During the broadcast of Everton’s recent victory over Chelsea former manager and figure of occasional discussion David Moyes appeared in the studios. What caught my attention was not necessarily his analysis (a fairly regular outlook that a more direct style allied to passion and commitment from the players would make Goodison Park a very difficult place to play) but rather his casual usage of the word “we” when referring to Everton. It feels the end of a journey for Moyes that started over 15 years ago and has endured some tricky bumps along the way. For a surprising number of supporters it felt a welcomed admission and alongside an enforced period of reflection that has followed 5 largely underwhelming years the mood towards Moyes seems to have palpably softened over that time.
To me there is much positive about the above situation. I’ve always maintained that there is a unique and positive pull of Everton. Joe Royle would note that Everton were unique in clubs he’d been involved with, and noted that the proliferation of former managers who would regularly and voluntarily watch the team once they had left. At one stage this led to 4 former managers (himself, Kendall, Harvey and Lee) which is unique for almost any club. If Everton are to succeed you feel it will need to be on their own terms. On a more practical level, a former manager commenting positively about the club to a broad audience does a great deal of good in terms of spreading the name of the club. There’s also a nagging feeling with me that in moving forward Everton perhaps need to fully come to terms with the tenure of Moyes and settle on a narrative as to how we view his departure.
I have always been taken by the idea that history is ultimately written by the winners. For Moyes, who ultimately did not win a trophy in his time at Everton and when moving to Manchester United would be sacked within a year it is not enormously surprising that the narratives crafted around him are a little unfair and overly critical. My own perspective differs from the conventional wisdom that is often portrayed of the Moyes tenure as Everton manager.
While some of this is down to a certain value set I hold, most I would attribute to timing. My earliest memory of Everton growing up was my dad listening to the radio of the Wimbledon game in 1994 and my first memory as an Everton fan is the following season. In the following 9 years from that season we would be involved in relegation trouble in 6 of them. On two occasions our survival was only secured on the final day of the season. On another occasion we fell into the drop zone at Easter (who could ever forget that Sheffield Wednesday game!), while in 1994/5 we started with just 8 points from 14 games. The other two seasons saw us survive by a couple of points (1997) and a season were a limp and leaderless team were saved by Moyes himself in 2002. In each of the above seasons (barring 1996/7) there were moments in those seasons where it looked more likely than not we would be relegated. To provide some context for this for the younger readers, even during last seasons debacle the odds of relegation after the Southampton defeat shrunk to around 10-1 (around a 10% chance). At stages in most of the above we were odds on (over a 50% chance) to be relegated.
This point is not made to suggest my own experiences are anymore valid or worthwhile than others but to give a background to the context of having the period of 1994-2003 as your formative years of supporting Everton. Supporting Everton was essentially an emotionally draining and anxiety inducing battle of wits whereby you were often terrified if you didn’t win x/y or z game you would be relegated. In the desperation that ensued from this the club Motto meant little, neither did winning trophies and the sort of mid table mediocrity that some present Moyes as representing was a significant and much welcomed step forward. Under Moyes I never worried about Everton being relegated again, and Saturday afternoons were not always massively pleasurable the terror of supporting a team seemingly heading for relegation made the experience at least more relaxing.
I am also aware that this viewpoint is the anomaly for Evertonians rather than the norm. For Evertonians born 10 years after me their formative experiences of the club were Moyes leading Everton to a 4th place finish and a string of top 8 finishes in the years that followed. For those born 10 years before me the formative experience would be Everton going on to win every trophy available to them (some on numerous occasions) and a going to Wembley 8 times in a period of 5 years. I fully understand that these experiences lead you to view your club in a very different light to the way someone with my experiences would and it is a more positive, optimistic and (across the history of the club) accurate way of viewing the aspirations of the club. When evaluating Moyes though it perhaps distorts the level of difficulty we were initially in when he took over.
Moyes tenure of the club can be summed up in contradictory statements. The first is that with tiny amount of money relative to many teams within the league he consolidated Everton as a side that finished anywhere from 5th to 8th. However given the quality of squad he had built there was a feeling that he underachieved, particularly when you take into account specific moments. The record at all of the top teams grounds was poor as was the inability to win key cup games (think Liverpool 12, Chelsea 09, Wigan & Reading in quarter finals). In specific moments the Everton team failed to deliver yet when looked at across the whole the performance remained very good.
