With Everton out of the FA Cup and slipping in the league, The Daily Shift‘s Ian Colgan asks what now for the club their manager David Moyes?…
Strangely, it was Everton’s FA Cup home tie with Wigan – a ‘foregone conclusion’ that was largely ignored in the days leading up to it – that ended up being one of the main talking points and only bona fide shock of the weekend. By the final whistle, what remained of the riled and dejected home crowd – the few that dug deep for the strength to stomach it until the end – hissed and cursed their team’s 0-3 defeat and what they deemed a slovenly, lifeless performance.
Others even applauded Wigan for a job well done, and not even club ‘hero’ Marouane Fellaini was spared their abuse. He didn’t even take a seat on the bench after he was substituted off, opting to slink off down the tunnel towards the dressing room.
It brought back the memory of Walter Smith’s sacking that came hot on the heels of a 3-0 loss to Middlesbrough in the sixth round of the FA Cup in ’02, which paved the way for David Moyes. Likewise, Saturday’s result had all the signs of being a watershed moment in Everton’s campaign and Moyes’ career; a nightmarish unravelling that’s made it hard to escape the feeling that the sun is finally going down on the ‘Moyes Years’ at Everton.
As the Premier League’s third-longest serving manager with a single club, who this week celebrates his 11th anniversary at Goodison Park, all Moyes has to show for it is being a Runner-Up in the ’09 FA Cup and equalling Alex Ferguson’s record of three ‘LMA Manager of the Year’ awards. A nice personal achievement, but not one that means a hell of a lot to Everton’s fan base.
Apart from one or two forgettable ‘blip’ seasons, Moyes has at least been consistent – finishing in the top ten every season since 2006/07, and only finishing outside of it three times in the ten years he’s been in the driving seat. He has the best win percentage of any Everton manager since Colin Harvey, and barring a total calamity Everton will finish in the top half again this season.
Which is alright, except that expectations have been slightly higher this season. Finishing above Liverpool last year was a small victory yet now, level with their Merseyside rivals on 45 points but trailing them by 11 goals, repeating even that feat is no longer a certainty or even a strong likelihood. Brendan Rodgers’ men have clicked into gear and seized all of the momentum, while Everton’s campaign, at this moment, appears to be deflating rapidly.
In a departure to their traditional slothful starts, this time the dip has come in the business end of the season. Throughout December, Everton seemed to have a firm grasp on fourth after an incredible start to their campaign – winning four of their first six games. Moyes had been named ‘Manager of the Month’ for September, and Everton and West Brom had been the ‘surprise’ teams of the first half of the season, effectively cock-blocking Arsenal and Spurs.
Now, after picking up just 12 points from their last nine games, there’s a more familiar look to the top six, as The Toffees have bungled the best shot they had of a top-four finish in eight years. In hindsight, they never really recovered from a run of four consecutive deadlocks between October and November that winded them, and since that spell they’ve only managed back-to-back wins once.
Everton have far from deteriorated under Moyes’ steady leadership, yet it’s hard to argue against the idea they peaked long ago. With their lingering underachievement and failure to progress beyond their current status and attain tangible success by winning a trophy or two, they seem to have plateaued. It’s raised the question of whether Moyes has taken them as high as they’re able to climb, or if they could have actually won something by now with someone else at the helm.
Moyes has proven himself to be a competent safe pair of hands, but is not yet at the same level as any of the managers of the six teams above Everton with the exception of Rodgers. Everton still haven’t mastered the art of maintaining a white-hot streak for more than three or four games, and fans have a problem with what they regard as ‘negative’ substitutions and Moyes’ perceived dithering, with a large portion of those switches being made in the dying minutes of games.
There’s a prevailing sense that fans are finally growing agitated by the lack of silverware amassed by one of the most well-respected managers in the league – the one gaping hole in Moyes’ CV. More than that, and the suspected reason for the uncharacteristic outpouring of disapproval from fans after the Wigan game, is the feeling in some circles that Moyes’ heart is no longer in the Everton job, or at least not in the way it once was, and that he has his sights set higher.
This may be the year that will be remembered as the season Moyes finally started believing his own hype. He’s diddered, doddered and shirked putting pen to paper on a new contract in the apparent hope that there’ll be a long queue of ‘top clubs’ scrambling to snatch him up in the summer when his current one expires.
Therein lies the flaw of Moyes’ suspected strategy. It’s been suggested that his hesitation over extending his stay is one of the central reasons behind Everton’s slide. As an upshot Manchester City, Chelsea or even Frankfurt are unlikely to knock down the door of a manager who, in ten years with a high-grade squad assembled on a modest budget, never even qualified for the Champions League. Instead, Moyes could end up going the way of Harry Redknapp; fighting for a Champions League place one season, and hoping to avoid relegation with QPR the next.
Moyes’ time at Everton undermines the idea – often mourned by purists as a loss to the modern game – that clubs need stability and managers need time to achieve success, and are sacked too prematurely by Chairmen with unrealistic expectations and incurable trigger fingers. Moyes has been given a decade to prove that theory correct, a tenure that few – if any – manager in the Premier League with a similar unfruitful record is likely to be given again in our lifetime.
Unlike the Smith situation, where he’d lost more games than he’d won, Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright is unlikely to sack Moyes after having faith in him for this long. But even if he doesn’t it will never be the same again unless Moyes signs on for another term very soon and puts minds at ease by saying it was his intention to do so all along. If he avoids it until the end of the season, it will be common thinking among fans that Moyes wanted to leave and is only still there because no better offers came his way, setting up a shaky 2013/14 campaign.
In their next six games, Everton have to face City, Tottenham and Arsenal. It’s no use trying to downplay the significance of these games. They are three massive fixtures that will probably determine where they finish up, and whether Moyes’ lasting legacy at the club will deviate from the one it’s currently forecasted to be: ‘He came, he saw, he provided stability’.