Blue-blooded commander orders spirit of season past

The Interview - David Moyes: Everton's ambitious young manager faces a real battle after the high promise of his first season. Nick Townsend meets a man of staying power
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The Independent Football

Welcome To Bellefield; the sign is emblazoned across Everton's training complex. Welcome, if you enjoy verbal boiling oil being poured upon you from the ramparts. The young woman journalist from one of China's largest newspapers is mystified. Several thousand miles is an awful long way to come to witness your compatriot Li Tie in a training session and discuss him with the manager, only to be informed by the gatemen: thou shalt not pass until the allotted hour. Not until the players begin to head home, led by a stern-faced Wayne Rooney, who halts his purple Ka briefly for a lone autograph-hunting schoolboy (though strangely enough, not for journalists), are we summoned.

You explain to her that it is the way of sport these days. Long past are the times when you could view Britain's élite footballers perform their ritual exercises and hear the banter of an end-of-session probables versus possibles game. Whether it's Eriksson or Woodward, or here at a club drawn inexorably into the relegation morass, a closed-door policy is insisted upon. Just one unseemly incident, if publicised, can become a corrupting influence.

Only recently, a training contretemps occurred between the manager, David Moyes, and striker Duncan Ferguson - a man who appears to have been an Everton player since the Crusades, though his Goodison career actually extends to a total of nine seasons - who was reportedly sent home.

Then there is the Moody Rooney affair, Moyes's young prodigy's demeanour emphasising his dissatisfaction at being substituted at Bolton last Saturday, just days after the manager had suggested that the teenager should be resting on his day off rather than flying to Madrid to film a Coca-Cola advertisement. It resulted in that iniquitous "source close to Rooney" deeming that his life was "being made made difficult by the manager publicly humiliating him". An 18-year-old, who hasn't scored for his club all season, being replaced? It was hardly equivalent to putting him in the stocks. Maybe young Rooney should select his "sources" more carefully.

It only requires one or two such frosty relationships for the more mischievous among us to decree a winter of discontent. Scarcely a desired environment when your team, who a year ago were luxuriating in their five-star bathrobes in a Champions' League place, are currently at the door to the pauper's kitchen, among the relegation contenders. But will this all be the making of Moyes - or, unthinkable though it seems for this most vaunted of young managers, his destruction?

When he eventually emerges from his office, his jauntiness cannot conceal a slight edginess. As a rule, the media regard him without the cynicism they reserve for some of his counterparts. He gives it to you straight, without prevarication or double- speak. Take his reply to the final question. What would be his response if Spurs (with a vacancy) or Celtic (possibly with a vacancy, should Martin O'Neill depart them for Liverpool) came knocking? "I'd say no." Nothing more. No hint to Bill Kenwright, the theatre impresario and the club's vice-chairman and principal shareholder, that he could consider any overtures from other clubs if funding for player acquisition is not forthcoming.

But today there is also just the hint that Moyes has enrolled for the foundation course at Sir Alex Ferguson's finishing school. Special subject: taciturnity. Especially when the name Rooney is broached, as it is several times. It elicits the same response: "I don't want to talk about him again." In fairness, enough was said in the prelude to Wednesday's Carling Cup tie at Middlesbrough, which Everton lost on penalties. "I only substituted Wayne because he was not playing well" was the gist of it. And, would he play against Manchester City? A brusque: "He's in the squad."

You also suspect there's been a word or two in Moyes's ear. From his peers. The manager concedes: "I've always been upfront; maybe too much, according to some folk. A couple of times, I've had managers phone me up and tell me I've been too honest." Lest one forgets, following last year's excellent finishing position of seventh, the Scot is still something of a novice at this élite level. He has yet to reach his second anniversary at Goodison, after an apprenticeship of four seasons at First Division Preston North End.

It has been written that one manager who imparts his wisdom is Ferguson. "I do know I could always ask him for advice," is all that Moyes will admit. "But at this top level of football you have to stand up and you have to take it on your own, though, fortunately, I've got some good sounding-boards here, some good staff."

