to relegation sooner or later. Now we get irritated if it looks as though we won't qualify for Europe. This is remarkable given the admitted limits of our finances.
Which makes it even more bemusing when you hear some benighted idiot say something like, "We don't attack enough." What the fuck are we supposed to attack WITH......Scotch Mist or the overdraft? In each of the three previous seasons the club broke its transfer fee record when signing a new striker. The fact is, this season only Chelsea have scored a lot more goals than us, and we all know what that cost them. Other clubs have spent vast amounts of cash and are still only just ahead of our goals total. The players we have are about right for the money we have. The way the team plays is about right for the kind of player we can afford. The money we have, or lack of it, like it or not, is about right for this moment in the club's history. As matters stand we are stretched to repay debts while trying to maintain playing improvements. Somehow, everyone at the club has managed to achieve a precarious balance, not least David Moyes. So next time you hear some utter yoyo whining on about "playing styles" and "investment" you are perfectly entitled to laugh out loud, turn on your heel and walk. You can bet the yoyo hasn't the first clue about the realities of life, never mind football.
But the worst example of his most childish behaviour came at the end of the home league game versus Aston Villa. Apparently he took some mild stick from the crowd because of his late substitution made as we were 2-1 down. When we got an equaliser almost immediately he turned on the crowd - all four sides of the ground - gave it two fingers (caught on camera) and hurled his coat at the dugout. Thirty seconds later we went behind again and lost the game. If you believe fate teaches you a lesson, then this was surely proof. Whether he treats it that way depends on him. But it looked to me like a display of stupid and petulant narcissism of the worst kind, rampant over-sensitivity that only calls his character into question. To treat the fans that way was an utter disgrace, even allowing for the kind of indefensible crackpot comments some fans shout. You expect more from a mature professional man in any occupation. When I saw it all my immediate reaction was this was a man who wouldn't be able to stay the pace long term, signed contract or not.
All of which helps explain Moyesy's care-worn look in the photograph. For who could deal with all that and be unaffected? He is a human being with defaults, the price of existence for everybody. In all recorded history nobody has ever escaped the cost. There is no reason why anybody at Everton Football Club could change evolution. You might be able to delay the affect by ignoring it for a while but it always returns. This might help explain his equally notorious reputation for "dithering" at crucial moments. But sooner or later everyone, Moyesy included, has to understand that usually apprehension is worse than the event, or, as Franklin Roosevelt put it, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Sometimes, the longer you delay the worse your final judgment. More often than not your first instinct turns out to be right. In short, make your decisions and live with them; if you get one wrong, try to learn the lesson. And nobody is infallible - who has sluiced more money down the drain than Ferguson at Manchester United? With their resources they can afford to do it for the moment. We can't, though there was a time long ago when we could and did. I am willing to bet that Ferguson would not have had even one tenth of the success had he been subject consistently to the financial constraints someone like Moysey has to work with. Fans with long memories will remember how the Mancs Inc. manager was on the verge of dismissal just before creation of the much-hated Premier League.
So I was delighted when Moyesy finally signed his new contract but got heartily pissed off with the delay and uncertainty. I still am. So are most fans I know. The only exceptions to our delight are the whining curmudgeons you get in every pub bar. But there can be no doubt that six months of delay did fearful damage to team progress and its essential ally, team spirit. Adverse results grew in direct proportion to his hesitation and utterly lousy communication with everybody. For that, David Moyes must take his share of responsibility. The players should also hold up their hands. The most visible result was a loss of the near-pristine trust fans had placed in manager and team. It was a heavy price to pay. We can only hope he has learned the appropriate lessons.
But now his expression is clearer, his body language much more positive. The thousand metre stare is back. The team have performed brilliantly in the most difficult circumstances. Team spirit is obvious to all who want to look. We once again press for European qualification, though this might well fade due to a small squad and an almost unbearable injury list.
As matters stand, in every sense of the words the balance sheet is heavily in his favour but there are still a few debits. He would do well to truly relish what he has achieved and what he can still do if he keeps his head and gets better luck. More money would help but that isn't going to arrive until the club gets sold on, and nobody with any common sense expects otherwise. What none of us want is the odd combination of wobble and pig-headedness described above. It is no use to anybody, himself more than anyone else.
The future of the club is in David Moyes' hands. I hope he doesn't drop it.