THE MOBILE PHONE rings and David Moyes answers it without hesitation. He can’t hide behind voicemail this summer, he can’t afford to ignore a single call when Everton are preparing for their first venture into the Champions League and are determined to sign eight high-quality new players.
It is “Cookie”, one of the club’s chief talent scouts, and he delivers a tale of woe. Cookie is irretrievably stuck in a motorway traffic jam and has no hope of making the airport and a flight over to Copenhagen to watch a young Danish international whom Everton have been monitoring for months and must now buy or forget. “Sorry, boss,” he says.
But he’s not as sorry as Moyes, the intelligent, intense and ambitious young coach who has just been voted Manager of the Year in England. He topped the poll, finishing ahead even of Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho and Liverpool’s Rafael Benitez, after guiding Everton into the Champions League at the end of a season when most critics, and many of the fans, had expected the financially-stricken club to be relegated.
Moyes had been planning a rare evening meal at home with his family. Now he makes an instant decision that he must fly to Copenhagen himself. There is no one else at the club who can catch the plane, and even though he’s already 90 per cent sure that he won’t make a transfer bid for this player, the final job of assessment must be done.
“I know many managers would say ‘stuff it’,” explains the 42-year-old Scot. “But I can’t work like that. You’ve got to put the hours in. You’ve got to make the journeys. You have to make sure. It’s the way I work.”
The details are swiftly arranged and Moyes checks them with his secretary. His day has suddenly become hectic, but it doesn’t show in his conversation. Urgency is routine in his life.
“It’s one of those where all the connections have to click,” he says. “There’s 90 minutes from arriving at the airport to kick-off. Copenhagen’s not bad, though. The stadium’s central and the airport’s not far from the city. But there’s no leeway.”
Moyes knows the route. He made the same journey a few weeks earlier to watch the same player. That time he was disappointed. Will it be different now? Will this trip prove worthless?
The game is Denmark v Albania, a World Cup qualifier. The Danes must win to keep alive their hopes in a tough group that also features Ukraine, Turkey and European champions Greece.
They have a squad brimming with young talent – like defenders Dan Agger and Per Kroldrup, midfielder Thomas Kahlenberg and striker Soren Larsen.
“That’s good,” says Moyes. “You need tension in a match when you’re watching a player. There have been games this summer with nothing at stake where I’ve left wondering: ‘Why did I waste my time on that?’ But it’s rarely a complete wash-out. I know with Denmark that there are a couple of other players I’d like to see, and there is always the possibility that someone unexpected catches the eye.
“I have a bank of information on players in England and Scotland, but not so much abroad. As a manager, 95 per cent of your time during the season is dedicated to work on your own players, not assessing those at other teams. In the summer I can travel more.
“What do I look for? Well, first impressions are always important to me. Does the player look right? Is he pleasing to the eye? Your eye tells you something immediately. You then develop your thoughts. Would he fit into the Everton team and its spirit? Can you picture him in your team? Is he ready for your team? Would he help the players you already have? Can he play freely? It’s hard to judge players on a few sightings. You need an incredibly well-trained eye to do it in one match – I don’t think anyone truly can.
“So you go again, and again. With this player I can see he has potential. But I don’t think he’s ready for the Premiership, not yet. So then the price comes into it. Sometimes with Premier League clubs the foreigners think we’re stuffed with money and put the fee too high. The club want around £3million for this player. I’m thinking that we might pay £800,000, because at that price we can gamble on the player’s potential. All these things go through your mind…oh, excuse me.”
The phone rings again. It’s an agent, a standard call, a touch of gossip. Every little helps. But Moyes wraps this one up quickly, like a centre-half lashing a ball into the crowd to clear danger.
As with many of the finest managers today, Moyes did not have a stellar playing career. He began at Celtic and turned out a few times in the first team as a teenager, once given the unequal task of marking Marco Van Basten in a European Cup tie. He was a rugged defender of the old school, a journeyman pro, and his time in the lower divisions of England, at Cambridge, Bristol City and Shrewsbury, was littered with broken noses and the affection of the local crowds, who appreciated his honest endeavour.
