In 10 years at Everton, David Moyes has cemented his reputation as one of football's finest managers with limited resources and a no-excuses attitude.
A decade of overachieving for David Moyes at Everton
Never a great player but with a budding reputation as a coaching prodigy, the thirty-something manager was parachuted into a club looking to recapture past glories, inheriting a dressing room full of ageing, underachieving players. He lasted eight months.
That was Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea. But after taking over in distinctly similar circumstances, David Moyes has fared rather better.
Respect was earned, results achieved and a position swiftly cemented. He has never relinquished his grip on it.
On Wednesday, he will celebrate a decade in charge of Everton although, should Tuesday's Merseyside derby end in defeat, that may be an inappropriate choice of verb for such a fierce competitor.
The secret to the Scot's success, according to those he managed, lay in those first few days. An immediate impression set the tone for a long reign, winning over both fans and players.
"At his first press conference, he said 'this is the people's club'," said Lee Carsley, who spent six years in Moyes' midfield. "When you are competing with Liverpool, that is a massive statement but you walk around Liverpool and the majority of people are Evertonians."
Supporters were convinced by the rhetoric, footballers by the reality. A peripatetic playing career had taken Moyes from Celtic to Cambridge United, Bristol City, Shrewsbury Town, Dunfermline, Hamilton Academical and Preston North End, whom he managed for four years, before being lured from Deepdale.
At 38, the newcomer encountered a group of footballers almost his own age and including such luminaries as Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola and Duncan Ferguson.
Many a manager would have been awed.
"Not many of us knew much about him as a player," admitted the versatile Steve Watson. "So he was surprisingly confident considering he was walking into the Premier League but once we saw him on the training pitch you could see why he was confident. As an out-and-out football coach, I don't think I have worked with anyone better than David Moyes."
His message had a certain simplicity. Moyes was firm but fair. "Less than any other manager I know, he didn't have favourites," Watson added. "He respected everybody. It doesn't matter who you are: if you don't reach his standards, you are out, as I found numerous times."
Moyes joined a club which had not been demoted since 1951, but which was only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
A debut win against Fulham was a fine start; more remarkable was the fact Everton led after 30 seconds of his reign, courtesy of David Unsworth. The following week Derby were defeated. Survival was secured comfortably.
His players' approval was followed by his peers'. Moyes' first full campaign was the first of three when his fellow managers voted him Manager of the Year; in comparison, that accolade has only gone to Sir Alex Ferguson twice in the same time. Everton finished seventh, though Moyes' annus mirabilis was yet to come.
They had narrowly escaped relegation in May 2004. Then Merseyside's wunderkind Wayne Rooney was sold to Manchester United. Outside Everton, expectations were low. What followed, Watson said: "Was a minor miracle."
The unfancied outsiders broke into the top four in mid-September and, to widespread surprise, stayed there, finishing above a Liverpool side who won the Champions League. "The gaffer kept driving us forward," Watson explained. "We just believed in ourselves."
Belief was all the greater after a switch in shape that benefited Carsley. Previously a box-to-box midfielder, he was reinvented as a holding player as Moyes devised the formation which has remained Everton's default system ever since.
"People always called it 4-5-1 but it was 4-1-4-1, I was sitting behind the midfield," the Republic of Ireland international recalled. Arguably, however, it was 4-1-3-1-1, the lone striker Marcus Bent, who compensated for a lack of goals with incessant industry, supported by another summer signing, Tim Cahill. The influential Australian may top the list of bargains a manager rarely granted huge funds has found.
The key to astute recruitment, Carsley believes, lies in research and hard work. "He doesn't buy a player on a whim," he argued. "It's the amount of games he watches."
The class of 2004/05 formed the bond that has become typical in Moyes' teams. The manager empowered senior figures in his dressing room. "We had a very strong group of players," Watson said. "We were mentally strong and would do everything for each other."
That included filling any gap on the pitch. Resourcefulness has become a feature of Moyes' teams and it was illustrated by the adaptable Watson. "That season I played right midfield, right back and left back, but when I played I knew my role in the team," said the former Newcastle player.
"We beat Manchester United and Big Dunc [Ferguson] scored a header, I was playing left-back against [Cristiano] Ronaldo and that summed it up for me." Out of position, he kept the future World Player of the Year quiet. In doing so, he set the tone for more recent exploits in adversity. Everton finished fifth and reached the 2009 FA Cup final despite playing much of the season without a specialist striker. Moyes' attitude is crucial, Watson believes.
"He has had to put up with some horrendous runs of injuries, playing patched-up teams for games at a time but he very rarely makes excuses," he said. That no-excuses culture has sustained Everton in a tougher financial climate.
When Joleon Lescott was sold to Manchester City in 2009, it was the first time since Rooney and Thomas Gravesen joined Manchester United and Real Madrid respectively that Moyes' premier players had been plucked from his grasp. Since then, Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta have followed suit.
Yet Everton have remained a consistent force on the field, finishing sixth, fifth, fifth, eighth and seventh in the last five years, even though Moyes has made a net profit in his dealings since 2008.
"It is almost a miracle that the team finishes as high as it does every year," Landon Donovan said last month. "I can't imagine the things this club would do with some of the budgets other clubs have."
Indeed, it has long prompted the question of what Moyes would accomplish with the resources his rivals enjoy. There are few signs, however, that he is seeking new challenges.
In a career of loyalty and longevity, he has been Everton's unstinting constant. In English football, only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have spent longer at their respective clubs. In Everton's history, the last man to muster 10 years was Theo Kelly, whose reign spanned World War II and only included five full seasons. Before him, three secretary-managers served for longer, but theirs was not the all-encompassing job that Moyes knows.
"He was very intense," Watson said. "Football dominated all his thoughts."
His former boss, is he believes, better now. "I think he has grown," he added. "I spoke to Tim Cahill a couple of days ago and he is still evolving."
And he is still in situ. Carsley sees Moyes carrying on indefinitely and continuing to improve. "You don't leave Everton for many clubs in the world," he argued. "He realises he is in a privileged position. He was a good manager when he came to Everton and when he leaves he will be a great manager."
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