It wasn’t the greatest way to mark an anniversary. Ten years in charge at Everton and David Moyes saw his team shredded in the game that matters most to his constituents. Losing 3-0 at Anfield to a Liverpool struggling for cohesion and points, a home derby hat-trick secured by one of the men in red for the first time since Fred Howe did it in 1935, the Kop giving sarcastic rendition of “10 more years”: the facts did not point to a riotous celebration.
Moreover, some Evertonians were left scratching their heads as to why Royston Drenthe and Nikola Jelovic, two attacking players in real form, were left on the bench until it was too late. If they were being rested ahead of an FA Cup quarter final this weekend against Sunderland, priorities seemed suddenly askew. Where, they wondered, was the ambition?
And yet, whatever the perplexities and puzzlement, whatever the fleeting disappointment of defeat to the hated rivals, whatever the mockery, of one thing we can be certain: no Evertonian with any sense of proportion could seriously doubt the man in the dugout.
To paraphrase Monty Python’s take on the Romans: apart from keeping a club of reduced modern means perpetually punching above its weight, apart from continually finding value in the transfer market, apart from working with a wage bill a third of that of some of his immediate rivals, apart from bringing European football to Goodison, apart from forging a team spirit hardly matched anywhere in the country, apart from teasing winning performances out of players others reckon surplus to requirements, apart from turning the likes of Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka into England regulars, what exactly has David Moyes ever done for Everton in his 10 years on Merseyside?
Like the two managers ahead of him in the longevity list, Moyes’s very length of service brings out occasional rashes of discontent. Remember the ridiculous barrage of criticism faced by Arsene Wenger earlier in the season? No doubt those very Arsenal fans who were yelling “you don’t know what you’re doing” at the dugout now, with Arsenal having embarked on a run bringing them ever closer to third place in the title race, will claim it was all a media witch hunt against the Frenchman and they were always firmly behind him.
In the likely event that Manchester United fall out of the Europe League on Thursday, Alex Ferguson too can look forward to a rush of online commentary suggesting it is time to move on and that if any idiot could see United need a central midfielder why can’t he?
That is the nature of modern football: the knee-jerk commentary on social media and message boards is as unyielding as it is virulent. Yet by any objective criteria, Moyes has been absolutely critical to Everton’s continuing competitiveness. You only have to look at what happened to clubs of similar size and history, like Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, to see what might have been. Falling out of the money has eroded both of those clubs’ purpose.
Thanks to Moyes, Everton have stayed permanently with the big earners at the top table. Sure, the depth of pocket of their chairman Bill Kenwright might not match that of Sheik Mansour or Roman Abramovich. Sure, unlike his rival across Stanley Park, Moyes has not been gifted £100million to spend in transfers (though if he had, you suspect he would not have been quite so profligate as to spend much of it on Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson). Sure, Moyes has to scrabble around in the market equivalent of the bargain basement looking for gems. But a return of Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin, Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini speaks of someone with a real talent for picking their way through the merchandise.
And in a sense, there is something more robust, more genuine, more organic about the manner in which Moyes goes about building a team than, to pluck a name at random, Roberto Mancini. Of course, compared to his equivalent at Tranmere Rovers, he is absolutely loaded. But in Premier League terms, for a pauper to survive this long is a declaration of real ability.
And you can see that aptitude in operation on a daily basis. His charisma is self-evident. The owner of one of the most terrifying stares in football, a man who can freeze a press conference with one glance, his force of personality has enabled him to create a unity of purpose at his club as strong as any in the game. And that is something plenty covet.
At Tottenham, the broad assumption is he is top of Daniel Levy’s list to replace Harry Redknapp should England eventually come calling. At Manchester United, it has long been thought he is one of the few with the all-round game to succeed the present incumbent when he eventually decides to spend more time with his wine collection. While a club like Wolves can only dream of being in a position to employ someone of his standing.
Yes, he has his faults. His selection for the derby was unnecessarily cautious. Indeed, among the more restless elements of its following, seventh may seem an unambitious target for a club of Everton’s heritage. But those who have recently expressed their weariness with his stewardship should be careful what they wish for. The real fact that matters about this latest Merseyside derby is that without David Moyes, Everton would not be competing in two every year.