It was, in effect, a long apprenticeship in management. Behind the scenes at each club he would work with the kids and take his coaching badges. His first “management” role was to tame a notorious rough-house pub team in Division Six of the Bristol Sunday League. He sorted them out and they won a couple of promotions.
His final playing days were at Preston North End, where one team-mate was a teenage David Beckham, on loan from Manchester United. Moyes was more concerned with beginning the real job of his life and became manager of Preston at the age of 34. Within 12 months he had been approached by Alex Ferguson to be the No 2 at Old Trafford, but preferred to be his own boss. Within four years he was in charge at Everton.
The first day he walked into the club’s Bellefield training ground was a memorable one. “It was daunting and exciting,” says Moyes. “I went into a dressing-room in which there were Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola and Duncan Ferguson and a host more internationals. You wondered what their thoughts were at this young Scotsman coming in to tell them how to play football. I decided to go in alone, without any staff. I wanted to stand up and find out whether I was going to hack it.”
Moyes is virtually alone at Bellefield again on this bright summer afternoon in June. The only motor in the car park is his blue, top-of-the-range Mercedes. The gateman idly sunbathes outside his wooden hut, perusing the cricket scores. The goalposts and nets are locked away in the stores. The secretary can’t even find a teapot. The quiet is eerie. Except for the phone ringing.
This time it is Bill Kenwright, the theatre impresario who is chairman of Everton. It was Kenwright who took the gamble on appointing Moyes when the supporters were clamouring for a big-name manager. It was Kenwright who backed him to the hilt during boardroom turmoil the previous summer.
The pair speak often because Kenwright is a fan and he wants to know all the news. And the only man with news is Moyes, because Moyes is the heart of the club, the man who does the business for new players, the man who decides on transfers and tactics and the entire club philosophy.
“Bill, can I call you later?” says Moyes. “I’m busy just now.”
But Kenwright is busy too. It’s a rare free moment, and he wants an update on the Scott Parker situation. The urgency is routine, and manager and chairman chatter gladly for a few minutes. “Ring me in the car later,” says Moyes to sign off.
Everton have made a £6m bid for Parker, the midfielder who has been languishing redundant in Chelsea’s superstar squad. There has been encouraging feedback. But other clubs have made bids, too, and may be prepared to pay higher wages. Today, the issue is further complicated by reports that the player could go to Tottenham as part of a deal to mollify them for the controversial loss to Chelsea of their sporting director Frank Arnesen.
It is a torment for Everton. Their pulling power is improved by qualifying for the Champions League, but with their restricted budget and relatively rigid wage policy they cannot compete financially with rivals like Spurs and Newcastle (who eventually sign Parker for £6.5m), never mind the elite mega-rich clubs Chelsea and Manchester United.
“We made an offer for Parker and that was accepted,” says Moyes. “It might come down to the boy’s choice, or it might be affected by outside factors. I can’t do anything about that except maybe curse in the privacy of my home. Aye, I do that sometimes.
“It’s one of the frustrations of the job because you identify players you want, and events conspire against you. We have a list of players for each position. There might be eight people for one position, but it quickly whittles down, and if you don’t get the one you really want, you don’t want to settle for second best. It’s like buying a suit. You see the one you like, and they say it’s not in your size, and you don’t want the alternative on offer.
“We’ll need between five and eight players this summer. Ideally, they will be proven internationals, although I’ve always liked to find one or two gems from the lower leagues. The club have been very good. I’m just spending until they tell me to stop.
“We can’t buy at the £10m level yet. We’re not quite there, and we’re trying to keep wages relatively sensible. One more problem is that I couldn’t plan ahead – because how we bought and who we bought depended on whether or not we qualified for the Champions League. That changes the whole picture.”
Finishing fourth in the Premier League table means the phone never stops ringing.
Everton’s transformation has been remarkable. Twelve months ago, having narrowly escaped relegation, the club were in serious crisis. Debts were high, there was a destabilising torrent of speculation surrounding the future of young super-talent Wayne Rooney, and a change of ownership was a strong possibility, with director Paul Gregg reportedly considering a takeover.
