Brian Viner: Silver lining to blues cloud if Moyes stays

'If Liverpool's woeful start had continued, Houllier would have been out on his oreille'
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The Independent Football

A chap takes a couple of weeks off, hoping to return to his column full of vim and vigour, and what happens? Liverpool go and hammer his beloved Everton at Goodison Park. Not that it was quite a hammering, more a case of Michael Owen converting his chances and Wayne Rooney missing his, but 0-3 is 0-3, and noisily put the tin lid on what was already a poor week to be an Evertonian.

There was a time, not so long ago, when no footballer in his right mind would favour a move to Blackburn Rovers or Manchester City over a move to Everton, but Barry Ferguson and Steve McManaman did. It was as if Graeme Souness and Kevin Keegan were waving chequebooks and David Moyes a dead skunk. And nor has the Everton manager been able to land Sean Davis of Fulham, or Valencia's John Carew.

Moyes is a modern alchemist, able to turn pig-iron into gold - or at any rate to get the very best out of David Unsworth and Mark Pembridge, which amounts to much the same thing - but he must still wish that he had a bit more gold to play with. His only close-season signing was Joseph Yobo, which didn't greatly excite Evertonians as the Nigerian was already at Goodison on loan.

Moreover, Yobo, so assured for most of last year, was directly responsible for Owen's second goal on Saturday. Somehow that seemed to symbolise Everton's penurious summer of inactivity in the transfer market, painfully compounded by Harry Kewell's first decent performance in a Liverpool shirt.

However, I have not supported Everton for more than 30 years without being able to find a silver lining in most passing clouds. And had Owen's boot been on Rooney's foot on Saturday, had it been Everton who won 3-0, then short-term euphoria in the Gwladys Street End might have melted into long-term depression.

Let me explain. There is little doubt, whatever the declarations of support coming out of the Anfield boardroom, that if Liverpool's woeful start to the season had continued with defeat on Saturday, and had been followed by one or two more poor results, then Gérard Houllier would have been out on his oreille. And that, for two reasons, is a situation which Everton fans should hope does not come to pass.

The first reason is flimsy and has everything to do with that old Eintracht Frankfurt full-back, Schadenfreude. The desire to see another fail is not an admirable emotion but it is endemic in any city with two or more football clubs. And Liverpool, as I have contended once or twice before, will win neither the Premiership nor the Champions' League under Houllier.

I wouldn't want to repeat myself by questioning his tactical nous and motivational powers, but some things do bear repetition: he has shelled out considerably more than £100m on new players, yet what would his team look like without the players he inherited, notably Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen?

The second reason why Evertonians should hope that Houllier remains as the Liverpool manager is more fanciful but paradoxically more substantial. If he were to leave, then Liverpool would be looking for a new manager. And even though there have been whispers about Kevin Keegan, I am certain that Martin O'Neill would be top of the board's shortlist. I am equally certain that O'Neill, even after characteristically agonising about the decision, would take the Anfield job.

Which would leave Celtic in turn looking for a new manager, and top of their shortlist would be David Moyes, a former player who would find it very difficult to resist the lure of Parkhead, where supporters in green-hooped shirts would be left outside even if capacity were doubled. There are 55,000 season ticket-holders at Celtic, for heaven's sake.

Last Friday night I had dinner at The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow with a friend who knows the Scottish football scene better than almost anyone. He pointed out that, as much as English observers scoff at Rangers and Celtic having to compete in the sham of a league that is the SPL, a third of Celtic's fixtures last season were European games, cup finals or Old Firm derbies, and the amount of excitement they generated would be difficult to replicate even in the Premiership.

He added that O'Neill, whose father once told him with mild hyperbole that if he were ever offered the Celtic job then he should "crawl over broken glass to Glasgow to take it", is genuinely in love with the club.

Nonetheless, the Ulsterman knows that at 51 he is in the prime of his managerial life, that increasingly throughout Europe the Premiership is considered to be where it's at, yet he's not.

Intriguingly, my friend also speculated that if O'Neill went to Liverpool, and Moyes to Celtic, then the Rangers manager Alex McLeish, with more than half an eye on eventually succeeding his old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, might want to flash his credentials in the Premiership, perhaps with Everton. It's enough, after a long hot summer, to make a chap's brain ache.