EPITAPH FOR DAVID MOYES
Mickey Blue Eyes
Time moves on. Come July, so will David Moyes. Time for sensible perspective. What are we to make of his eleven years tenure? And, more importantly for us, the future of Everton Football Club?
It transpired David Moyes was a virtuoso appointment at exactly the right moment. The bare statistics speak for themselves......I will repeat only one: over an eleven years period the club achieved its fourth best average league position in its history, bettered only by its glory years. (See Steve Johnson's wonderful Everton Results site at http://www.evertonresults.com/ataglance.htm) Sure, there were bad moments and horrendous mistakes, some of them truly awful. But David Moyes' talents not only rescued Everton from the footy abyss, they got us to a level nobody had a right to expect from our relatively limited finance. So much is obvious, at least for those who wish to see reality instead of mirage.
However, as sensible fans know, there is a good deal more to the whole football thing than mere statistics. Figures are a symptom, not a cause. "Good" football statistics emanate from the character and talents of the manager as well as the financial circumstances he finds himself in. Luck too plays its part, which is why Napoleon Bonaparte asked, "Is he lucky?" when someone was recommended for military promotion. Put them all together and it isn't hard to see what an extravagant gamble it was to appoint then-unknown David Moyes in 2002. Things could easily have turned out very differently. So for present purposes let's leave the statistics.
As regular readers know, I have no time for the haters in football. God knows, globally we have enough of them to smear the reputation of the game for all time. In our case even now you can still hear the odd spittle-spattered lunatic trying to tell you how much he hates David Moyes and Bill Kenwright and any number of others at the club; you can never have a civilised conversation with that kind of mentality and you would be foolish to even try. At one time the attacks were as disgusting as stupid, an open sewer to the most sickening human behaviour. However, now that Moyes has left my guess is we are about to discover just how good he is, one way or the other. But let's get his tenure in decent perspective.
His greatest achievement was to prevent Everton Football Club from falling over a fiscal cliff, and then to restore reasonable stability. After that came slow assembly of his own squad and an increase in the quality of team play. Nothing was achieved overnight. Walter Smith had managed to delay the hideous prospect of relegation, though by the time he left he was plainly out of ideas, motivation and hunger. We didn't need someone new, we needed someone radical.
David Moyes was the young soldier we needed to take a flamethrower to the cobwebs that covered the club. Fortunately for him he was given the equipment and near carte blanche to use it. Without that there is little doubt he would have failed. That is how bad the situation was. We were stuck in the past - still are in a few respects. And in his first few years, make no mistake, David Moyes was so single-minded and nasty about it that he made quite a few enemies at all levels in the club. He paid the price, including an unpublicised player revolt that almost took us back to the bad old days. Which these days is what happens to any manager who behaves ruthlessly. He could easily have come unstuck during this period, but didn't. Still, it was a near miss.
I believe what carried him through was his own obvious intensity to try to get things right: he was willing to stand or fall by his decisions. Most people except the most absurd haters will respond to that kind of determination. Instinctively they know command is lonely and cannot be shared, which is why there are so few genuinely gifted leaders. Really, haters are mere failures, disappointed in life, who would rather join a jeering mob than take responsibility of any kind. Of course a determined man can then be an easy mark when he makes inevitable mistakes and has the temerity to stand by his actions. A target is almost painted on his back.
In David Moyes' case perhaps this stems from his alleged Scottish Presbyterianism, which may or may not be a myth. There are stories and gossip of his time as a player and how, then, even in the dressing room he could be insistent about the contents of the Bible. If true, at a personal level that wouldn't exactly endear him to atheists (like me), agnostics and free thinkers, though it would explain his at times rather obvious stubbornness. Even his infamous "dithering" had an element of obduracy. Human nature being what it is, this is both a strength and a weakness.
Frankly, Moyesy's personal life and faith holds no interest for me. It has nothing to do with me or you. He is, after all, only in sports public life. His decisions are not a matter of life and death, they concern only winning or losing at games. That being the case it is only reasonable he receives credit where it is due, as much as he must take fair criticism of poor decisions. He is no more likely to be perfect than you or I, which is to say not at all. When you push aside the nonsense and hype of professional sport he is just a human being who happens to be a talented football manager, perhaps a great one.
The dismal Everton he took over could scarcely be more different than the bright Everton he leaves behind. The whole club has benefited. We may not have won a trophy but you would have to be a catatonic loon not to appreciate what he achieved, stubbornness, dithering and all. The pity of it is he did not have the kind of luck at crucial moments that attended his first match in control when David Unsworth cracked in a goal in the first few minutes. You could feel the whole ground light up. A few seasons later we were in the Champions League, only to go out because of a corrupt referee. A few more seasons on and we had a string of successive victories in Europe that came within one match of being an English club record in European competition. Meanwhile, one season stutter aside, the club steadily re-established itself as a league power again near the top of the English game. It was well nigh incredible. Relegation threats were forgotten, expectations aroused, a FA Cup Final and semi final and a League Cup semi final reached - a little more luck and we could have won them all. In time we could beat anybody in England and they all knew it.
All this happened despite us being unable to afford twenty million pounds players; had we been able to I have no doubt whatever we would have done much better. As it was, and is, the club has to wheel and deal as best it can. There is no free lunch. There never has been. You do the best you can in the circumstances and in David Moyes case that was more than just better, it was exceptional and exhilarating. Doubts mainly arose because during his eleven years he failed to win away matches at Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, plus away derby games; but while this can be wildly irritating it cannot detract from his overall achievement of restoring the club to the upper echelon.
In his early days he had little choice in playing style if he was to keep us in the Premier League. He inherited a modest standard squad with a few big but ageing stars, little balance, team shape formed by Walter Smith, and contracts that had to be honoured or run down. He had to mould them in his own way. It must have been like getting blood out of a stone. Yet eventually he managed it even though he had to sell players almost as quickly as he brought them in, most short-term successful, some not. He was soon accused by some fans of being "too defensive," the standard position of modern frustrated know-nothing electronic "supporters." Not that there is anything new about it: Howard Kendall endured the same kind of nonsense in his early years. So did Harry Catterick.
Inevitably there were personality clashes with players. When Duncan Ferguson left he refused to shake hands and didn't even speak to Moyesy for five years; that changed when the big man realised who was right. Before that, our best playing prospect of the last two generations, Wayne Rooney, plainly hated his managerial methods and suspected Moyes of being part of a club plot to sell him; long term it even led to a ludicrous civil action between them, a classic case of he-said-she-said, eventually settled out of court. Wayne was badly advised, perhaps still is.
Over the seasons, against the odds, aberrations apart, the team eventually developed a playing style that Moyes could be proud of. Initially high tempo, in-your-face and very effective - typified by Tim Cahill and his goals and Joseph Yobo at his best - it matured in the last two seasons into the kind of possession play we all wanted to see. Now it was little short of brilliant, real School of Science fare, a near-ideal team blend of experience and youth, probably at their peak. Now we are identified with Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas and the promise of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley. He leaves behind a fine team, now in need of more youth and hunger. It is another critical moment. Whoever comes in will have to mould the player-clay he inherits, as did David Moyes. Life goes on.
At his new club he will have a bigger squad and more money. We will then discover if he can make the final leap to football greatness. My guess is he will make it. Whether he does or not, nobody can take away his remarkable achievements at Goodison Park. We owe him a football debt we can never repay.
Some epitaph, that.