Moyes’ future was also uncertain, his job under threat. Bookmakers made him the odds-on favourite to be the first Premiership manager to get the sack in the 2004-05 season, presuming he even survived the summer. While the boardroom battle was waged, the young Scot flew abroad. He went to Euro 2004 and joined the Italy team camp as an observer, warmly accommodated by coach Giovanni Trapattoni.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” says Moyes, the hackles now rising in his voice. “But the thing is, none of the people criticising me really knew me. None of them knew me. If they did, they would never have said what they said about Everton. I’ll fight tooth and nail for anything. And if you get challenged, you challenge people back.
“If someone thought I’d done a bad job I would sit down and argue my case. I’d ask them what was expected with nothing spent on new players. The story last summer was about Paul Gregg, but he can’t spell football, and I think he’d accept that as well. I was fine, because I had another job offer. All it would have done is made me think that it was happening with people who don’t know football.
“I wasn’t concerned about my own job. I was concerned about my club and about losing my better players. At one stage it looked as if I would hardly be able to get a team on the park. We knew Wayne Rooney might go. I hoped he wouldn’t, and then he went on the last day of the transfer window and we couldn’t spend the money. I thought we might blow up in November, but we kept going.
“We had a difficult time. But the sale of Rooney gave us £27m in the bank and it cleared some debt and gave us the prospect of buying players in future. It all started to grow with a few good results and the crowds having belief.”
The Rooney saga symbolises the struggle for a club like Everton in the modern era, where the Champions League system has created a virtually self-perpetuating elite who feast on the annual riches of European competition and leave the rest to battle for scraps.
Moyes may be modest about his eye for a player but he knew about Rooney instantly, giving the boy his professional debut at the age of 16. The kid’s talent was powerful and sublime, and almost immediately it was merely a question of how soon he would leave for one of the giants – and whether in the meantime Everton would be overwhelmed by the crushing media hype and focus on him.
The manager tried to protect the boy and he tried to protect his club. But the team spirit Moyes had spent so long nurturing was fractured by the frenzy. For all Rooney’s natural brilliance, Everton’s results were abysmal when he was in the team. When he left in August 2004 they soared.
On the grey filing cabinet next to the desk in Moyes’ office at Bellefield there is a small wooden plaque, perched in prime position for every visitor to see. The inscription is a few lines attributed to Rudyard Kipling:
The game is more than the players of the game, and the ship is more than the crew,
Team spirit cannot be purchased, yet once fostered is prized above all monetary value.
“I work on the team ethic,” says Moyes. “We can’t cope with any superstars at the moment; we’re not at that level. Sometimes in our matches it may not be the best passing football of the kind you’ll see from Manchester United or Chelsea or Arsenal. For much of last season people criticised our style. But we try to play winning football with the players we have. What’s wrong with that?”
The telephone rings. It is a different, more insistent sound; the landline phone on the desk. It’s an internal call from the secretary with a reminder he has a plane to catch. “OK,” he says. “I’ll only be a couple of minutes. Then I’ll need a shower.”
Moyes is wearing his gym gear. Pairs of old and heavily scuffed spare trainers are lined up under a chair. So are various smart shoes. A couple of sets of clothes hang on a coat stand behind the desk in case he needs to travel urgently. He returns to the conversation without a pause. He’s relaxed; there is no hint of hurry.
On the wall of the office there is a crib sheet that shows how many points were needed to qualify for Europe in each of the past five Premier League seasons. He smiles at the sight of it. At the start of the 2004-05 campaign it wasn’t there; instead, there was a chart that suggested how many points would be required to avoid relegation.
“We took that one down a little while ago,” he says. “This one’s better. And it’s interesting. Two years ago [in the 2002-03 season] we had 59 points, finished in seventh place, and didn’t even make the UEFA Cup. See, that 59 is circled on the chart. This time we got 61 points – and 59 would actually have been good enough to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League.
“When did I think we might do it? At Christmas time. We had around 40 points then – and a gap on the others below. I knew we wouldn’t win as many games in the second half of the season, especially when we lost Tommy Gravesen to Real Madrid. That was a blow and it set us back. Realistically, we didn’t have a big squad. But we had a good team that kept getting results.