My own interpretation of Moyes was that he was an exceptional manager across the medium term and this often covered for some deficiencies in both short and long term management that he showed. In terms of managing Everton in terms of a season, he generally did this very successfully, you could see players improving with time with him. Generally speaking it took most players around 6-12 months to get to their best level under Moyes and once this was achieved they tended to perform consistently. This was very much the time frame Moyes optimized-anywhere from 6 months to around 2 years. It saw an early pattern in his regime at Everton as often having 1 excellent season followed by an underwhelming one but certainly by the 2nd half of his regime his strong medium term work the club never really fell much below 8th.
Where Moyes struggled was in the short term of managing important games, or important sequences of games. I often felt in more important matches Moyes may have been a little out thought by opposing managers and there was a certain tactical inflexibility at key moments. Towards the end of his tenure the team was significantly better than he perhaps allowed themselves to show and it was arguably over only in his final season at the club where he began to relax the handbrakes somewhat and for the team to show it’s true potential. That’s not to say we didn’t have some impressive wins (particularly at Goodison) but I always felt that was because of the work that had been done on the training ground improving players as opposed to any intricate plan for a big game.
Perhaps what is more controversial is the belief Moyes was not a good long term manager. This is certainly a more difficult point to make and one where the discrete difference between medium to long term goals is harder to present. There is little doubt that Moyes did a good job over a long period for Everton, though I have doubts he necessarily ever had a plan beyond the medium term. If you compare him to many managers in Europe, or indeed even current Director of Football Marcel Brands who often talks of the need to implement younger players for a longer term plan there was always something of a reticence of Moyes to do that. Likewise, one of the strongest areas of Moyes’s approach was his recruitment ability, yet he often seemed quite unwilling to trade in the market as often as he could have done. A manager with more of an eye for the longer term may have been more prepared to break teams up to rebuild them with half an eye on continuing to improve. Players such as Arteta & Rodwell could have been sold earlier for greater fees and his unwillingness to sell Lescott nearly jeopardized a very smart lucrative move for the club. As time went on there wasn’t a massive desire to introduce younger players such as a young Ross Barkley to help overcome the financial restraints faced by the club. It ultimately led to the 2nd half of his premiership being a period of stability but one where forward momentum was lost and the club rather flatlined in around the 5-8th spots in the table.
That being said his own strengths (particularly when approaching it from seeing him as a medium term manager) are that he gave Everton a clear model of how to be “successful” with less money than other teams. On the recruitment side there was a cautious and thorough approach to recruitment where money was spent prudently. In terms of sales the club rarely let players go for fees that were not heavily above what they had played initially. In between these two events you had a manager who was not only proficient on the training ground at improving players, but also a manager who valued the importance of giving players time to settle in having bought the right characters to fit into the dressing room. Players generally stayed at Everton for longer periods than at most clubs and would mostly leave better footballers than when they arrived at the club.
While there are question marks about whether Moyes could have overcome the sort of caution that saw his side miss key opportunities is open to question but what cannot be doubted is that a young Moyes would have relished the opportunity to work with the squad we have currently at the age most of them are at. Strikers Calvert Lewin and Richarlinson have both the physique and goalscoring prowess that many of his teams lacked. At centre back Mina, Zouma and Keane are potentially in advance of centre half Moyes turned into consistent performers at a similar age.
While Brands has come to the club to help with the longer term direction that was missing under Moyes the hope is Silva can emulate the medium term successes that Moyes had while hopefully improving on his short term record. Performances against the top sides so far this season give me genuine hope the latter of those points can be true, though more work is needed in the former. If Silva can emulate the sort of improvement Moyes oversaw with countless players (Peinaar, Arteta, Cahill, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines & Coleman) with the players at his disposal there are undoubted opportunities for Everton to both improve on where they are and potentially not stumble at the same glass hurdle Moyes did.
For Moyes and Everton there seems to be some catharsis following a number of unsuccessful spells after Everton is coming back to watch the team at Goodison. The same is likely true for sections of the fan base who can not only honestly reflect on what he did but perhaps more openly state their appreciation for what he did at Everton. On an anecdotal level he took watching Everton from being a hugely anxiety inducing experience to a broadly enjoyable one and for that the “we” he used to describe the club is a welcomed update.