"Fergie? We're not close" – when FFT met Moyes

In November 2009, FourFourTwo featured an exclusive interview with Everton manager David Moyes. He told us about his route to the top, living with his dad, almost signing Michael Essien – and if he could succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

The red hair is starting to fade and the deepening lines across his face tell their own story. But David Moyes – the fourth-longest serving manager in England – remains as intent on returning Everton to their former glories as he was the day that he swept into Goodison Park seven and a half years ago, shaking the old stadium to its very foundations.

Such longevity in so hazardous an occupation is remarkable in itself, but the way in which Moyes has transformed Everton is stunning, justifiably earning him a reputation as one of the Premier League’s best managers. So high has the Scot’s stock risen in fact, that he’s now reputed to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred heir to the throne at Old Trafford

FFT has been warned that Moyes can be awkward with journalists and highly sensitive to questions on issues – such as Joleon Lescott’s transfer to Manchester City – where his managerial authority has been breached.

But today Moyes is relaxed and genial, expansive when asked about supposedly ‘forbidden’ subjects. He seems ebullient after 
a productive training session earlier in the day. Bumping into Sylvain Distin on the way in, Everton’s new defender jokes how he wouldn’t be staying for voluntary training in the afternoons – as he did at former club Portsmouth – because the morning sessions here are “exhausting enough”.

Moyes, the archetypal tracksuit manager, clearly thrives when pushing his players through their paces and is pleased after a good workout. Still dressed in his training kit, he folds his right leg up against his chest, sprawling his other leg across a chair in Finch Farm’s media suite, and chats with the ease of a man at home in these surroundings.

“We’re quite proud at Everton. We think we’ve built up a decent team at Everton and Joleon was part of that and we wanted him to stay,” says Moyes of the transfer saga that so disrupted Everton’s pre-season.

"I felt that Joleon had been here three years and the group that we’d got together – we’d finished fifth and got to a cup final – could have warranted a bit longer.”

What Moyes found particularly hard was the way Lescott made it clear he no longer wanted to play for him. “Joleon is in the main a decent lad, but in the end didn’t act that way,” he says. Moyes is not one to dwell on the past, however, and refers to the matter as a “closed chapter”.

At Everton’s Friday press conference shortly before we meet, Moyes belatedly unveiled two new signings, Dutch defender Johnny Heitinga and the Russia midfielder, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. It’s mid-September, a month after the start of the new season, but for the first time Moyes has had a full squad available for a training session.

His message is that the season starts here. 
“If I’d had these players six weeks ago, I’d have been ecstatic,” he says, looking pleased anyway.

Two influences dominate David Moyes’s ascent to being the most outstanding British manager of his generation: his Glasgow childhood and his experiences as a journeyman player.

"Glasgow’s my home and football was what you done,” he says, as if it were as elemental as eating and sleeping. His father coached Drumchapel Amateurs, a junior club with an incredible record of transforming young players into professionals, including Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson. Moyes credits his father, who now lives with him and does some scouting for Everton, as being a crucial influence. “I used to help him get the strips ready and see him makes arrangements,” he recalls. Because of this, the ethos of management “has probably been within me” since childhood.

After representing Scotland at schoolboy and youth level, Moyes broke into the Celtic team as a teenage centre-half, winning the SPL title in 1981-82. But despite the promising start, he was unable to make a first-team place his own. Desperate for regular action, he sought a move to England and after a transfer to Arsenal fell through, joined Cambridge United in 1983. Besides a spell with Dunfermline in the early-1990s, he never again played in the top flight.

“I don’t regret it because it gave me an opportunity to see football in a different way,” he says. “I was at Cambridge, at Bristol City, 
I went to Shrewsbury – it’s not an illustrious route, but I tell you what, the background I had from Celtic stuck with me. You were required to win, and if you could win with style that was the way you should do it. But if not, you should win.”

He describes losing regularly at these clubs, having been at Celtic, as a “complete shock”. “All that losing is probably the reason I’m a miserable bugger today,” he laughs, but one senses that those days still live with him, and make him so intensely motivated now.

In 1993, Moyes joined Preston, where he spent nearly a decade. He always possessed the natural authority that set him out as managerial material. “He had that little bit of a commanding personality about him,” says the Hull midfielder Kevin Kilbane, who played with Moyes at Preston and was later managed by him at Everton. “He was a character within the club who you used to respect, but he had a bit 
of fear factor around him too.”

