Football: From Deepdale to the uplands

INTERVIEW: DAVID MOYES; The man plotting the downfall of Arsenal has a pedigree which has impressed even Fergie.
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The Independent Online
WHEN Arsene Wenger goes shopping, he is usually armed with Arsenal's gold card and the intention of spending millions. David Moyes, however, makes do with the supermarket express till.

Wenger's preparations for tomorrow night's FA Cup third-round tie at Preston North End are unlikely to have suffered the same disturbances as his managerial counterpart. Moyes had arrived at his Deepdale office the morning after an impressive win over Wrexham which keeps the Second Division club's promotion hopes flourishing, but the expected peace and quiet never materialised.

"I gave the players the day off today and I thought I would only be here an hour," he explains, "but the phone has been ringing off the hook for the last four hours with journalists wanting to talk about the Cup game.

"My wife, Pam, phoned me on my mobile, saying she had been trying for ages to get through to me. She phoned me over a shopping list - I've got to stop off for milk and bread before I get home."

Home has been a rare experience for Moyes over the last few years, as he has trekked up and down the country, devoting every minute he can, on the low road to football management. At just 35, he has been Preston manager for a year, but seems to have been preparing himself for such a job all his career.

The flame-haired Scot combined coaching and assistant manager's duties for the Lancashire club with his role as a centre-half until last January, and took his first coaching licence before he had blown out the candles on his 21st birthday cake.

Small wonder that such single-mindedness has reputedly caught the eye of his countryman Alex Ferguson. Moyes has been touted as the replacement for Fergie's former right-hand man Brian Kidd and certainly the Manchester United manager could be forgiven for believing he sees a mirror image.

Like Ferguson, Moyes achieved the dream of playing for Glasgow's Old Firm but never enjoyed stardom. While Fergie played for Rangers in the Sixties, Moyes was a Bhoy of the Eighties at Celtic. Neither would subsequently discover the same elevated playing stage.

The similarity between Preston and St Mirren, where Old Trafford's eminence grise cut his managerial teeth, bear a passing resemblance too. Both clubs had an illustrious but distant past. When Ferguson took over at Love Street, St Mirren had not known success since lifting the Scottish Cup in 1959. Preston's last glimpse of the big time was the 1964 FA Cup final defeat by West Ham. Yet, the burden of expectancy remains heavy.

"When the vacancy arose here," said Moyes, "there were a lot of big names linked with the job, such as Ian Rush and Joe Royle, because Preston is still a big club. I knew the punters respected me as a player, but that counts for nothing when the manager's job comes up."

If Moyes seems a little irked, it is understandable. Those supporters, and many inside Deepdale's dressing-room, would have looked at a playing cv that included Cambridge City, Bristol City, Shrewsbury and Dunfermline and wonder what Moyes knew about the grand stage the club longed for, and which would come even by association with someone such as Rush.

Yet a player who faced Juventus in the European Cup at the tender age of 18 and even scored against Rangers in an Old Firm derby is unlikely ever to have shelved such lofty ambitions for good, no matter what happened in the intervening years. Certainly, Ferguson didn't. "I started out my career at the top," said Moyes, "and although I've been away from the limelight since I left Celtic, I want that arena in management.

"Big names get bandied around for managerial jobs now without ever having done the job. Yet, some of the better managers, like Fergie, and Arsene Wenger, have not been the best players. The top players had too much on their plates, but others, like me, concentrated more on thought of management when we were younger."

That vocation means Moyes has done the rounds of cold, empty grounds on a wet Tuesday watching potential recruits in reserve games. Moyes is a regular on Alex Ferguson's doorstep, helping to persuade him a few years ago to loan a teenage prodigy to Preston by the name of Beckham.

"David came here for a month on loan when we were in the Third Division," Moyes explains. "We needed a player and Fergie thought it would be good for David to be toughened up. I did wonder if he could hack it at our level, but he was a sensation. David was also a wonderful lad. People criticise him as flash, but when we won promotion from the Third Division at Leyton Orient, David came along to see us, even though he was in United's first-team by then, and was joining in the celebrations in the dressing- room afterwards."

Such fraternity, though, has not always existed during Moyes's time at Preston. The ex-assistant and his managerial predecessor, Gary Peters, had a notorious scrap in the dugout one day at Grimsby, which saw punches traded and the police wading in. "I'm not proud of it," Moyes reflects. "I had been playing and Gary had taken me off at half-time. We rowed about something and it continued through into the second half. But that happens all the time between managers and their assistants. I am passionate about the game and I want to do well."

Passion was never in short supply at Celtic, where Moyes started out. "Some clubs have dressing-room meetings if they lose three or four games, but at Celtic we did it if we lost at all." A teenage baptism included a memorable night in Turin against Juventus. "Danny McGrain was injured and I was drafted in as right-back. I ended up marking Liam Brady. There were 70,000 Italians going crazy with flares and drums. Later, someone sent me pictures from an Italian magazine of me in action and I still look at them. I would like to know that kind of arena again."

That burning desire was spotted by the Deepdale board and Moyes was thrown in at the deep end last January when the club, sitting 17th in the Second Division, sacked Peters. "It has not been easy changing overnight from one of the team into their boss," reflects the Glaswegian. "My first manager, Billy McNeill at Celtic, had such a presence that you almost stood to attention. But Terry Cooper, my gaffer at Bristol City, was the opposite, so easy going. I didn't want to take myself too far away from the team, just withdraw a bit to where I was comfortable. Society has changed since I came into the game and today's players need more of an arm round them than a bollocking."

Moyes's immersion in the game even extended to taking a busman's holiday to France 98 to study coaching methods and check out players. A Cameroon striker came on trial, but pounds 25,000 spent on Orient's Jason Harris remains his total outlay. "This is a bigger football town than Blackburn," points out Moyes. "We're getting 12,000 crowds but even if we did get promotion, it would be tough competing with the money First Division clubs have, never mind Arsenal.

Ironically, Moyes could have been a Gunner as well. "Arsenal wanted me on loan in 1983," he recalls. "Charlie Nicholas had put in a word for me with Terry Neill. I thought the move was a permanent one and when I learned it was a loan I was devastated. I felt, then, that Celtic were a bigger club than Arsenal, so my pride would not let me be loaned out and I refused."

Such is the quantum leap that Arsenal have made since then that Moyes believes Preston's task to be near-impossible. "People have said Arsenal were knocked out by Wrexham and York, but this Arsenal side have not. Look at the quality of players they have now. Those guys have World Cup medals, they have internationals in every position. If we win, this would be the Cup shock of the century. But I'll settle for my team playing well and making sure people don't switch off after 20 minutes."