Everton manager David Moyes revealed last week that he was putting off signing a new contract to extend his stay at Goodison Park until the end of the season, leading to questions surrounding his future amid reported interest from Chelsea, but would the Merseyside-based club be able to recover from his departure if the worst scenario imaginable for most of the supporters came true?
The 49-year-old has presided over 500 games in charge of the club since taking over the reins back in March 2002 and he has not only steadied the ship and gradually moved them away from continual relegation battle but slowly established them as a top eight outfit with European ambitions; he is known to share an excellent relationship with the fans and a close personal bond with chairman Bill Kenwright, but are these emotional ties enough to keep him grounded at Everton for too much longer?
After earlier stating back in November that he would decide upon his immediate future in February, when the question was put to Moyes last week, he gave an honest answer tantamount to indecision, telling reporters: “I want to see how we do in the cups, I want to see how we do in the league, and it’s more than likely I won’t make a decision until the end of the season. I’ll give as much as I can, but I’ve said – and I’ve spoken with the chairman – that I want to see how the team does.”
Having previously stated an intention to manage abroad at some point in his career, with Germany and the Bundesliga mentioned as possible future destinations, it appears as if Moyes is starting to get itchy feet and the lack of silverware to validate the undoubted progress the club have made under his superb tenure seem to be grating on him.
This term, the side have branched out to a more expansive style of play at the expense of their customary defensive solidity, but they remain in the running for a Champions League berth still, sitting just six points behind Tottenham in fourth and with 12 league games left to play. For a manager that has done so much, the sense of actual achievement seems remarkably little on a bigger stage and there’s a sense that Moyes is still untested in Europe, which could hold back his claims for future bigger jobs, such as when Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires at Manchester United.
In a recent poll conducted by the Metro, Moyes came out on top with 22% of Arsenal fans saying they would like him in charge by next season, ahead of Arsene Wenger on 19% and the likes of Michael Laudrup (17%), Jose Mourinho (15%) and Dennis Bergkamp (8%). If anything, that simply provides a snapshot of how respected he is within the game, with the body blow that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was dealt by Pep Guardiola’s decision to take the Bayern Munich job next season leaving a tantalising job up for grabs at Stamford Bridge, with interim head coach Rafa Benitez likely to move on with his face put firmly in the shop window for future reference.
At times, Moyes has appeared irrationally loyal to the cause almost at Everton, but a crossroads is quickly coming up on the horizon and he may jump without any threat of him being pushed in order to seek a platform that can grant him consistently what he so desires, a team capable of challenging for silverware. Had the Toffees pushed on in the manner they expected to in the past few years, he would clearly love to stay and do it at Goodison Park, but there are only so many times he can continue to bang his head against that glass ceiling and the surprise big money January moves for both Leroy Fer and Alvaro Negredo spoke volumes of a manager trying his best to create a lasting legacy acutely aware that his time was running out.
The stadium issue hinders the club’s long-term ambitions because it robs them of the financial security needed to truly compete at the top rather than continuing to represent the plucky underdogs punching above their weight. The model they have is that every summer a player needs to be sold to balance the budget and give Moyes something to work with, and that can be not only morale-sapping, but a tiresome and vicious cycle, with Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines both next in line should they miss out on a top four place this season.
Aside from Ferguson and Wenger at Manchester United and Arsenal, no other manager in the top flight has been at their current club so long; this is a side made in Moyes’ image and from top to bottom it has its ethos coursing through its veins, so a quick exit not only leaves the job of finding a suitable successor to replace the legend that sat in the chair before an impossible task, but the very culture of the club will require tinkering.
Along the way, with managers pleading for more time with their backs to the wall, patience is often trotted out as a guarantee of success, but Ferguson and Wenger both show that time can be bother a overwhelmingly positive force and a negative one. United look likely to stroll to the title this season yet again and mentioning Ferguson in the same breath as any other manager these days means you’re inevitably on a hiding to nothing because he is a freak of nature the sort of which football management is unlikely to see again for quite some time.
Wenger on the other hand is clawing onto his position precisely because of his past achievements and his presence at the club these past five or so years has only served to do just as much damage as good. Like with every great sporting individual, knowing when to walk away is half the battle. Of course, Moyes isn’t in any danger of having a negative effect yet, but should he continue to hang around with his heart not in it as much as it was in the past, the club and the team will stagnate.
Should Moyes decide he has had enough this season, he can leave Everton with his head held high for what he has done during his 11 years in charge, but replacing someone is only half the battle. We’ve seen with Alan Curbishley and the subsequent fall from grace that Charlton endured that if a steady hand on the tiller leaves that this can have more destructive consequences to the very fabric of a club than even previously assumed. Moyes is Everton, and their fates are closely intertwined, but for the fans sake, while the man in the dugout may be pining for pastures new, they will be hoping they are able to keep hold of him for as long as possible.