His eyes are more powerful than you can ever imagine
It’s been said that David Moyes’s icy stare can see into your soul*. Were he to look into the fibres of most Everton fans, he might find they were trying to keep faith with the man who led the club to Champions League qualifiers in 2005, an FA Cup final in 2009 and is a three-time LMA Manager of the Year to boot. Were he to turn this totally fictional ability onto himself, however, one suspects these past accolades count for little without Moyes feeling that he is achieving more tangible success as his tenure on Merseyside lengthens.
The club, as Moyes knows, is finely balanced. Its trophy cabinet has remained empty since the Scot arrived in 2002, but boasts a proud recent history and a significant back catalogue of plaudits nevertheless. But they are plaudits always framed by talk of Everton’s resources and, perhaps more frustratingly for Moyes in recent seasons, injuries and poor starts.
‘Progress’, that dubious aim of mid-table Premier League clubs which more often than not involves throwing significant amounts of money around only to achieve progress in the wrong direction, has proved that it can be a bit of myth. Presumably, this is half the reason for Everton not spending big. The other half of that, of course, is that there isn’t any money available. While the fans balance the fact that – in today’s climate – their club is relatively secure with the unsettling feeling that they need to run just to stand still, Moyes finds himself similarly stuck between his ambition to make a mark with some silverware and the kudos that goes with working within your resources from season to season. For the fiercely ambitious Scot, you imagine these are unwanted caveats to all his accolades. In an apples business, no one wants a legacy founded on onions.
Steven Pienaar has left Everton, but while £3m is reasonable money for someone with six months left on their contract, it still doesn’t really bring in enough to reinforce the squad. If it seems an untimely sale, then Yakubu’s departure to Leicester City on loan is equally incongruous given Everton’s need to inject something extra into their season. Tim Cahill is still at the Asian Cup. Jermain Beckford remains a mixed bag up front. Louis Saha is still made of glass. Naturally, without some fairly inauspicious results (no win in the league until October, home defeats to Newcastle and West Brom] we wouldn’t even be making this particular case.
On the field, of course, is the area Moyes can change. The emergence of Seamus Coleman at Blackpool last season has provided him with an unlikely and relatively unsung hero so far this campaign. Leighton Baines remains consistently excellent and Phil Neville is probably still wondering what that tiny muffled voice is on about as Gareth Bale attempts to negotiate a way out of the Everton captain’s pocket. Marouane Fellaini still has mental hair. So that’s alright. And what’s more, Everton have, as is tradition, produced against top sides (a point at Stamford Bridge, a win at Eastlands, beating Spurs at home and coming back from 3-1 down to snatch a draw with Manchester United, not to mention a win and a draw in the derby matches).
However, even the most pessimistic Blues fan would have targeted West Ham’s recent visit to Goodison as a game from which they could take three points. An alarming 90 minutes followed – few would have expected to be celebrating a last-minute equaliser against 10 men. Moyes sounded as frustrated as ever he has after the game, having missed out on signing Monaco striker Dieumerci Mbok: “There is a worry that we will stand still if we don’t spend money, but if you have none, that’s the way it is and you just have to deal with it… You know the players need a boost as well, they need to see something moving forward, and I’m aware of that.”
These are telling concerns. Moyes might be talking of keeping his players galvanised, but his own motivation might need a similar boost. Touted as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor – and endorsed by the man himself – it seems Moyes has nevertheless taken Everton just about as far as he can. Perhaps he has even taken them as far as anyone can – to apply those earlier caveats, you’re unlikely to find a better manager on that kind of budget.
Aston Villa, a club of similar stature in the Premier League era are a worrying precursor for the Goodison Park faithful. Withold a manager his chance to build and he will want away. Martin O’Neill walked. David Moyes may do the same.
As with any job though, it doesn’t always make sense if you haven’t got somewhere sorted out to go to afterwards. Look at it this way and Moyes’s options are limited. A sideways step in the Premier League is unlikely to appeal. The Celtic job would probably be his preferred destination. It’s quite the existential funk for the Everton manager. But if the club fail to land a shrewd January signing to rival the impact of Landon Donovan last year, Everton fans may well approach the close season with a little more trepidation than normal.
*This probably hasn’t been said at all. Well now it has. But not before this.