David Moyes, the Manchester United manager, declared himself indifferent to the fact that the side he managed for 11 years will arrive at Old Trafford on Wednesday night – "I'm not that emotional a person; I would rather get on with the game" – and stated that he would be neither disappointed nor surprised if he receives any abuse from Everton supporters.
However, the prickly nature of the conversation at his pre-match press conference about the way Moyes left Goodison Park during the summer revealed a man who cares far more deeply than he would have us believe.
"I disagree. I don't think there was any animosity built up," Moyes said when such a notion was put to him about the manner of his departure from Everton. When someone broached the potential for United's pursuit of Leighton Baines – which one source suggests the club consider a done deal for next month – to create antagonism towards Moyes, he was indignant. "Ah, you've added a player in there now. You've turned that around, then..."
Of course Moyes cares about his reception by the visitors' fans – and the personal and professional challenges posed are rendered even more acute by the wonderful start Roberto Martinez has made at Goodison.
One defeat in the league all season puts Everton two points and three places above United in the table, while Moyes admitted that he has concerns about being cut adrift from the top, with the gap to leaders Arsenal now nine points.
Martinez's signings have allowed Everton to rapidly develop into a team in the new manager's image – "it's a good loan signing, but that is what it is, a loan signing, not a permanent one," Moyes said of Romelu Lukaku.
However, his own acquisition from his old club, Marouane Fellaini, continues to struggle. "Not the best of starts; this is a difficult club to join," he said of the Belgian, who is likely to be in the starting line-up.
Not unreasonably, Moyes sought to provide a sense of what he delivered at Everton across all of those years – even though a win at Old Trafford was beyond him. "The club had finished in the top 10 how many times [before I arrived]? The Premier League has been going just over 20 years, and they had a top-10 finish maybe once. In the second 10-year period, we finished in the top 10 on a regular basis. I think if someone really looked at it, they would understand and hopefully realise that I helped push the club in the right direction."
Moyes said Robin van Persie is "doing OK. He has got a chance", despite his toe problems and it is also likely that Adnan Januzaj will feature from the start again. But the pressure is all on Moyes, with Martinez claiming Everton do have the raw materials to be in the top four and – in an interesting shift of philosophy from the Moyes era – stating he would be happier playing well for 85 minutes and losing than sneaking a win.
"We need to have a substance to our performance so we can take ourselves on to the next level," Martinez said. "It's about the long term."
The Spaniard has moved on from his Wigan days, too: his programme notes are signed off with solo lo mejor ("only the best") these days, not sin miedo ("without fear").
Moyes revealed that he remains in contact with his former chairman at Everton, Bill Kenwright, but in keeping with everything else in the conversation he insisted that he had not for one moment mentally rehearsed how he would respond to his new team scoring against the one in which he invested over a decade of his life. "I've not planned it. I've not thought about it," he said.
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