This week saw David Moyes reach his ninth anniversary as manager of Everton with Mark Hughes’ Fulham arriving at Goodison Park in a repeat of the fixture which began the Scots’ Merseyside career. The result was the same, a 2-1 victory in favour of the Blues, but the position in which Moyes now finds himself is a far cry from the one he assumed when he took over the reins from Walter Smith back in 2002.
Everton were hovering precariously above the relegation zone in 16th place with nine games left to play and the team was at its lowest ebb, with morale at an all-time low and seemingly no fighting spirit to be found. It was a tough ask for a man with no Premiership experience to come in and not only steady the ship, but also to ensure that Everton’s top-flight status remained in tact.
Moyes’ impact was immediate. He pulled off a masterstroke at the press conference unveiling him as the new manager by announcing he was proud to be joining what he labelled ‘the people’s club’ on Merseyside, instantly endearing himself to supporters and giving them a glorious opportunity to laud it over their Liverpool rivals.
It seemed as though Moyes was as eager to relate to the fans as his new team and, in an almost unprecedented move, appeared on the pitch in his track suit to take the pre-match warm-up for his first game in charge. While the team selection was not his, the response from the players was evident and when David Unsworth opened the scoring after just 32 seconds, the seeds were sown. Duncan Ferguson made it 2-0 twelve minutes later and despite Steed Malbranque pulling a goal back for the visitors early in the second half, Everton held on to give Moyes his first victory and a new era was born.
Moyes is now the third longest-serving manager in the Premier League behind Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. In a time when managers are ostensibly sacked on a whim by club chairmen, Moyes’ tenure at the helm at Everton is testament not only to the remarkable job he has done in stabilising the club, but also speaks volumes of the strong bond he has formed both with the supporters and chairman Bill Kenwright.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing though. In Moyes’ first full season in charge, he steered the Blues to 7th place and unleashed the formidable talent of the then 16-year-old Wayne Rooney on the Premiership. Rooney burst onto the scene in dramatic fashion, scoring his first league goal against Arsenal with an exquisite 30-yard effort which dipped underneath David Seaman’s crossbar, sending the Everton fans into delirium and writing his name in the history books as the youngest ever scorer in the Premier League.
There was a buzz about Everton following Rooney’s emergence and while Moyes understandably tried to protect his young protegé, the fans were naturally eager to see him playing regularly. Such was the hype, that despite his tender years, an England call-up soon beckoned, and with it the lure of pastures new.
Moyes’ second season in charge was a bitter disappointment given the impact he’d made at the club since his arrival and the club flirted with the threat of relegation, eventually finishing just above the drop zone in 17th place. Rooney dropped a massive bombshell by handing in a transfer request before moving to Manchester United in the summer and it seemed yet another rebuilding job was on the cards. The Scot, however, took the challenge in his stride, galvanizing the team and leading them to a fourth placed finish and, remarkably, a Champions League spot.
David Moyes has been an undoubted success story at Everton. Since the 2005/6 season, the club has finished 8th or higher in the league, qualified for European competition three times and reached an FA Cup final- all on extremely limited financial resources.
This is perhaps Moyes’ greatest achievement. In a day and age where clubs are being financed by billionaires and transfer fees have reached astronomical proportions, Moyes has built his sides on a strong team ethic where there are no over-inflated egos or ‘superstars’, just a group of players determined to play for each other and their manager and with a desire to achieve against the odds. The Scot has forged himself a reputation for plucking players from lower leagues who fit into his work ethic, but who come without the exorbitant price tags. How many other Premier League managers would have been prepared to gamble on the likes of Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Leighton Baines, not to mention Seamus Coleman, who on this season’s form looks like the bargain of the decade at just £150,000. Couple this with his forays into the foreign market and the acquisition of players like Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar at just £2million each, alongside inspired loan signings like Landon Donovan and it becomes apparent why Moyes is valued so highly as a manager.
His transfer dealings haven’t always proved such an obvious success. Ironically, when gifted with additional funds to recruit players, the results have tended to be less favourable, with the relatively ‘big-money’ signings of James Beattie, Per Kroldrup and Andy Johnson not working out as planned.
The greatest difficulty arises when the team is hit by injuries to key players. As a result of the limited funds available, Everton’s squad is not one littered with a wealth of players in each position and if one or two key members are missing, the team suffers as a result.
This summer promises to be an interesting one for Everton’s future. Moyes has already hinted at impending talks with the board to ascertain their plans and determine whether he thinks they are workable alongside his ideas to continue to move the club forward. He has remained professional throughout, but even he must now question just how far he can be expected to progress when his hands are so severely tied by the lack of investment within the club and the negative impact this has on the funds made available for transfers.
With rumours already abounding that Jack Rodwell will be sold to Manchester United in the summer and Marouane Fellaini seemingly stalling on a new contract, Moyes will understandably seek assurances that the board is prepared to back him financially and remains passionate in his desire to achieve at Everton. Kenwright must pull out all the stops to keep his man.