"Optimism was the new buzzword at a bouncing Goodison Park on Saturday." With the chance to climb above Liverpool in tonight's Merseyside derby and a home FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland to follow, these words could easily fit into a report of Everton's 1-0 win over Tottenham at the weekend. Instead it was actually the opening line in the Liverpool Echo's account of David Moyes' first game as Everton manager, a 2-1 success against Fulham two days after his arrival from Preston on 16 March 2002, as the Scot set about re-energising a club which, in chairman Bill Kenwright's words, "had lost some of our belief".
If his famous "People's Club" line ensured it was love at first sound-bite for fans tired of their team's cash-strapped tag under Walter Smith, he quickly began imposing principles on his players that have yielded seven top-eight finishes over the last decade. "He promised he would work as hard as any player in the club to get things right," remembers Lee Carsley, a key figure in Moyes' midfield from 2002 to 2008. "People could see that with his work ethic and the way he went with his preparations, we were going to be successful. A lot of our drills early on were based around being hard to beat, being organised, having a good team shape and that is something that has carried on. All the teams that represent Everton represent the manager and what he is about. They are a perfect fit."
Key to the kind of classic Moyes victory that left Spurs with a bloodied nose last weekend – and there were nine, hard-earned 1-0 wins in 2004-05, the season they qualified for the Champions League – is fitness. When Moyes returned from the 2002 World Cup enthusing about the high-intensity efforts of the South Koreans, it offered a hint of what his Everton side would deliver.
Carsley, now coaching the reserves and under-18s at Coventry, says he was never fitter than at Everton. "On the Monday morning when other teams were doing a cool-down we would do a hard session and he would say, 'No one else is doing this now, that's why we're the fittest team'. That's why mentally we could cope with whatever was thrown at us." Former Everton centre-back David Weir, who recently assumed a coaching role with the club's youth and reserve teams, notes that the players "have to train properly every day or it will be noticed".
Moyes' coaching skills ensured he got the very best out of his players' ability, according to Steve Watson, a stalwart of the Scot's early Goodison years. "I had some tremendous man-managers – Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Walter Smith – but Moyes would be by far the best coach. Look at the amount of players who have improved vastly in his time there," he says, citing the "underrated" Leon Osman. "People like Phil Jagielka, he has taken from other clubs and transformed them into internationals."
Watson, who was part of Lee Clark's backroom staff at Huddersfield, describes Everton as "a coaching club" and recalls Moyes, a centre-half in his day, taking separate sessions with his back four, "working on distances between players, covering positions. He would stop it and ask why. It was a really good coaching education for us all". The number of Moyes' old boys now coaching is no coincidence, he believes.
Weir argues that Moyes (left) "has taken all the excuses away from the players" by ensuring everything on the football side of the club is "top drawer", including the Finch Farm training ground, opened in 2007. And he highlights the manager's attention to detail. "Everyone knows how many games he goes to. He takes the time to analyse and with his football brain the longer he spends doing it, the more likely he is to come up with solutions. He just doesn't miss anything. He will find a way of neutralising who Everton are playing against."
This meticulous approach has paid off in the transfer market, too. Moyes offered one striking example when revealing last weekend that he watched Joleon Lescott eight times – on top of 16 other scouting reports – before signing him from Wolves in 2006. "It is knowing that a player has the right kind of attitude to fit into the club," says Carsley, who praises Moyes' ability to blend gifted "game-changers" like Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar, each bought for under £3m, with "the ones that do the nasty jobs".
There is a perception that Moyes has mellowed since his intense approach tested his relationship with the squad in a difficult 2003-04 campaign – "when he was quite a young manager you'd struggle to get anything more than a football conversation out of him," says Watson – yet his drive and ambition are intact. And the gloom that gripped Goodison before Christmas has given way to fresh optimism, generated by some astute January transfer deals and a rousing win over Manchester City.
Carsley has a simple answer for Everton's ability to turn their seasons around – "the manager"– and this week brings two challenges Moyes will relish: to claim a first win at Anfield and take a step closer to a first major honour. The worry for Evertonians is that this will be his last chance on both counts, given rumoured interest from clubs with far greater wealth. Yet Joe Royle, the last man to lead Everton to silverware, the 1995 FA Cup, says it is no foregone conclusion Moyes will move on.
"Early in the season he looked a little bit ill at ease with the situation but that seems to have gone now and he is back in full cry," he said. "It is only natural, 10 years in the job is a long time, but I think he knows equally he is working for a great club with a fantastic support and also a chairman and board that support him totally. That means a lot." Whatever the future brings, Weir has no doubt Moyes has proved his worth. "The success he has had, the infrastructure he has put in place with the resources he has had, he's got to be the No 1 of his generation."Reuse content