In January 1998, with Preston threatened by relegation to Division Three, Moyes became player-manager. By May 1999 he’d guided Preston to the Division Two title, and for the next three years they were in the hunt for promotion to the Premier League. Suddenly he was hot property.

He remained at Deepdale until March 2002 when the call came from Everton – “the first real big club to come in for me.” Although he won over Evertonians immediately, in particular by referring to their’s as “the People’s Club”, he faced a harder task in the dressing room. For years Everton had been chronically mismanaged and Moyes’s predecessor Walter Smith had accumulated a squad of ageing, underperforming players, many on lucrative long-term contracts. A culture of complacency permeated onto the pitch, where Everton were perennial strugglers. It was a club, Moyes recalls, where finishing 13th was considered “a good season”.

At Deepdale his squad “would’ve done anything you said”, but things were different at Goodison. He says that it was “a fight” just to establish himself. “I had to change it from a club that was just surviving,” he says. He wanted “a younger football club, a fresher football club”.

For the first year, Moyes seemed to revitalise Everton through sheer force of personality. Abetted by the emergence of a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney, Everton finished seventh in 2002-03, having occupied a Champions League spot for most of the season. Two years later, without Rooney and with minimal spending, he defied all expectations and took Everton to fourth place. He is still the only manager to crack the top four since Bobby Robson’s Newcastle in 2002.

"A lot of that early time was led by me: driven, motivated, a great desire to succeed. As it still is today – I don’t think it’s changed,” he says. But he believes that his managerial style has evolved. As he has assembled his own players he no longer has the daily battles with the inertia he first found at Goodison. Everton’s squad is now younger, fitter, hungrier and prepared to run through walls for him.

Moyes has completely altered perceptions of Everton, who are now an established top-six force, missing out on European qualification just once in five years. But while he takes justifiable pride in his achievements, there is 
a sense of unfinished business; that he needs silverware to consider himself a true success.

“People say ‘David Moyes needs to win something’ – and I do,” he says. “But if I win one trophy I’ll want to win another one. My ambition is to have the football club say ‘We want to finish first in the Premier League, not fifth.’”

Although he won’t admit it, lack of money holds Everton back. For the second year, Moyes’ net spend is nil; over seven years it averages out at around £3.3million per year.

Perhaps because of these constraints, Moyes has a reputation for signing outstanding players at rock bottom prices. Tim Cahill cost just £1.5m, Mikel Arteta £2m. Lescott was signed for £5m and sold for £22m. Others – such as Michael Essien, who Moyes tells FFT he tried to sign from Bastia in 2003 – have got away. But Moyes admits that the transfer market is now harder and big money is needed, even for an unknown.

He says it rankles when he sees Everton outspent not only by rivals, such as Spurs and Aston Villa, but also by clubs like Sunderland. Yet his response is typically pragmatic: “If you don’t have it, then you can’t spend it.

“When you’re finishing fifth and wanting to be pushing, and ambitious, and wanting to show your players you’re ambitious, that’s where I feel sometimes that I let the players down because I can’t really give them more,” 
he admits. “That’s where sometimes I feel disappointed I’m not able to do that.”

It says much about his inherent sense of responsibility that he accepts a burden that rests with the chairman, Bill Kenwright. He has earned huge prize money – £15m last year – but had virtually none of it to spend. Kenwright frequently espouses a “24/7” search for investment, but after five years of looking has found none – despite many other clubs doing so.

Kenwright describes Moyes as his “best friend in football”. When Moyes is asked about his relationship with him there is genuine warmth. He says that Kenwright is “one of the reasons” he’s been at Everton so long. Indeed, one senses that despite limited financial resources, Moyes prefers to work with Kenwright – who gives him free rein in the running of the club – than he would a chairman with deep pockets but a penchant for meddling in his affairs.

Yet what happens when there are no more bargains or prodigies that can compensate for the board’s parsimony? Moyes bats the question away, saying that he wants Kenwright to think Everton can win the Premier League. “Obviously we need the tools to try and win the Premier League,” he says. “I want us to be driven together and him not accepting finishing fifth 
in the same way that seven years ago we were accepting not finishing outside the bottom five."

