Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact time, moment or action that caused an enterprise to fail. Consider what is perhaps the most analysed event in human history, the First World War. Thousands upon thousands of books, movies, documentaries, thesis’s and podcasts have made the Great War its focus, with one question cropping up time and time again – at what point exactly did Germany lose the war?
It is a fascinating question that has no indisputably true answer. For some it was the decision not to press on to Paris after the French had been defeated in the Battle of the Frontiers and the British at the Battle of the Marne, both in decisive fashion. For others, it was when the neutrality of Belgium was violated, which conspired to not only bring Britain into the fray, but also ensure that global public opinion went immediately against the Germans. Neutral countries, whose allegiance rested upon a knife’s edge, quickly bought into the ‘good guy/bad guy’ dynamic. Kaiser Wilhelm‘s nation was immediately painted as little more than a rampaging horde, similar to how the Romans saw Attila and his Huns, or how the Chinese saw Genghis Khan and his Mongols. There are also a few who will contest that commander Van Molke’s decision to deviate from the Schlieffen Plan, Germany’s almost mythical, all-encompassing, war-strategy, and divert troops to the Eastern front, was the moment where momentum was lost.
Finally, there are the folk who maintain that the war was never winnable, that without the steadying hand of a genius like Otto Von Bismark at the tiller, the choppy waters of war were impossible to navigate.
The precise moment for anything’s demise can be hard to predict, be it a war, an empire, a company or indeed a career. This article will look at the career of David Moyes, a football manager who, in the space of little over 4 years has gone from one of the most coveted men on the planet, to little more than a pariah. Unlike many careers, Moyes’ downfall can be attributed to one exact moment.
A rangy, waifish centre-back with limited skill, David Moyes cultivated a playing career that was limited largely to the lower divisions of English football. The image of a tall, flame-haired Glaswegian snarling aggressively in the face of the infamously rough football served up in the mid-80s is easy to conjure. However, the reality is markedly different. Moyes was, and remains, a devout Christian. A facet of his life that would cause him some issues at Cambridge.
Former teammate Roy McDonough, in his autobiography, encapsulates this best saying, “I battered Moyes first demanding to know why a big ginger Jock from Glasgow Celtic could play with absolutely zero aggression, putting all of his energies into bleating on about Jesus instead.”
Without the base level of aggression needed to compete with physically powerful adversaries, Moyes was forced to look for other avenues to success. His solution was to read the game with a calmness and clarity that would certainly have been clouded if he allowed the “red mist” to descend. Such a playing style proved essential when he was named as Preston North End’s player/manager in 1998. Moyes’ playing career was essentially a means to progress his dreams of coaching, completing courses and earning badges as young as 22.
Moyes’ time at Preston was an unqualified success, inspiring an average, poverty stricken squad to raise themselves from the third tier to the brink of the game’s top flight. The loss in the play-off final to Sam Allardyce’s Bolton was the high watermark of his Preston tenure, providing a visible platform for his talents. A view Everton owner Bill Kenwright was quick to exploit.
Moyes’ time at Everton is one of the best success stories of the Premier League era. Taking over from fellow Scot Walter Smith, Moyes oversaw a drastic change in the club’s fortunes. When he arrived, Everton were the footballing equivalent of the spider languishing in your bathtub, fighting strenuously to avoid the murky abyss of the plughole. Unlike the spiders I have encountered, Moyes contrived a way to not only escape the pull of the drain, but to escape the bathroom entirely.
Moyes’ management allowed Everton to morph from perennial relegation candidates to a side that regularly challenged for a European slot, bloodying a few elite noses on the way. The drastic change in the club’s fortune was not an overnight transition fuelled by a Russian oligarch or a Middle-Eastern Sheik, it was borne from tireless work. Moyes prowled Everton’s technical area over 500 times, a lengthy period sustained thanks to a couple of key managerial traits. First was his willingness to improve existing players and those brought through from the club’s storied academy. Second was his knack of buying cheap, unproven, young players and moulding them into those capable of competing in the Premier League’s upper echelons, Tim Cahill being the poster boy for this stratagem. The old adage “adversity breeds innovation” has rarely been more adept.
