Everton v Manchester United: David Moyes’ messy exit means his Goodison Park legacy is undervalued

Martinez has lifted the Merseysiders to greater heights already, but still owes his predecessor a considerable debt

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The real brutality of the Premier League fixture schedule has resided in the timing of David Moyes’ return to Goodison Park, rather than Manchester United’s opening fixtures, which left him muttering darkly about conspiracy theories last summer.

Moyes goes back to his old place five days after his successor, Roberto Martinez, delivered a speech of captivating quality at Anfield’s 25th anniversary commemoration of Hillsborough and promptly walked back across Stanley Park to Goodison - to the astonishment of those Liverpool fans with whom he was willing to stop and engage. “That a man walks across a park in daylight seems such a small thing but tell me this: where else would this happen,” said one writer who observed that moment.

The small things are what Martinez excels at. He shares his predecessor's obsession with football matches, reeling off last Tuesday morning the names of the Everton youngsters who had performed in the previous night's 'mini-derby which was  one of three matches he'd watched that evening. Yet he is absorbed by the subtle psychological impact that a manager can have, too. "Coming from Spain played a part in that for me," he said that morning. "I saw how easy I could be lost in a dressing room because I could be misunderstood or I couldn't understand the way they expected me to understand the game."

Moyes always played his part in Liverpool's acts of commemoration, too, and willingly attended the memorials for the city's soldiers - many of them Evertonians - who died in Iraq. But he does not possess the psychological subtleties of Martinez. By every available account, it always seems to have been hard to get him to listen to those who had a more intuitive sense of Everton than him. 

He was rewarded when he did listen. When he first arrived and asked others to explain Everton to him and was told that it was 'The People's Club', he duly communicated that notion at his first press conference - and a part of his own legend was born. When he privately suggested, soon afterwards, that  the Z-cars anthem might be changed for something more modern, others were able to talk him out of the idea. But four of his 11 years there had elapsed before he really felt he knew the club. Some of those who observed him across those years will tell you that was because he could not lower the drawbridge in the way that his successor has done.

A sense of the collegiate is everything to Martinez, an individual so socially integrated that an Everton member of staff felt able to confide in him before Christmas some frustration with a colleague's negativity. "Ignore it. Never let negativity win, " Martinez replied. Yet for his own part, Moyes always remained a far harder man to know at Everton: comfortable in an intense football conversation but uncomfortable in territory removed from it; less willing to delegate and determined to do it his own way. Neither was he a manager to be messed with. He was an individual to be feared at times because with him there was no comfort zone and because he has a fearful temper. Some say there were periods when he softened, in reaction to indications that the players were simply not responding to what felt relentless work to some like. But his instinct was just not for psychological nuance.

Duncan Ferguson heads the winner for Everton against Manchester United in 2005 (Getty Images)

And yet for all that, his accomplishments were extraordinary. Martinez is characterised as the man who has taken Everton on spiritually and psychologically, as a team playing with "arrogance" as the Spaniard always likes to say, yet Moyes' team's matches against United alone reveal the way he allowed them to go toe-to-toe with consistently the best team in the land. When he arrived they had been in the wilderness, top ten finishers just once in the first decade of the Premier League.

Moyes could yesterday allow himself to remember the events of nine years ago tomorrow - when Everton earned their first league win over United in 10 years, a monumental 1-0 victory under the Goodison lights with a Duncan Ferguson header which saw them to Champions League qualification. David Weir, one of Moyes' lions that night, recalls in his autobiography  that Ferguson “pulverised Rio Ferdinand.” that night. This blow and others was delivered by a young unknown from Preston who arrived to a face addressing room populated by big beats like Ferguson, Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola. His task was certainly more challenging than his successor's

There was more help for Moyes in the discovery of young talent than the established historical narrative sometimes acknowledges. He had  Ray Hall, Everton's Academy director of 20 years' standing to thank for so many of them. Moyes' instinctive caution, written through so much of his work, made him less willing to unleash them as continually Martinez has already been. But there certainly was no manager better and going into the transfer market for the £2m and £3m buys when the Everton's need to sell created a need to replenish.

Moyes v Martinez is a fascinating contrast of philosophies - in many ways old school v new school - and the carefully choreographed press conferences both men gave yesterday showed each man distinctly wanting to claim some of Everton's achievement this season for himself. Moyes pointedly observed that Everton had finished above Liverpool in the past two seasons. Martinez held out significantly little of his customary warmth for a man who is "Manchester United manager now," as he put it. He, too, was telling us that this Everton is his Everton.

It is a shame that Moyes' decision to go back so publicly to Everton for Leighton Baines will earn him the wrath of the club's supporters tomorrow. To have done so was a strategic mistake after his years of railing against big game poachers. It has antagonised supporters more than the sense - argued most emphatically by some at the club but denied categorically by Moyes - that he knew United wanted him as early  February last year and procrastinated on a new contract, thus denying Everton £3m in compensation. Many feel Moyes' United contract could not conceivably have been tied up in a few weeks.

It feels like Everton have not done so badly, after all. They feel like a club being opened up once more. The players' pleasure at being asked to create, rather more than survive, has been unmistakable. And in a season when Everton's points tally has surpassed anything Moyes has found, the Spaniard's way feels like the right way.

The wounds created had been too raw to let his predecessor so much as cross the Goodison threshold until last Saturday - and that will have hurt. Only in time, when they have healed, will Everton acknowledge the debt they owe Moyes for putting them in the place from which Martinez can push on.