With David Moyes recently marking his 500th game in charge of Everton, it’s perhaps unsurprising that his tenure at the club has been compared this week to those other two managers who were able to hang around Goodison for a similar length of time; Harry Catterick and Howard Kendall.
By a conventional definition of success, silverware won, Moyes’ record compares pretty unfavourably to these other Goodison greats. Where Catterick and Kendall brought home trophies by the bucket-load, Moyes has presided over a silverware drought. The closest he’s come to redressing this problem is a sole cup final, the nearest the club has come to success for a generation.
But I think this emphasis on silverware misses the point slightly. While it would undoubtedly be welcome if Everton ever won something, and you can’t help but feel that both the FA and the League Cup are winnable for a club of Everton’s abilities, just because Moyes hasn’t won anything doesn’t necessarily place him beneath the likes of Catterick and Kendall when it comes to ranking Everton’s greatest managers.
Both Catterick and Kendall operated in a very different era, a time when Everton had much more financial clout than they do today. When Catterick was in charge in particular, Everton were arguably the richest club in the country, a fact illustrated by our possession of the greatest ground in the league and constant signing of the cream of English talent.
Although you can’t take anything away from their managerial acumen, after all there are plenty of clubs in the modern game, such as Villa, Sunderland and Liverpool who have spent vast sums without reward, it’s still much easier to put together Championship/Cup winning sides if you have a few bob in the bank.
Moyes by contrast has taken charge of Everton during a tricky time for the club. Constrained by debt, unable to generate the kind of revenues enjoyed by our peers and without the pedigree or wage structure to attract the best players to the side, Everton no longer represents the golden managerial opportunity that it once was.
Financially we are not a top-seven side and yet, in league terms that’s exactly what we are. While those around us blow money like it’s the last-days-on-earth, Moyes prudent approach and sagacity in the transfer market has ensured that Everton have held their own amidst a group of clubs who could blow us out of the water financially.
Just look at our form and net-spend in recent years and compare that to our esteemed neighbours across the ‘park’. Liverpool have lavished vast sums on a squad that has only managed to give successive managers an insipid performance in the league and a jammy League Cup win against Championship opposition.
And it’s things like this that we should keep in mind when some supporters start lamenting our lack of silverware. Undoubtedly, had we exited the cup yesterday then supporter forums and match reports would have highlighted the fact that once-again Everton, and Moyes, would be ending the season trophyless.
Perhaps fortunately, this wasn’t the case. Despite riding our luck, Everton progressed to the next round. An away tie at Bolton was never going to be easy, specifically for a side whose recent form has been so patchy. And once again, as seems to be the case with unnerving regularity of late, Everton made a hash of the fixture. It’s fair to say that Bolton were unlucky to not at the very least earn a replay from the game.
As was the case on Monday night against Southampton, Everton had Tim Howard to thank for us getting something from the fixture. He pulled off some great saves to deny Bolton the lead, ensuring that when Johnny Heitinga popped up to score in injury time, it was all that was needed to guarantee our progression.
But when listening to the game on the radio, I was struck by the fact that an exit from the competition wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. And this wasn’t because the FA has lost some of its allure. Despite it not being the trophy that it once was, I’d still like the club to win it again. No, my indifference derived from the fact that a cup-run, with its potential to pile-up fixtures, would be a distraction from what really matters, namely the league.
Silverware is all well and good, but football is not the game it was in the sixties, seventies and eighties, when the likes of Catterick and Kendall ruled Goodison. What matters now is Champions League qualification and maintaining your position as one of the Premiership’s big clubs. I would rather Everton came fourth than won the FA and League Cup double.
Which is why, regardless of what happens in the FA this season, Evertonians should appreciate David Moyes for what he has done for the club. So what if he hasn’t brought home any silverware? So what if he doesn’t win anything this season? He’s kept us amongst the higher echelons of English football and done this on a shoestring. This season we also have a real chance of Champions League qualification, an outcome that would do wonders for the club’s financial position.
What Moyes has established is an alternative template for thriving in the Premiership, much to Everton’s benefit. The dominant model, exemplified by Chelsea and City and aped by the likes of Liverpool, Sunderland and Spurs, dictates that spending is all that matters. Blow enough cash on enough players and eventually a successful squad will emerge.
Moyes, by contrast is much more discerning in his approach, recognising that for clubs like Everton, those without a bottomless financial safety net, a savvier approach is required. There is no revolving door at Goodison, no constant in-and-out of players. Everton buy infrequently, but when they do it’s generally the right man at the right price. It’s a slower, steadier approach but it’s also one that works.
To develop this alternative template in an age of top-flight gluttony and to do so successfully marks Moyes as a manager of rare talent. He might not win the FA this season, or even win anything while in charge at Goodison but his ability to enable the club to hold its own amongst the financial giants that surround us means that his place amongst the greats of Goodison, alongside those other 500-club members, is definitely assured.