After yet another under acceptable performance from an Everton team devoid of genuine guile the news from the physio was worse than hoped but exactly as expected. The writhing on the floor of Phil Neville following a brutal scything from Dickson Etuhu suggested a debilitating ailment against the current climate of forgeries and feigners. Neville was feigning nothing.
The stretcher bearers carried Neville form the field of play and next day assessment condemned his absence to nothing more specific than ‘lengthy’. Perhaps the first bit of luck that Everton have had this season.
Neville has been an excellent piece of business for Everton and the transaction to bring him to the club for a miserly £3.5 million takes some beating in the Moyes catalogue of triumphant purchases. At the time an inferior club like Everton regarded it a coup to pick up an England international boasting nearly sixty caps and dragging with him a veteran experience of the Manchester United winning machine. The nominal fee represented a significant percentage of the spending budget at the disposal of David Moyes and he disposed of it with great incite.
Neville brought with him not only the application and aptitude to be a versatile contributor to more positions than the karma sutra; he also carried the legacy of a vast and decorated nurturing under Alex Ferguson. This wealth of experience all came at a bargain budget price much to the gratitude of Moyes and to the delight of Neville’s new adoring Everton public. His meteoric rise to the captaincy was rapid and unquestioned. His wholehearted exposure on the match day field married with the requirements of the team. The wound left by Lee Carsley’s defection back to Birmingham resulted in Neville shifting from his recognised berth at right fullback to the role of a central midfield destroyer that he had occasionally occupied in his Man Utd grandeur. This tactical deployment revitalised Everton’s Premiership resilience and fortunes changed on the back of Neville’s relocation.
Under the guidance of Moyes Everton continued to grow and the calibre of player attracted the club raised to a higher echelon. Instead of Championship players and retiring celebrities Everton and the stature of Moyes were able to bring in good quality European players with good European experience. This influx meshed well with the refreshing philosophy to allow any talent from the youth ranks to blossom inside the integrity of the club and not decay out on loan at some six month sabbatical in some subordinate division. An imaginative blend of values indeed. What this did mean for Everton was that for the first time in almost twenty years the manager finally had some options.
I’m a huge advocate of David Moyes; I feel he runs his program with great honour and with great dignity. And also with great ability. I’m grateful for his service to the club and I would be happy for him to double his tenure at Everton. However, I do feel that Moyes currently lacks the same elegance or understanding that some of the true students of the game command, students such as Wenger or Ferguson. Twice during his time at Everton Moyes has won the LMA (League Mangers Association) highest accolade of Manger of the Year; high praise indeed when voted for by your peers. Though I do question the validity of his nomination and I do question whether Moyes is the most deserving. Twice.
Since his inception at the club Moyes has been a strict proponent of and rarely deviated form the notion that playing your best eleven players is the correct course of action, regardless of the opposition and regardless of the competition. With unerring regularity Moyes will play the best eleven players available. And with limited exception; when a player is injured or suspended Moyes will select the twelfth best player to play in his place. If another player gets injured then the thirteenth best player will play, and so on. Under Moyes the management of the team works on a cab rank principle. Very little time or strategy is wasted on the intricacies of tactical refinement. Pick your best eleven players, charge them up and send them out. And keep shouting from the sideline until you win.
I’m doing David Moyes a bit of a disservice there, but he very much falls into a category of basic football management whereas other fall into the realms of genuine strategists and erudite scholars. Surely the task of Wenger or Ferguson is a greater obligation than that of Moyes and thus more worthy of accolades. Okay, the million dollar squad at Man Utd or Arsenal means that Ferguson and Wenger are starting from a more lucrative vantage, but the delicate nature of having to align all of those maverick perspectives is mind boggling. Opposition team tactics can be dissected and counteracted with subtle exploitation and with academic tinkering of formation or personnel. Planning and plotting the correct path with a squad that has enumerate choice and flamboyant connotations is far more impressive than merely picking the standard first team subtracting whatever alteration illness and injury dictate.
Some pertinent examples in the recent rhetoric of Moyes and his stubborn inability to deviate from the ‘best eleven players’ approach to football management appear dramatically obvious after the event. Mikel Arteta was an incandescent beacon shinning amongst the pragmatism of an Everton team most noted for bludgeoning malevolent low scoring victories. Yet the majority of Arteta’s time was spent stranded on the right flank, and occasionally redundant on the left, escorted by a central midfield lacking the ability to service him with possession. Arteta’s contribution became integral and cameo all at the same time. The evaluation to shift Arteta into the middle of the field took years to appraise on Moyes and yet the returns were instant. My preference was to have Arteta play as the second striker in the Bergkamp mould, but the centre midfield berth remains a far better option than the isolation of a wide midfield.
A similar anecdote followed the delayed introduction of Leighton Baines to the starting team. After the expense of luring him from Wigan Moyes opted to play three central defenders across a back four, even if one had to play out of position at left fullback. Lescott subsequently played for England and was sold for £24 million as a central defender and not as a left fullback. Baines remained withheld until Moyes took a little too long to appreciate his work rate and his wand of a left foot. Baines could argue being the second best left fullback in England, not just the second best left fullback at Everton.
On a more immediate note, during the Fulham debacle Everton were chasing the game with eleven minutes to go and we had played the entire game devoid of anything resembling coherent and penetrative football. The Moyes decision was to throw on Yakubu for Osman and with him followed a wish for a miracle. There was no subtle tinkering of formation, there was no genuine redeployment of troops, there was no refinement in the directives to the fullbacks, Pienaar was not asked to shift infield to provide the missing piece of sophistication…etc. Yakubu = Goal! Not this time. And not without some more executive coaching.
Anyway, under the stewardship of Moyes Everton continue to flirt with the top end of the game as European nights are becoming a staple at Goodison Park and Saturday contentment is becoming more of an expectation rather than a rare and random treat. However, in the vein that we have discussed above the Everton team is at a moment of transition and the future prognosis of advancement balances on the chance of David Moyes to recognise that.
While Phil Neville brings an indispensable personality to the game he also brings a style of midfield play that football at this level regards as obsolete. If Everton are going to breach the top four, or indeed resist the very evident threats of Manchester City and Spurs, then we can only do so with a midfield blessed with more creativity. And Neville just does not fall into that category. When you consider the midfield options of better teams than Everton you simply will not find a misfit fullback playing there, no matter how many England caps they’ve won and irrespective of personality.
The contemporary midfield demands that players must be able to play football and demolish opposition football in equal priority, failure to have a full command of a full repertoire of skills just won’t survive at this standard of football. Everton require craft and intellect along with the given brutal authority in the centre of the field and they have players available to do that.
I’m not sure Moyes was ever going to replace Neville by his own volition. Now he has to.
From The Writings Of Jonny Carter