Following Sir Alex Ferguson’s shock decision to announce his retirement in May of last year, bookmakers immediately installed Everton manager David Moyes as the favourite to replace the legendary Scot.
With the end of a managerial era spanning four incredible decades in sight, those tasked with finding Ferguson’s successor were drawn to the longevity of Moyes’ tenure at Goodison Park. Frequently operating on a shoestring budget, the “Chosen One” as he is now known managed to steady the ship and consistently mould teams capable of challenging in the upper echelons of the division.
An endorsement from the departing Manchester United manager couldn’t have hurt his chances either.
With his contract coming to an end in the close season, Everton were effectively bystanders as Moyes succumbed to the allure of the vacant hot seat at Old Trafford and the task of succeeding Britain’s greatest ever manager.
Having been identified as the key to the Everton’s steady success over the previous decade, many journalists and pundits speculated that the manager’s departure could lead to a gradual downturn in the club’s fortunes.
In to the breach stepped Roberto Martinez. An incredible triumph in the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic had been soured by relegation to the Championship. After several great escapes in previous campaigns, the Latics were unable to replicate these prior heroics and descended into the second tier of English football. Having spurned the advances of numerous clubs in the past, the Spaniard decided that the time to move on from the DW Stadium had come.
In the aftermath of this managerial change-up, something quite remarkable is in the making. With the Premier League entering its final stages, Everton currently sit three points ahead of their more glamorous rivals from the red half of Manchester. A late Bryan Oviedo goal also earned the Toffees the spoils in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford earlier this season, their first victory at the ground for 21 years.
While Martinez’s reign thus far has earned near universal praise from journalists and pundits alike, Moyes’ tenure in charge of the Red Devils continues to lurch from one disaster to another. Embarrassing exits from the domestic cups and hopes of a top four finish all but extinguished, United now stand on the brink of exiting the Champions League after a dreadful first leg defeat at Olympiakos.
Somehow out of the summers events, Everton have emerged as the real beneficiaries of Ferguson’s retirement.
At Goodison Park, Martinez has been able to impose his tactics and playing style upon the players to great success. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman have thrived in a system which encourages them to attack at almost every opportunity. Although a top four finish will now likely elude them, the club are still in pole position to secure a place in the Europa League for next season.
In almost direct contrast, Moyes has been unable to find the right formula to bring out the best in his incumbent champions. The “Chosen One” has received heavy criticism for his tactics. In the recent 2-2 home draw to Fulham, one of many disappointments at Old Trafford, United delivered a staggering 81 crosses and persisted with the approach even when it was obvious it wasn’t working.
At Everton, Martinez has continued in Moyes’ footsteps by operating successfully on a shoestring budget. In particular, the loan market has been utilised well by the Spaniard, with the likes of Gareth Barry, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku all impressing so far. Marouane Fellaini was replaced after his much anticipated departure to United by Wigan’s highly rated James McCarthy.
Under his stewardship, Martinez seems to be getting the best out of his players. Coleman and Ross Barkley have developed significantly as both have flourished with the Spaniard’s tactics. Lukaku’s form makes Mourinho’s decision to loan the player out look bizarre, especially considering Chelsea’s current striking issues. A rejuvenated Barry has even prompted some to call for the player to board the plane to Brazil in the summer.
Unlike his successor at Goodison, Moyes has been maligned for his work in the transfer market. High profile pursuits of players such as Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera came to nothing. Injuries and a loss in form have seen many question the £27.5 million outlay on Fellaini, while the Scot continues to struggle to coax the best out of record signing Juan Mata. With Champions League football looking more than unlikely next season, Moyes could find it even harder to attract the biggest names to Old Trafford in the next transfer window.
Obviously this is a scenario that could play out very differently in the long term. Martinez, like Moyes before him, may struggle to advance the club much further than their current level due to their financial restrictions. In the not too distant future, United may prove this season to have just been a blip in the road to more trophy success. After all, Ferguson’s reign began with a lean spell before the medals came pouring in.
As it stands though, it is Everton that are the real winners from Sir Alex’s decision to retire.