He regards the current malaise firstly as a temporary condition, secondly as an examination of his managerial acumen. He is well aware of Ferguson's introduction at Old Trafford. "It's one of the things I have to fight my way through if I'm eventually to make it as one of the top managers," he says, those curiously penetrating and slightly scary eyes maintaining contact with yours. "I want to win something, and to do that I know these are the kind of pitfalls that are put in front of you along the way and which you have to overcome. I'll just try to do things in the right manner, try to keep my dignity when a lot of things are being said, I think wrongly said. Hopefully, if I do that I'll come out on top."

In contrast with that fatalist Kevin Keegan, whose Manchester City team Everton entertain today, Moyes remains assured in his manner despite that display at Bolton, one which The Independent's reporter, Dave Hadfield, depicted as "supine capitulation". A brutal assessment. It was put to Moyes that his players' body language had been poor. "That's what you feel..." he began, evidently suppressing his indignation. "We work with them every day and I've got no complaints. They're real hard-working lads. In the main it's the same group of players who, up until Easter time, were Champions' League material. If they can get to that position once, they can certainly do it again and push up the League, and I'm in no doubt they will do."

The essence of his argument is, of course, correct. He fielded the same outfield 10 against Bolton as he did a year ago against Newcastle, but for Tobias Linderoth and Kevin Kilbane. Goals have been in meagre supply recently, and not just from the boot of Rooney. Possibly because of the absence of Kevin Campbell and Ferguson. Moyes offers it as a clue to Everton's impotence in front of goal, not an excuse.

Anyway, whatever Everton's personnel shortcomings, January's transfer window will not permit any warm gusts of hope in the form of new players. "No, this is the squad," says Moyes, who declared that any funds set aside for Fulham's Sean Davies had been utilised.

"We used it on [James] McFadden and Kilbane, and we've got another wage in Nigel Martyn," he explains. "We've used it by spreading the dough around." He adds: "I'm in the same situation as 60 per cent of Premier League managers."

Nevertheless, with such financial constraints, speculation will continue that Everton's failure to meet his ambitions will cause him to question his future. Yet Moyes contends: "Everton are one of the biggest clubs in the country at the moment. You have to ask, why do 40,000 people come to Goodison, where they didn't when the club were really doing well?"

He adds: "Once you arrive here, this club begins to get its claws into you, whether you're a player or a manager. And Everton has its claws into me. I'm happy here, as long as the public are happy with me and they think I'm doing the right thing for their club. Sometimes, when you're in the process of trying to bring young players in - the Hibberts, the Yobos, the Rooneys, and McFaddens - and change the age of the team and reshape it all, you do have peaks and troughs."

It is to Moyes's good fortune that, as board members go, they don't come any more fanatical or patient than Kenwright, who earlier in the year confirmed that "we Evertonians have total faith in our manager." That was then, last season. This is now, with relegation not inconceivable. Yet Kenwright's faith will surely remain undimmed for the foreseeable future.

"Until I'm told differently, I'll carry on," says Moyes. "I didn't ask for time. I don't expect to be given time. I wanted us to make progress. We did last year. People may say the progress hasn't been sustained, but maybe if you sat back and analysed it, you'd say well, we've got some new players coming through, so is that not progress? And teams do need time to evolve. What you need at this time is a board of people who keep calm, don't get too excitable, too disappointed."

And with that, he was away, to speak to our Chinese colleague about Li Tie. Just a shame Li Tie is currently injured and unavailable for selection. But that did not concern her. One of her countrymen is a first- team player with one of England's greatest clubs. And that's the way Moyes is determined Everton will remain.

Biography: David Moyes

Born: 24 April 1963 in Glasgow.

As a player: Celtic (from youth); Cambridge United (free, Oct 1983); Bristol City (£10,000, Oct 85); Shrewsbury Town (£30,000, Oct 87); Dunfermline (free, Aug 90); Hamilton Academical (free, Aug 93); Preston North End (free, Sept 93). Total: 629 appearances, 49 goals.

Playing honours: Scottish Youth & Schools; Scottish Premier League title; English Third Division title; English Associate Members' Cup.

Managerial career: joined Preston in 1998 and took them from Second Division to First Division play-offs. Joined Everton in March 2002. Managerial honours: LMA Manager of the Year 2002-03.