Moyes golden moment came in the 04/05 season. A year prior the Toffee’s were lucky to escape relegation, with a buffer of just six points seeing them safe from the drop. Fast-forward twelve months however, and Everton found themselves cracking the infamous “top four”, qualifying for the Champions League and finishing above city rivals Liverpool for the first time in the Premier League era.
The one blot on Moyes’ Everton CV is the failure to land a trophy. 2009’s FA Cup final loss to Chelsea would be as close as the flame-haired manager would come.
Nevertheless, the continued habit in getting Everton to punch above their weight was enough, in 2013, to convince the outgoing Sir Alex Ferguson that Moyes was the man take up the Old Trafford reigns. The hordes of Manchester United fans were quick to bestow the moniker of “the Chosen One”.
Filling the shoes of a manager as legendary as Fergie was never going to be easy, yet what is often forgotten was that filling the void left by Moyes was considered equally as problematic. A point former Everton midfielder, Peter Beagrie, was quick to stress saying, “It is a harder job to replace David Moyes at Everton than it is to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United”.
Moyes, as time has proven, was an unmitigated disaster at Manchester United, rapidly denigrating the side from Champions elect of England to a mediocre side scrambling to attain a seventh-place finish. His time at Old Trafford highlighted him as a manager plagued with faults that, until then, had lain dormant. He was hesitant in the transfer market, time and time again seeing top targets slip through his grasp. He was reticent to make changes and impose himself on a bigger stage. Most importantly however, was his evident discomfort helming a club of such gargantuan size, visibly shrinking and greying until the vibrant, energetic gaffer we enjoyed at Everton became a dead-ringer for Moe ‘the Simpsons’ bartender.
The Glaswegian gaffer made a menagerie of mistakes, but, for me, there was one initial error that rolled and combined with others, snowballing, until it cascaded Moyes into unemployment. That all-encompassing mistake was the decision to renew the contract of Wayne Rooney.
After humming and hawing about his future, sending more than a few kissy faces in the direction of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, Rooney eventually committed his future to Manchester United earning himself a reported £300,000-a-week deal. Moyes, as any manager would, was quick to spin the situation into a favourable light, stressing that the club, rather than being held to ransom, were retaining the services of their talisman. He emphasised this point saying, “Wayne has been the best player in England since I put him into the Everton first team in 2003”. The ordeal was quickly characterised as Moyes possessing the mental fortitude needed to convince his star player that Old Trafford was the place to further his career. The reality, however, was markedly different. In a time prior to the latest, bafflingly lucrative TV rights deal, most clubs, even those at the game’s summit, could only afford one player to occupy Rooney’s colossal wage bracket.
For Moyes to truly blossom and kickstart a new, post-Ferguson, era, he should have jettisoned Rooney and brought in an elite, high-calibre player of his own choosing. Rooney by this point was not the precocious, rampant teen that demolished every barrier placed before him like the 2003-06 incarnation did. Nor was he the dynamo that was adept at occupying any forward position as he was between 2008-11. The perfect blend of stoic Britishness and continental flair. The fusion that prompted eccentric German filmmaker Werner Herzog to dub him a, “cross between a viper and a bison”. By this point in his career Rooney was closer to the enigma we see today. The player that is not pacey or mobile enough to operate as a striker nor was he in possession of the discipline required to fill the number 10 slot, often losing possession by blindly running down compact alleyways. As such his role within teams has chopped and changed rapidly, hampering both his and his various side’s ability to find consistency. Sadly, for Moyes, after bestowing such a hefty wage into Rooney’s account, he was virtually assured of a starting berth. It is an issue that has plagued his career from Moyes’ reign, right up until the modern day, where Everton’s Ronald Koeman can currently be seen massaging his furrowed brow.
David Moyes, with limited funds at Everton, was always a manager to think before stepping into the manic world of the transfer market. This habit allowed him to have an enviable record of success. This trend, thanks to Rooney’s hesitancy, continued into his more affluent Manchester United tenure. Time and time again Moyes’ over-analysed targets until he either found enough fault in their game to discount them, or they moved to other clubs. Cristiano Ronaldo, Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas were all linked extensively with a move to join Moyes but none found the option all that tempting. The summer reached its nadir when a number of lawyers claiming to represent Manchester United tried to broker a deal for Bilbao’s Ander Herrera, which as we all know was met with a fresh wave of derision.