An announcement is due soon in the public inquiry investigating Everton’s controversial move to a new stadium outside the city limits. Moyes hints that this might resolve Everton’s parlous financial state.

“I’d like to think by two or three years time that the club would have a new input in some way, whether it be a new stadium or new investment,” he says. “We’re going to be building on a position of fifth in the Premier League rather than fifth from bottom. If that’s the case it’ll still be a big jump... but I think we’ll enjoy that jump more than the one we’ve had to take over the years.”

Until that time he will wheel and deal in the transfer market, and rely on Everton’s Academy. Six players, most notably Wayne Rooney, have progressed to be first-team regulars during Moyes’ time at Goodison. This season Jack Rodwell, an 18-year-old midfielder with the swagger of a young Steven Gerrard, looks set to make a first-team shirt his own.

“He’s an elegant midfielder. He can run, he’s quick, he’s good on the ball. What he needs is time; maturity will come with that,” says Moyes. “It wouldn’t be unrealistic after this World Cup for Jack to force his way into the England squad.”

Despite spending half his life in England, he still regards Scotland as his home and may go back one day. The Scotland or Celtic manager’s job might be attractive then, but says it’s “not on my agenda now”.

Asked about the speculation that he’s Fergie’s preferred successor, Moyes is dismissive. 
“I think last year it was Roy Keane,” he says. 
“I think the year before that it was Mark Hughes. The year before it was Steve Bruce. 
I just get on and try and not let it affect me if 
I can. I don’t think it does affect me in any way.”

He is full of admiration for Ferguson, though, describing him as the “best manager in the world”, but says their relationship is exaggerated. “Folk think that because we’re Scottish we must be really, really close, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case,” says Moyes.

Like Ferguson, Moyes is a workaholic: intense, driven, ambitious, motivated by fear of losing. He admits that there is little balance between his private and football life. “My wife understands me,” he says.

“He’s very hands on and runs Everton from top to bottom,” says Kevin Kilbane. “He’s a very good coach, very much an organiser. He’ll make sure he’s the main voice on the training ground. He leaves no stone unturned and makes sure he covers every area. His attention to detail is brilliant.”

At one point during our interview, FFT asks Moyes if he “used to” work 16-hour days when establishing himself as Everton manager. For the only time his eyes fix into an icy stare. “I do,” he interrupts, not liking the implication that he is slacking. “I do every day... If I don’t then somebody else will be overtaking me. Someone else will be taking my job. I have to work every day, every week as if it’s my last.”

What does he put being English football’s fourth-longest-serving manager down to? Moyes puffs his cheeks. “Having good players. A bit of luck. I work hard. I don’t take [my job] for granted. I try to make myself better 
as often as I can by seeing what’s new.”

But it’s Everton, and bringing success 
to Goodison, that remains his obsession.

“I can’t lose my drive and my desire,” he says. “Football’s got to keep driving me on. 
I think that’s why I’m probably still here.”


Coaching badges will only teach you so muchI’d done my coaching badges but what they don’t teach you is what happens when you walk into the dressing room on the first morning and you have David Ginola, Tommy Gravesen, Paul Gascoigne, Duncan Ferguson sitting in front of you, looking at you to take the lead.”

Have a good chairmanWhat managers need and want is chairmen who want to work with them and help them, aren’t wanting to be the centre of attraction, don’t want to make the decisions and will leave it to the manager – and if things aren’t going well, will support him. I think everybody knows Bill Kenwright’s done that for me.”

Fear is a great motivator“If I don’t work that hard then somebody else will be overtaking me. Someone else will be taking my job. I have to work every day, every week as if it’s my last.”

Find yourself a schoolboy prodigy“I remember another manager saying, ‘How lucky is David Moyes, taking over at Everton and having a player like Wayne Rooney?’ And I was – I really was lucky to have a talent like that on my doorstep. We put him in the team and everybody knows where he’s gone, so good luck to him.”

Give kids a chance “The academy has played a major part for us, and we rely on it here because we’ve not been able to go out and spend lots of money. I do say to many people, ‘If I was a parent [of a young footballer], Everton is a club that gives your kids a chance.’ We don’t have loads of players and there’s not a blockage to get to the first team. If you’re good enough, I think you’ve got a real chance here.”

Interview: James Corbett. Portraits: Jill Jennings. From the November 2009 edition of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!