x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Reunited and it does not feel so good this time

David Moyes, a manager with more integrity than many in his profession, seemed to be betraying his past and his values in his treatment of Everton, writes Richard Jolly.

Manager David Moyes will host his former club Everton on Wednesday night for the first time since taking over at Manchester United. Jon Super / AP Photo
Manager David Moyes will host his former club Everton on Wednesday night for the first time since taking over at Manchester United. Jon Super / AP Photo

David Moyes has left Everton but his influence lingers on. The phrase a manager usually uninterested in soundbites coined on his 2002 unveiling – “the people’s club” – has been adopted as an unofficial club motto.

A side packed with his signings, whether bargains like Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman, or emerging talents who have gone on to realise their potential, such as Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, remains largely intact.

Six months after he left Goodison Park, they remain the model for overachievement. It is his legacy.

Or part of it, anyway. Because after an unusually amicable parting of the ways, a relationship has turned unexpectedly sour.

As Everton and Moyes prepare to meet for the first time at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, this is not quite the footballing equivalent of friends reunited that had been envisaged.

“I’m pretty convinced, that Evertonians will only look upon David Moyes with gratitude and admiration,” said chairman Bill Kenwright in May, recognising that the chance to manage Manchester United was an opportunity Moyes could not reject.

“If you said how you would leave a club, I don’t know if I could have done it any better. I don’t know if anybody could,” the Scot added yesterday.

After 11 years of unstinting service, after taking them to fourth in 2005 and recording seven consecutive top-eight finishes with a minimal transfer outlay, Moyes owed Everton nothing.

Well paid as he had been, they were in his debt. Now, however, the atmosphere has changed.

Moyes is unsure what reception to expect from the travelling fans.

“It could be mixed,” he said because, within three summer months “gratitude and admiration” had been replaced by “insulting and derisory”.

That was Everton’s verdict on Moyes’ joint bid of £28 million (Dh168.7m) for Baines and Marouane Fellaini.

As Alan Stubbs, a lifelong Evertonian and a stalwart of Moyes’ defence who went on to join his coaching staff, said then: “It wasn’t the right first offer.

“He’s said in the past Everton don’t sell cheap and then comes in with a £28m bid for the best left-back in the country and one of the best midfielders.”

Besides undervaluing the two major assets on the playing staff at Goodison Park, it left Moyes open to accusations of hypocrisy.

He remained unhappy that Manchester City unsettled Joleon Lescott, even if the fee Everton secured in 2009 made the centre-back the third most expensive defender ever by that point.

Then gamekeeper turned poacher. Moyes, a manager with more integrity than many in his profession, seemed to be betraying his past and his values in his treatment of Everton, who spent the summer repelling his bids.

His parting comments about Kenwright – “he has been really good to me and I will try to help them” – were forgotten.

The champion of all things Evertonian seemed to be destabilising the club he built. In prioritising United’s interests, he showed little respect for Everton.

After Fellaini submitted a transfer request in the closing hours of the window, that eventually included signing the Belgian, though not for the £16m they had originally offered, or even the £23.5m price of a release clause that expired at the end of July, but £27.5m.

United’s attempts to claim they had paid £4m less were quickly rebuffed by Everton.

And yet the deadline-day winners were Moyes old club.

While the injured Baines will not feature Wednesday night, it is very possible Fellaini will not either.

Though fit, the fourth-most expensive player in United’s history could be omitted after making a mediocre start to life at Old Trafford. In contrast, Everton used the funds his sale generated brilliantly.

Roberto Martinez, Moyes’ successor, acquired a new midfield axis of James McCarthy and on-loan Gareth Barry. Romelu Lukaku, the third recruit in the final hours of the summer trading, has proved prolific.

Everton acquired an incisive edge and attacking impetus. They arrive at Old Trafford two points and three places above United.

They remain fiendishly hard to beat – going back to Moyes’ days, they have only lost eight of their last 60 league games – but there is a new emphasis on passing. A side that already possessed substance has added style.

And, along the way, United’s early-season stumbles have been welcomed at Goodison Park. Everton’s historic home echoed to a chorus of “Are you watching, David Moyes?” during September’s superlative first half against Newcastle United. News of Southampton’s October equaliser at Old Trafford met with loud cheers.

Typically, the amiable Martinez was unwilling to stoke the controversy.

“I don’t spend much time [thinking] about that,” said the Spaniard. “David Moyes did a fantastic job over 11 years and that is what I want to keep [in mind].”

Indeed, while Moyes praised his successor, he nonetheless hinted the side he bequeathed him could run on autopilot.

“He has very good players there,” said the 50 year old. “I always told them they could play without a manager because they are very well organised. But Roberto is doing a really good job keeping it going.”

It has been a smooth succession and Evertonians have taken Martinez to their hearts.

He appreciates their identity and traditions – the 40-year-old worked his way through a three-DVD history of the club in the summer – and has the ambition to take them to heights Moyes never scaled.

They need not look back in anger, but they might, as Wayne Rooney, who is treated mercilessly by the Everton fans whenever he faces his former club, can testify.

It had seemed Moyes would be the exception to the rule, the ex who was forgiven for moving on.

Days after his appointment as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor was confirmed, he was afforded a standing ovation on an emotional lap of honour after his final home game as Everton manager. But that feels a long time ago now.

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