x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The nearly man David Moyes risks being overlooked if he leaves Everton

No nearer winning his first trophy, the much-admired manager may find that top clubs decide he is the perfect man to be in charge at Goodison Park, writes Richard Jolly.

David Moyes's Everton side have lost the least amount of games out of any Premier League team this season, but have drawn too many, as well, which will result in another year without a trophy. Michael Regan / Getty Images
David Moyes's Everton side have lost the least amount of games out of any Premier League team this season, but have drawn too many, as well, which will result in another year without a trophy. Michael Regan / Getty Images

He was a magnanimous, quotable victor. As Wigan Athletic's 76-year-old owner Dave Whelan savoured the prospect of a second FA Cup final, 53 years after his playing career was ended in his first, his praise was liberally sprinkled over both managers.

Wigan's Roberto Martinez, Whelan said, would get a pay rise if he wins the English FA Cup and keeps Athletic in the Premier League.

He is destined, his chairman feels, to take over at one of the top European clubs.

But so, Whelan argued, was the vanquished manager, David Moyes, whose dream of silverware was ended for another year as Wigan played Everton off the Goodison Park pitch in Saturday's quarter-final with a 3-0 victory.

He was not just being a gracious winner. Moyes is Whelan's type of manager. Afforded complete control of his club, he runs it responsibly, displaying fiscal prudence.

He works with a comparatively slender budget, does not complain about it and overachieves on an annual basis. It is a balancing act that has brought him admirers.

His coaching skills, refusal to make excuses and remarkable work ethic make him stand out.

It is why the assumption has long been that Everton will prove a stepping stone, albeit one where he has remained for 11 years.

Yet with each setback, it grows more unlikely. The achievements of Moyes over the past decade far exceed those of managers such as Alex McLeish and Steve McClaren who have won major trophies in the same period, but the reality is that silverware is a prerequisite for applicants for the kind of jobs the Scot may covet.

That Everton have not lifted any, critics of Moyes suggest, is no coincidence. Too often they have underperformed in the biggest of matches.

Saturday, their worst performance of the season, was a case in point. So was last season's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool and the second leg of their only League Cup semi-final of the Moyes years, against Chelsea in 2008.

A track record in Europe helps managers earn a promotion, too, with McClaren and Roy Hodgson cashing in on their status as surprise Uefa Cup finalists to gain employment with England and Liverpool respectively.

Moyes, however, has never piloted Everton beyond the last 16 of a continental competition.

His Merseyside derby record is underwhelming and, while mentions of "the Big Four" have decreased as Liverpool have declined, one damning statistic is that, in 48 away games at Anfield and against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, he is still awaiting his first victory.

It is a selective interpretation of the facts, because Everton have an excellent record at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City and have become increasingly adept at defeating the challengers at home, but another way in which he does not tick every box on the superpowers' checklist.

Because, while Moyes has brought stability and the relative success of eight top-eight finishes to Everton, others have accelerated ahead of him in the thinking of others. Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas, all a decade his junior, have the sheen of newness.

They offer the excitement that rising stars bring; Moyes, as part of the managerial furniture, can fade into the background. He is the nearly man.

Quietly, he has assembled perhaps the best team of his time at Goodison Park, a feat that may go unrecognised because there is no incontrovertible evidence of their progress.

Indeed, a bad weekend was completed when, for the first time this season, Liverpool became Merseyside's foremost representatives in the league table.

While Everton failed in every department against Wigan, their push for a top-four finish has been impeded in either penalty area.

From box to box, Everton have been excellent. Yet at one end, Nikica Jelavic's goals have dried up. It is 806 minutes and counting since the Croatian last struck, and even that was against League Two side Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup in January.

At the other end, the usually consistent Tim Howard proved strangely error prone in the first half of the campaign.

Sylvain Distin and, in particular, last season's player of the year, Johnny Heitinga have been responsible for the concession of too many goals.

As well as Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas have performed elsewhere on the pitch, failings in either goalmouth have meant Everton have drawn too often.

They have only lost seven times in all competitions this season. No Premier League team have been defeated fewer times. Yet top teams tend to be judged by how often they win, not how rarely they lose.

Once again, the prowess of Moyes may be in vain and, by running down his contract at Goodison Park, he risks being seen as the manager who stayed because no better offer arrived.

Because the unfortunate conclusion the game's glamour clubs may draw is that, with his ability to prosper with a smaller squad than his rivals, his habit of ending losing runs before they get out of hand and the eye for a bargain that means, over 11 years, his net spend is less than Queens Park Rangers is in the past 10 months alone, Moyes is not the ideal appointment for teams targeting the title or entering the Uefa Champions League.

He is the perfect manager for Everton.

 

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