James Lawton: Time to marvel at Moyes and his long journey of discovery
Published 17/02/2009 | 00:00
As the world-renowned Guus Hiddink yesterday settled into his duties as Chelsea's fourth manager in 18 months – and up in Newcastle there was a groundswell of support for a dream ticket of Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet, apparently, there really was – it was surely entirely permissible to marvel again at the work of Everton's David Moyes.
There is also a twin wonder, of course. Not only does the Everton board appear united in its determination to hang on to Moyes with limpet force, it also acknowledges that in the time Newcastle have dispensed with Sir Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce and Kevin Keegan, its manager has made board members look like absolute paragons of good football sense.
They are entitled to at least some of that distinction because not every Moyes season was marked by unbridled progress. On two occasions he was required to fight for his football life, and risk a near full dressing room of unsigned contracts and less than perfectly contented performers, but both his fortitude and his nerve were swiftly recognised.
There was no brainless boardroom talk of building quickly on limited success, or the restless belief, one insanely projected by Charlton Athletic, that mere survival in the top flight was no longer an achievement even if you belonged to football's financial underclass; just acceptance that Moyes was fighting against heavy odds with those benefits of patience and self-belief bestowed by a long grounding in the game with which he remains obsessed to a Shanklyesque degree.
Now, as has been periodically true in Moyes' seven-year reign at Goodison, the manager has once again commanded more than passing attention to his extraordinary ability to fashion teams of great competitive integrity.
If the FA Cup victory over Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa had come in relative isolation, an eruption from merely steady league form, it would have been remarkable enough in that key performances had come from Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling, 17 and 19 years old respectively and, stunningly, both English. Rodwell and Victor Anichebe, who was also prominent against Villa, both came through an Everton system which is beginning to score heavily against a Liverpool academy locally christened the League of Nations. Gosling was picked up from Plymouth for a throwaway £500,000. However, what happened when Everton beat Villa in a superbly contested Cup tie was plainly rather more than merely a day when most things went right.
For Moyes, surely, it was the climax to a month or so of arguably his most consistently vigorous work.
In the previous six games Everton, despite an injury epidemic that left them without recognised strikers, competed ferociously with Liverpool, three times, Arsenal and Manchester United, and cuffed aside Bolton 3-0. They had a goals aggregate of 7-4 before outplaying Villa.
Here we have, you have to believe, more than a passage of great promise. We have the sinew and the gristle and the gravitas of real achievement.
There is also the warming sense of a team founded along classic lines. Not all Moyes' signings have been unmitigated triumphs, no more than those of his hero Sir Alex Ferguson, but if James Beattie and Andrew Johnson delivered less than was promised, the disappointment they represented has shrivelled against more recent successes, notably Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott and the enduring contributions of such as Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill.
What we are celebrating here is the kind of team-building which gathers up certainties along the way. Rotation as practised across the park at Anfield is neither an option nor a desire. That Everton were able to compete so strenuously against the weight of Liverpool's star system, and eventually emerge successfully, spoke of an implicit understanding produced as much by the circumstances of a small but splendidly focused squad as the degree of their motivation.
In Moyes we also perhaps see the perfect counterpoint to the argument that such big-name players and managerial contenders as Roy Keane, Paul Ince and Tony Adams were given either too little time or tolerance as they went through their growing pains. Moyes, of course, was learning his business from his early twenties as a journeyman defender for Celtic. It is often pointed out that he gained his first coaching certificate at the age of 22, but more importantly, most old pros will tell you, he took careful notes of the style and the priorities of all those managers he served under as he moved from one club to another. He sifted the grain from the chaff. He noted that which worked – and that which didn't.
Moyes' friend Joe Jordan, a team-mate at Bristol City at a time when both were contemplating the challenges of coaching and management, reports a football man of the greatest intensity. They talked of their beliefs and theories long into the night at their digs and if Jordan was ever guilty of causing distraction, of mentioning, for example, a fine wine he had enjoyed in his days with Milan or Verona, he would be swiftly called to attention. Moyes, relentlessly, was more interested in Baresi than Barolo.
Such attention to detail continues to show in many different ways. His memory is elephantine and his willingness to make a point, quietly but tellingly, was apparent in the recent battles with Liverpool. He hoped that there would be no official deference towards Liverpool's celebrity players if contention should arise – a point made with some controlled ferocity fuelled by his memory of the time Steven Gerrard suggested to the referee Mark Clattenburg, successfully, that the Everton full-back Terry Hibbert should be sent off.
A scrapper, then, and a planner and a man who has made it his business to understand not only the passions but the mechanics of football. Such men do not always rise to the top in the celebrity circus of the modern game, but when they do it is cause to celebrate something rather more than an individual example of determination and ambition. It is a reason to be grateful football has not gone completely mad.
Guardiola has gift of letting players follow their instinct
Not only is Barcelona's first-season coach Pep Guardiola dazzling Spanish football and beyond with the beauty and the bite of his football. He is also reminding his brother coaches of a truth that sometimes, in this clipboard, Pro-zone dominated age seems to be utterly lost.
It is the precious value of players who are still able to react to difficult circumstances with spontaneity rather than some Pavlovian response. A classic example of this came at the weekend when Barça's all-conquering sweep was endangered by an obdurate performance from Real Betis. Barça were 2-0 down when Samuel Eto'o took it upon himself to break from Guardiola's insistence that he played along the right while Lionel Messi operated in the middle of attack.
After his second and equalising goal, Eto'o ran, somewhat self-importantly, to the dugout but he was not rebuked. Instead, Guardiola wrapped him in his arms and then later said, "He had asked me if he could play a more central role but I had preferred to use him out on the right and Messi through the middle. I impose the order of the team, but it is the players that are out there and sometimes they have to go with their instincts."
Every coaching manual that doesn't bear a similar inscription, within reasonable printing schedules, should be rammed down the throat of its perpetrator.
Russia's No 1 or Everton's No 2?
Ever since Luiz Felipe Scolari appeared on the touchline in Japan as the coach of Brazil and much of the world said, "Isn't that Gene Hackman?" the search for a perfect follow-up football double has not been so rewarding.
There was some disappointment here, certainly, when the view that Luis Aragones, the crusty old coach of European champions Spain, and the brilliant veteran comedian Stanley Baxter were decent contenders was shared less than universally.
However, there is possibly a new case to be made for Terry Hibbert, right-back of Everton, and Vladimir Putin, prime minister of Russia.
A silly game, you may say, but there is a good bottle wine for anyone who can come up with a more striking combination.