The summer, that had begun with such promise, ended with Moyes deciding to buy his former Everton star Marouane Fellaini on deadline day, in a deal that cost over £4million more than it would have done just a few days prior, thanks to letting the Belgium’s buy-out clause to expire. Such baffling ineptitude had more than a few fans beginning to question their new Gaffer.
The failure to jettison Rooney was indicative of another of Moyes’ failings. As the season progressed it became more and more apparent that Moyes did not possess the ruthless, swaggering arrogance needed to succeed. The peerless braggadocio that stoked fear and hatred in the hearts of rivals was being wiped away each and every time Moyes opened his mouth. When referencing the tricky start to the season, Moyes said, “I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure. I think it’s the hardest start for 20 years that Manchester United have had.” It was symptomatic of his evident discomfort helming such leviathan.
Old Trafford, the location for just three Manchester United losses in three years, was quickly beginning to lose its sheen of invincibility. West Brom, Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton all ended their Old Trafford hoodoo. These unexpected losses paled into insignificance compared to their record against bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, succumbing to 3-0 losses to both.
For years and years prior to Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, fans feared what would happen when the legendary gaffer stepped out of his technical area for the last time, Moyes’ stewardship was the manifestation of those fears. Teams lost their inert wariness of Manchester United, the signature brand bombastic football had been replaced with linear dross, punctuated intermittently with moments of quality. Worst of all was the feeling that the club, placed on the highest plinth for so long, had lost a little of what made them so special. David Moyes’ ultimate failing was making the club ordinary. As such, it was not long before his six-year contract was terminated, with Ryan Giggs stepping taking temporary charge.
In a bid to recapture some of his vigour and enthusiasm for the game David Moyes journeyed abroad, taking up residence at Real Sociedad. This, sadly, failed to be the rejuvenating spell many hoped it would be. Sacked once again with barely a year in the role. A failure to adapt to the new culture and become fluent in the language was a barrier that the Scotsman found too high to vault.
Most recently we have seen Moyes at Sunderland where he has once again cut a forlorn figure. A shrunken spectre devoid of hope. At a club that in recent years has made dramatic, last-gasp relegation escapes an art form, often relying on a galvanising effect from their manager, Sunderland sunk without so much as a whimper. Time and time again Moyes reinstated his belief that The Black Cats were beyond salvation and that a trip to the Championship was an inevitability. Right from the off, Sunderland fans were treated to Moyes’ own brand of morose inspiration, with his rallying call of, “Fans would be right [if they feared relegation] because that’s what we’ve had here for four years. Why would it suddenly change? I think we will be in a relegation fight.”
Again, to no one’s surprise, Moyes’ services were not required for too much longer.
Moyes made a litany of errors since leaving his much-celebrated time at Everton, some external, many internal, but none spiralled quite so much as his decision to retain the services of Wayne Rooney. It has become fashionable to kick Rooney and his achievements, highlighting his numerous misdemeanours at the expense of the lengthy list of records he has broken. Focusing on what his game lacked, rather than the audacious attributes he often brought to the fore. In the generations to come however, where the immediate vibrancy of Rooney’s career has been dulled into the black and white provided solely by the record books, Rooney will be regarded as a Premier League legend. A footballing icon.
With all this being said, tethering your career to someone whose star had already beginning to fade, was a folly visible for all – even without the benefit of hindsight.
A century from now, hundreds of historians will still pull apart the events between 1914 and 1918 and search for the precise moment that the Great War was won and lost. Then, as is the case now, there will be no agreement. However, in the not too distant future, football fans will look back at the career of the once promising David Moyes and discard his long list of faults and errors, until they come back to the one, irrefutable, cataclysmic misjudgement that will be known as the moment where Moyes’ career began its slow and painful demise.
The retention of Rooney – the day Moyes died.