Sir Alex Ferguson called David Moyes to congratulate him when he put one over on Rafael Benitez's side in the FA Cup fourth round in early February but the Everton manager has not ruled out a theory that an adversary he has been so often compared with is trying to soften his club up.
"He says nice things about Everton, but I wonder if that is mind games," Moyes said as he prepared to go in search tomorrow of the silverware which has deserted him at Goodison. "It could be the other way. He could be trying to soften us up a wee bit by saying nice things. Who knows?"
Moyes, who is hoping to have Louis Saha back from illness for Wembley and might be able to recall teenager James Vaughan after his successful 90 minutes against United reserves on Thursday, has much to thank Ferguson for. That includes the purchase of Phil Neville, whose tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo in the 1-1 draw against United at Goodison in October shook Ferguson's side, helped preserve a point for Moyes and, in many ways, kick-started Everton's season. "After that tackle, we went out in the second half and got a decent point," Moyes said. Neville, who has polarised opinion on Merseyside in the four years since he left Old Trafford has been misunderstood, Moyes said. "Hopefully, through the message that I've given them and what Phil does as well, they should have no need to worry," he said of his £3.5m buy.
"When you look now at what he's done leadership-wise you would have to say it was a great buy for us. Phil wanted to play and Manchester United couldn't quite give him that all the time. And I was delighted when I got him. I remember going to sign him and thinking that he was the right person, the right type for the club and maybe, at the time, the right person for me as well. I needed somebody who I felt could lift the level of professionalism again and someone who had been a winner and come from a club that had been used to winning."
After a fruitless Carling Cup semi-final last season and no league wins against top four sides in the past two seasons, Moyes is keeping the tie in context. "It is the semi-final, so I'll just pull the reins back a wee bit," he said.