The Last Word: Stagnant? Moyes reeks of miracles to me
When you have no chance of the title, all that can keep you going is self-respect
However incoherent, Roberto Mancini gives a classic post-match interview. In fact, it is precisely the remoteness that unites his overall bearing and his grasp of English that makes them so good. That way he achieves a far more effective disdain than does Andre Villas-Boas, with all his ostentatious sophistication. The young Chelsea manager has disclosed a broader vocabulary in half a season than Sir Alex Ferguson in 25, but there is something self-conscious about his virtuosity. Mancini, in contrast, has the genuine superiority of someone manifestly without interest in winning over interviewer or audience. It is like wandering round a zoo, and passing from the performing seals to some baleful, brooding predator gazing out of his cage.
Mancini causes a corresponding discomfort in his interrogators. He unnerves them with that sardonic, mystified expression as he awaits the end of their ramblings. It's not so much that I cannot understand as that you are making no sense. After a baffled pause, he brushes his fingers through that mane of hair and gives a half-smile. The eyebrows raise, the hand waves. And he says: "Noh."
Which is not to suggest he has nothing to say. His Munich interview was one of the most gripping. And on Tuesday, after Manchester City's defeat at Everton, his glassy dejection was more expressive than any thesaurus Villas-Boas might disgorge.
Some remain immune to his fascination; some are even so mean-spirited or envious as to hope that he fails. But the rest of us, surely, can only adore having Mancini around. Even so, the author of his misfortune on Tuesday must be pronounced a hero to us all. At the grass roots, David Moyes is surely the most admired manager in British football.
Tempting though it is, following their touchline fracas last season, it would do both men a glib disservice to cast Mancini as some effete foil to a Glaswegian bruiser. Just as Mancini has always had toughness, so Moyes has far more to offer than an unadorned work ethic.
It was not as though Everton parked the bus. The team sheets had prompted bewilderment. Tony Hibbert at centre-half? By the end of the evening, the experiment had a hint of revolution. Big, lumbering central defenders date back to the days of the battering-ram No 9. But slick forward interplay, as nowadays favoured by Europe's most progressive coaches, demands a different response. To stem Silva, Aguero and Nasri, you need mobility, not bulk. Dzeko offered physical presence but Heitinga proved an adequate bulwark.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Moyes would doubtless have settled for a more conventional back line had Jagielka and Distin been available. Even if he reverts to two big lads in the middle, however, he will again prove his eye for a defender in Shane Duffy – spotted at 16, and the latest evidence of an unsurprising forte in a manager whose honesty and commitment once served him well in the same role.
In fact, Fabio Capello could profitably pick three men moulded by Moyes in his back four: Baines, Jagielka and Lescott. Certainly, the way the latter pair shut out the world champions at Wembley in November bore his unmistakable imprint: so understated and effective, above all when compared with one who mistakes gross egotism for leadership.
But this alchemy is by no means confined to the rearguard. Despite Bill Kenwright's destitution, Moyes has again done some inspired business in the transfer window. For one thing, Gibson's goal on Tuesday may foreshadow the sort of improvement he has coaxed from other rejects. At 30, Donovan and Pienaar can only be counted pragmatic expedients. Yet this renewal in midfield – even with injuries, even after losing Arteta in the previous window – allowed Bilyaletdinov to go and freed up cash for Jelavic. The latter's arrival enabled Moyes to discard Saha, nowadays too fragile for the burden of leading the line weekly. And while Tim Cahill has finally ended a 13-month drought, at 32 he will perhaps accept rotation if Stracqualursi (some Italian dish, surely, involving scrambled eggs) can maintain such clamorous endeavour. He may lack Saha's touch, but Goodison on Tuesday loved the way he held up the ball and generally maddened defenders.
Stracqualursi is himself on loan; Cahill cost £2m from Millwall. Mend and make do. As such, Moyes is a victim of his own success. Some have questioned his bigger buys, but the fact is that Fellaini is a monster – and still only 24. Yakubu meanwhile was prolific until derailed by injury, and is now confirming at Blackburn why he was a good bet in his prime.
If anything, Moyes has less spending power than ever. Doubtless he will soon be obliged to cash in Rodwell. But he has consistently achieved a rare spike in the graph-lines that notoriously align wage bill and league position.
Moyes gives hope to disheartened millions. Some lose heart: what's the point, nowadays, for most clubs? You even hear mutterings among Everton fans, when the players again seem so reluctant to renew their Sisyphean toil at the start of the season. Only a few days ago some pundits were contending that Everton under Moyes had finally stagnated. But when you have no realistic chance of the title, all that can keep you going is self-respect. And, by sticking to working-class principles – in a society that seems ever more decadent – that is exactly what Moyes gives Everton.
It would be gratifying if he could gain some reward more lasting than Tuesday's ambush. With both Manchester clubs out of the FA Cup, a home tie against Blackpool or Sheffield Wednesday has a promising look. Today is the first anniversary of Gary Megson's arrival at Wednesday, which already places him at No 50 out of 92 league managers in the long-service table. Moyes, behind only Ferguson and Wenger, celebrates his 10th anniversary at "the people's club" next month. Many wonder whether he has taken Everton as far as he can, and lament that Ferguson will probably be replaced by someone with Champions League éclat. But you never know. Perhaps there is a sheikh or oligarch out there perceptive enough to see that Moyes could obtain that gloss, without necessarily leaving Everton.
Latest in Sport
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture