Manchester United manager David Moyes braced for hot reception at Everton
The real brutality of the Premier League's schedule has resided in the timing of David Moyes' return to Goodison Park, rather than in Manchester United's opening fixtures, which left him muttering darkly about conspiracy theories last summer.
Moyes goes back to Everton tomorrow 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.
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."
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 has 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. He would occasionally listen to those who had a more intuitive sense of Everton than him.
When he first arrived he asked others to explain the club to him, was told that it was "the People's Club", 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 theme to which the club's players traditionally walk out might be changed for something more modern, others were able to talk him out of the idea.
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 a member of staff felt able to confide to him before Christmas some frustration with a colleague's negativity. "Ignore it; never let negativity win," Martinez replied.
Moyes always remained a far harder man to know: comfortable in an intense football conversation but uncomfortable in territory removed from it, less willing to delegate and determined to find his own way. Neither was he a manager to be messed with.
He was a man to be feared at times because with him there was no comfort zone. 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. 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.
Moyes yesterday remembered the events of nine years ago tomorrow when Everton earned their first league win over United in 10 years, a monumental 1-0 victory at Goodison with a Duncan Ferguson header which saw them to Champions League qualification.
This was delivered by a young unknown from Preston who arrived to a face a dressing 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 historical narrative sometimes acknowledges – he had the Ray Hall, Everton Academy director of 20 years' standing to thank for so many of them – 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 was telling us that this 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 and 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 as February last year and procrastinated on a new contract, thus denying Everton £3m in compensation.
It feels, however, like they have not done so badly.
Everton feels like a club opened up once more. The players' pleasure at being asked to create, rather more than survive, has been unmistakeable. 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 have been too raw to let his predecessor so much as cross the Goodison threshold until tomorrow – and that will have hurt because he is a fastidious watcher of football games.
Only in time, when they have healed, will Everton acknowledge the debt they owe him for putting them in the place from which Martinez can push on.