Is it time to call time on the David Moyes managerial myth?

As Romelu Lukaku slotted in a simple finish last night to complete his hattrick against a woeful Sunderland defence, the television cameras panned to the managers’ dugouts.

Viewers were greeted by an all too familiar sight in recent years. David Moyes. Shocked. Frozen. Uninspired. The club where Moyes made his name were ruthlessly punishing his new club’s inadequacies.

For many taking up the poisoned chalice of the eternal relegation battlers of the north east was a strange decision. For others, it was just yet another symptom of a long term demise.

 

Born in Glasgow, Moyes enjoyed a solid if unspectacular playing career. An early title win in a brief stint at Celtic being the pinnacle of his years as a centre half.

Spells at clubs north and south of the border like Shrewsbury and Dunfermline culminated in working through the ranks at Preston North End for his first managerial job.

The Scotsman had spent most of his playing career preparing for management – taking his coaching badges at the mere age of 22 – and helped the Division Two side avoid relegation by the end of the 1997/98 season.

By the 1999/00 season Moyes had achieved promotion and almost spectacularly repeated his success in the following season by getting his club to the Premier League.

It was this form that caught the attention of Premier League strugglers Everton. Moyes replaced his fellow Scot Walter Smith in March 2002.

He immediately acquired hero status in the Blue half of Merseyside when he declared in his opening press conference that Everton are “The People’s Club” in Liverpool. Liverpool fans were less impressed.

In retrospect, Moyes was setting down a marker of something that has always characterised his management. Soundbites.

Often the public has been blind to Moyes’ flaws because he is articulate, diligent, committed and likable in press conferences. He became a much welcomed calming influence on a club regularly in turmoil on and off the pitch.

A run of good results saw the club avoid relegation in his first few months in charge. Moyes’ first full debut campaign saw the club finish just outside the then UEFA Cup qualification spots.

Disaster soon followed the following season with a 17th place finish.

Inconsistency defined Moyes’ reign at Everton and this was evident in 2004/05 when the Blues bounced back from avoiding relegation to achieve a commendable fourth place finish in the league.

Undoubtedly helped by Liverpool’s inconsistency in a league era when Champions League qualification rarely strayed outside four clubs, Moyes had achieved something sensational.

Had Liverpool not gone on to win their fifth European Cup the very same season, the story of Merseyside football in 2005 would perhaps be more Blue tinted.

Moyes was at the pinnacle of his managerial success. This could have been the moment Everton really rallied and established themselves once again as a formidable Premier League club.

With Champions League funds at his disposal, surely this was the Scot’s chance to transform the Premier League strugglers.

By late October the following season, Everton were rooted to the bottom of the table after crashing out of the Champions League at the qualification stage.

The signings of the abysmal Andy van der Meyde, Per Kroldrup and Matteo Ferrari illustrated the inconsistency of Moyes’ recruitment. For every Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini, there was a Nuno Valente and Jo.

Everton struggled to an 11th place finish in a rapidly developing pattern that saw them finish in the top half one season, the bottom the next.

 

David Moyes’ stint at Everton is usually hailed as the most successful of his career but there were serious flaws.

In a spell that spanned over a decade Everton recorded a win percentage of a mere 42%. Neither did the Blues ever threaten to win any silverware with the closest being a 2009 defeat in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea.

Considering lowly Portsmouth and Wigan have achieved cup success, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Everton could have won a cup considering having talent like Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines at their disposal.

Good players are consistent players. The same is true for managers. The Glaswegian never achieved consistent quality at Goodison Park. Commendable league positions were often followed by lacklustre ones. Shrewd signings were often followed by comically poor ones.

That Liverpool fans had #TenMoreYears trending on Twitter in 2012 speaks volumes.

Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly the case that Moyes’ years at Everton were the best of his career to date.

Since his decision to join Manchester United in May 2013, nothing but misery has followed. Many at the time questioned the Scotsman’s credentials for one of the biggest jobs in world football despite Sir Alex Ferguson having hand picked him as his successor.

Most importantly, the latter’s endorsement was enough for United fans who promptly assigned the messianic title of “The Chosen One” to the former Everton boss.

It did not take long for Moyes to be no longer chosen but reviled. Moyes led United to one of their worst starts in history, including a 4-1 hammering by rivals Manchester City and a home humbling to West Bromwich Albion.

Moyes’ chief problem at United was that he never stamped his own mark of authority on the team. That leads on to the question: what actually is David Moyes’ footballing philosophy?

Yes we can credit him with eight consecutive top eight finishes in the Premier League with a limited budget but it is difficult to pinpoint how he plays the game.

His United team was characterised by turgid, unimaginative football with no cutting edge and extreme defensive frailty.

In an era where we hear all about Jurgen Klopp’s counterpressing and Pep Guardiola’s Tika Taka, it is even difficult to place Moyes into the Redknapp/Allardyce bracket of predictable and often effective football.

His unceremonious sacking by United after a mere ten months in charge and subsequent swift exit from Real Sociedad is suggestive of a manager without a clear vision or philosophy we can have confidence in.

To dismiss David Moyes as a poor football manager would be unfair. His achievements at Everton, while often sentimentalised, were creditable given his budget and the club’s off field turmoil even if inconsistent.

His failure to grasp the bull by the horns at Manchester United despite spending millions casts into doubt his managerial resilience.

What needs to be challenged is the perception that David Moyes is one of the league’s so called high profile managers.

The evidence simply does not bear scrutiny, not least his overall managerial win percentage which stands at barely 44%. If Moyes’ tenure at Sunderland comes to a sticky end, he will have failed at three consecutive clubs.

For all his achievements as Everton manager, that simply isn’t good enough.

Author Details

Graeme Wallace

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