In the summer of 1998, Everton's new manager stood under the hot French sun and scrutinised his £2.5m investment. Watching the scene, just yards away, was David Moyes.
Barely recognised in Preston, never mind Provence, Moyes was so eager to learn that he paid his own way to the World Cup finals. He must have felt like a poor man with his nose against the restaurant window as he spied Walter Smith studying John Collins at Scotland's training camp at St Remy.
It was perfect training for the legacy Moyes has now inherited. No huge cheques will be written, like the one paid to acquire Collins from Monaco that summer. At Goodison, good housekeeping is now as important as salvation – staying in the FA Barclaycard Premiership will not be achieved at any price.
Moyes may have been given a four-year contract, just as Smith was, but there the similarities with his fellow Scot end. The young manager was plundered from Preston North End on Thursday to stave off relegation, yet work within a strict budget at a club that has imploded after years of financial turmoil.
"What I had available to me at Preston is more than I'll have to keep Everton in the Premiership," Moyes explained on Friday, as he surveyed the enormity of the task he has taken on after replacing Smith. He's been through this before, at Deepdale, when his first managerial task in 1997 was to avoid the drop into the Nationwide Third Division, but this time the penalty clause is far more severe.
"Obviously, that situation could arise at Everton, but I'm trying not to talk too much about that," Moyes said. "If we don't start winning games, it's possible that we could get relegated. A lot of supporters think it's already on the cards, but it's up to me to make sure it does not happen. Everton have been to the wire a few times, not just under Walter, but other managers and in the long term I have to change that philosophy. But I can only do that if we survive."
Moyes knows how difficult it is to get out of the First Division. He took Preston to the play-off final last June, losing to Bolton at the Millennium Stadium, yet his was an achievement envied by richer clubs, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose money has not allowed them to escape that football purgatory.
Moyes had taken Preston a long way in a short time and his attributes were prized. Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him as his assistant at Manchester United, while Southampton offered him the chance to succeed Glenn Hoddle as manager. Instead, the man who passed his first coaching licence at the age of 22 when he was a young player at Celtic, has taken what many would consider to be a managerial poisoned chalice.
"When you step up in management, you very rarely get a club that is in a good position," says Moyes bluntly. "Otherwise, there would be no reason to sack their manager. There was no way I was ever going to get one of the top six clubs in the Premiership, and while Southampton did not feel right last summer, this was too good an opportunity to let go. Everton are a big club and it's up to me to get them going."
Ironically, one of the older, established managers who helped shape Moyes' rapid rise was Smith, who also endorsed his compatriot as his successor after being sacked on Wednesday.
"Walter was a great help to me at Preston, he always had time and advice," said Moyes. "I met him on Thursday and told him I had been approached and asked what I should do. But he had already told Bill Kenwright [the Everton vice-chairman] that I was the person Everton were looking for. I thank him for that. It shows what an honest man he is, because he must have been hurt, yet he dismissed those feelings and acted with dignity.
"I knew from speaking to him over the years the real problems he faced, having to sell players because of the club's debt. He was here for only four years, yet must have turned around 40 players. That's not good, you can't find stability when you operate like that."
Collins, Olivier Dacourt, Nick Barmby and Francis Jeffers were just a few of the choice pieces of family silver Smith was forced to sell off. Collins was back at Goodison yesterday, though only fleetingly, wearing the white shirt of Fulham.
It whisked Moyes back in time, to Provence four years ago. "I just wanted to see how teams prepared," he recalls. "Craig Brown let me into the training camp, so I paid my own way and went to a lot of games. I knew when I was at Celtic that I was never going to be a big-name player, but I think I can help others to get there."Reuse content