David Moyes swaggered across the Goodison Park turf as he made his way from the Covid-secure exterior away dressing room in the car park to conduct his post-match interviews, and as much as the 1-0 home defeat to West Ham United hurt Everton, who could blame him?
Back when the then 38-year-old was appointed Blues boss in 2002, dubbing his new side ‘The People’s Club’, the Gwladys Street would sing “he’s got red hair but we don’t care.”
Now just 18 months shy of his 60 th birthday, the Scot’s once ginger locks have mostly faded to grey but he possessed the movement of a man in his prime when confidently striding out at the ground he worked at for over 11 years.
Given that lengthy spell on Merseyside, Moyes revelled in answering questions from reporters he was able to address personally by their name as he confidently held court.
For all the good work he did at Everton – he couldn’t have remained in the job for so long without doing more things right than wrong – there has never been much of an appetite among the fanbase for him to return to the hot-seat.
During the several times the Blues have changed bosses of late – Benitez is their sixth man in charge in five years – Moyes was in the mix on more than one occasion to return but despite an eagerness among some sections of the club’s hierarchy to bring him back, they never took the plunge.
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West Ham United did, with the East Enders willing to eat humble pie (and mash) to give the man they’d let go some 18 months earlier a second chance after former Premier League title-winner Manuel Pellegrini was unable to replicate his Manchester City magic with them.
Perhaps because his first spell was so truncated, Moyes has dispelled the old football adage that you should never go back as nobody is as good second time around.
After lasting less than a full season into a six-year contract at Manchester United and then taking Sunderland down, the former Everton manager might have been considered something of a busted flush in the Premier League but his work with the Hammers draws parallels with the job he did at Goodison.
Hard-working and difficult to beat, his team contains plenty of physically strong players and they’re a threat from set pieces but there are also artists among the artisans too, like when he used to have Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar on Merseyside.
There has been a bit of money to spend too though.
Moyes famously compared facing nouveau riche Manchester City as “taking a knife to a gun fight” but he was able to oversee steady growth at Everton, breaking the club’s transfer record on four occasions, the first of which being James Beattie in a deal that overhauled the figure paid for Nick Barmby that had stood for over eight years.
While the Blues now possess greater spending power under ambitious owner Farhad Moshiri than they did during Moyes’ tenure, those extra funds haven’t always been spent wisely and that will be a lesson to the likes of Newcastle United following their takeover this month.
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Players brought in at great expense for one manager have soon found themselves working for a new boss with different ideas and requirements.
While Benitez has managed to bring a new dimension to the games of some of the players he inherited, such as midfield pair Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan while Yerry Mina – sorely missed against West Ham through travel fatigue – has probably enjoyed the most consistent run of his Goodison career this term, others, namely James Rodriguez, found themselves surplus to requirements.
Everton have generally started well under Benitez but his tenure is still very much in its embryonic stage and that showed on Sunday as the visitors possessed the cohesion of a team who are now very much moulded in Moyes’ own image.
The Blues have craved that kind of stability but after sacking their previous four managers, they endured Carlo Ancelotti walking out on them in June.
Like Moyes’ West Ham return, the appointment of Benitez didn’t seem the most obvious fit for many but regardless of the circumstances behind the Spaniard’s arrival, the disappointment behind this first Goodison setback should not overshadow the work he and his players have been putting in.
More than ever, Everton need a manager with staying power.
Benitez – still a popular figure on Tyneside from his time in charge of Newcastle United – has already ruled out a St James’ Park return – and this lesson dished out by his old rival from across Stanley Park exemplifies why both he and his employers need to give each other time to sort things out properly.