James Lawton: Moyes' obsessive pursuit of excellence hints at a great manager in the making

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The Independent Online

When David Moyes and Joe Jordan were old players of teams like Celtic and Manchester United in the service of Bristol City they shared digs and would often talk the night away. The subject was, relentlessly, football and if some of their passionate theories have been modified, it has not been by much.

Occasionally, Jordan attempted to switch the subject. Perhaps he wanted to recommend a fine Italian wine from his time with Milan and Verona. Maybe he had seen an astounding film. But you could try that only so many times as the sun crept over the Avon. Invariably, Moyes would turn it back to the game that dominated his life.

"The thing with Moysey," Jordan was recalling yesterday, "was that while he was obsessive about the football – and so ambitious he had coaching badges in his early twenties – he had something that I've found always makes potentially great football men stand out.

"He had a love of the game that went beyond his own ideas about how he might progress as a coach or a manager. He wanted to know everything. I've known some great football men like Jock Stein and Dave Sexton and they were like that.

"There was something we did always agree on. It was that timing was everything if you wanted to make your way. Sometimes you had to fight to give yourself time. I really think that's what Moysey has done at Everton. He is not up there by any chance."

It means that when Moyes' Everton play the Portsmouth team coached by Jordan at Goodison Park tomorrow there will be few hiding places for anything less than the most thorough of professional commitment. If it should also happen that Everton win – and deepen the possibility that for the second time in four years they will finish ahead of their fierce and much heavier spending rivals Liverpool – we could also be talking about a lot more than the increasingly vitriolic bragging rights of Merseyside. We might just be recognising in Moyes, at 44, the best football manager seen around Liverpool since the days of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.

This may seem like a harsh jibe at Rafa Benitez, who does happen to hold a two-goal lead over the masters of Italian football, Internazionale, but when resources are compared, when the spending patterns of recent years are put against each other, Moyes is once again on the verge of a stunning achievement.

Certainly in a week which has seen even more fragmentation of old values at Liverpool before the tricky engagement at Bolton tomorrow, when Steven Gerrard felt obliged to send up fresh signals that he is close to despair about the development of the team he was close to abandoning for the Kings Road a few years ago, when civil war erupted between the American owners, Moyes has looked like a man closing in on a new and more powerful niche in the game in which economic forces say he should really be scuffling for not a lot more than survival. The ledgers of Liverpool and Everton tell an extraordinary story.

Benitez has spent £146m in less than four years, with £70m recovered, with his predecessor Gérard Houllier getting through £119m, against sales of approximately £57m in roughly the same period. In six years Moyes has spent £79.1m and recovered £51.9m or, put another way, turned relegation candidates into increasingly significant players at the sharper end of the Premier League at an annual cost of something less than £5m a year.

Admittedly the figures were spectacularly enhanced by the sale of Wayne Rooney, but then few managers could have guided the then turbulently emerging genius to the marketplace quite so skilfully.

Moyes' old team-mate Jordan notes the change that has come about with the signings of such as Phil Neville, Joleon Lescott, Mikel Arteta and Yakubu – and the development of promising young players like James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe. "Moysey has stayed the course and no one can say that he hasn't worked hard and cleverly to get where he is now. First he made a team and now, when we are talking about serious competition, of really believing that soon you can compete with the top teams, he has a squad.

"What he has done, beyond any question, is make himself a top manager."

Back in the digs that was more a dream than a raging possibility. Though he had played for Celtic and competed in Europe, Moyes had become an inhabitant of football's nether regions; he might have been labouring with more hope than certainty. But that didn't matter so much so long as he could learn a little bit more about the game, immerse himself in it ever more deeply. Bill Shankly was like that as he scoured the outposts of football in Carlisle and Grimsby and Workington.

David Moyes, it is ever more clear, is a man of the future but then he would also have been recognised as something else by the old messiah who once operated across the park.

Shankly would have seen a throwback to the roots of a game in which the fundamentals of choosing winners and losers is unlikely to ever change.

Wenger right to refuse to budge over Taylor's tackle

Arsène Wenger was in truculent form yesterday, refusing to budge beyond his swift retraction of the claim that Martin Taylor should be banned for life for the tackle that has so threatened the career of Eduardo da Silva.

He was also dismissive of suggestions that his angry reaction to the high, late lunge may have provoked a rash of internet death threats to the Birmingham City player, who came to the incident with no reputation for violence.

Yes, Wenger can be obdurate and as one-eyed as a hen-pecked vicar judging his wife's apple pie at the village fair. However, amid all the selective morality – some would also charge the manager whose players have racked up 72 red cards since he took command with a bad case of hypocrisy – it has to be said that Wenger is right not to surrender a basic truth.

Eduardo was rushed to hospital not because Martin Taylor is a malicious thug. It was because he committed himself to a tackle which was both crude and dangerous and, according to Wenger, part of a pattern in which players of moderate ability attempt to contain quicker, more talented players. To suggest he should not say this because it might encourage some warped riders of the internet is ridiculous.

Wenger does not preside over a team of angels, heaven knows. But that stark disciplinary record is not about any systematic attempt to negate skill. Sometimes his discipline, and objectivity, have been shockingly absent, but his most relevant claim yesterday was that not once in his career had he asked one of his players to kick or rough up the opposition or even tackle without any due care. This is the kernel of the Eduardo case – and where Wenger is right not to yield an inch.

Lawler's theatre brings Shankly's character back to life

The Bill Shankly Story, a loving tribute to the great manager fashioned by his biographer, John Keith, comes home tonight after success in front of the Scandinavian branch of Liverpool Supporters Club in Oslo. It is remarkable in several ways, not least in the number of youngsters it attracts and the fact that one of the stars is Chris Lawler. Lawler was a key member of Shankly's great teams but you could have got any odds you wanted against him one day treading the boards.

His retiring nature was best summed up by Shankly when he asked him to rule on a goal "scored" by the manager's team in a five-a-side game at Melwood. "I'm sorry boss, I just don't think it was a goal," Lawler (pictured) announced after a terrible pause. Shankly said: "You don't utter a word for years and then the first thing you say is a lie."

Lawler, though, is in good voice, alongside Keith, actor Kenneth Cope – an Everton fan – Ian St John and Ron Yeats. The former full back tells how Shankly commanded several of the players to build a new dug-out at Anfield, with the future European Cup-winning managers, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, bricklaying and mixing cement. When it was completed, Shankly exclaimed: "It's the best dug-out the world has ever seen."

So many other superlatives will come swirling back to life at 7.30pm at Mountford Hall, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. Some tickets may be available at the door but to make sure call 07773 715666.

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