“And, you know, reaching the Champions League is an incredible feeling for everyone at this club. Absolutely no one expected it when the season began last August. It wasn’t in anyone’s dreams.”
It hasn’t been for 20 years, not since 1985 when Everton won the European Cup-winners Cup and were League champions, only to be denied a tilt at the European Cup when all English clubs were banned for five years following the horror at Heysel. The history ensures that Everton will travel laden with emotion wherever the third qualifying round draw takes them; it could be just down the road to Anfield after Liverpool were given special dispensation by UEFA to defend their Champions League crown.
Neither set of fans wishes for such a momentous Merseyside showdown. Nor do the players nor the managers.
“Our supporters have been craving to get back into Europe,” says Moyes. “There have been brilliant nights at Goodison years ago, against Bayern Munich and others. In a lot of ways they think it was taken away from them after Heysel, that they didn’t get a chance to strut their stuff on that stage. So now they can’t wait for the Champions League draw. It’s a huge thing for them. The club has been so poor for so long that any form of success is fantastic. There has been incredible feedback from the fans, and I have a great rapport with them. I tell them straight how it is. I pull no punches with them. If you come from this city you have to. They don’t suffer fools gladly. They see through you. So, I try to tell them what’s happening.”
The mobile phone rings. It’s Cookie, still stuck on the motorway.
“Have you got all the details?” he asks.
“Aye, it’s all OK,” says Moyes.
“The driver at the airport will have the tickets. He’ll be waiting at the information desk in arrivals.”
“Aye, that’s good.”
“Sorry, boss,” says Cookie.
“Ring me later when I’m in the car,” says Moyes.
The fans may be dreaming of trips to Munich and Milan and Madrid, and Moyes wants them too. But he’s a realist. The toughest task of all may well be to reach the group stage; Everton are unseeded for the qualifying round draw because they have been out of the big time for so long.
Even if they do progress, or revert down to the UEFA Cup, there are potential pitfalls. Moyes saw how Ipswich celebrated qualification for the UEFA Cup a few years ago, how they revelled in joyous victories abroad, and how they were relegated at the end of that season and have since failed to return to the Premier League. He is also aware of the case of Celta Vigo, who were surprise Champions League entrants from Spain in the 2003-04 season, and who were so distracted by Europe that they were relegated from La Liga.
Everton’s young boss is trying to plan for everything. Like all good managers he craves control; he wants the perfect answer to every issue that confronts him.
“I’ll be asking for advice from other managers,” says Moyes. “I’m always looking for information. It’s so important for us to get through that Champions League qualifying game if we can, and
I’ll speak to people like Rafa Benitez about that. I’ll also talk to Steve McClaren [the Middlesbrough manager and England assistant coach], not just about matches but also about coping with having a European game in midweek and its effect on performances in the League the following weekend. So many clubs have found that a problem, especially without a huge squad.
“I’ll be looking at that. We have to be careful that Europe doesn’t take over. It’s an opportunity, because there is big money from reaching the group stage. But we mustn’t go over the top with expectations. Our first priority will still be staying in the Premier League. That will always be the most important for us.
“Something which may help us is that the Premier League changed more tactically last season than ever before. Manchester United switched to a 4-3-3 and for Arsenal to alter their system in the FA Cup Final was just amazing. In Italy they are more tactical. And that may be coming into England a bit more. I’ve always favoured 4-4-2, but it’s good that now there is more flexibility.
“I don’t see us at Everton playing only one system. I think we’ll try to be more adaptable. I think we have to look at changes for Europe. I certainly mustn’t try to be super-clever and think that’s the way it works. But you have to pick your players and tactics with a view to the opposition.”
There is much for Moyes to consider: new tactics, new expectations, new pitfalls. Most of all, though, he needs new players. That dominates his thoughts; there is no escape from the transfer jigsaw in his mind. He’d taken a family holiday in Florida the week before and the phone rang as constantly as the rain poured down.
Now, back at his desk, the process intensifies. He’s looking for bargains, he’s looking for players with talent and ambition, he’s looking for spirit. Few available footballers fit the identikit, and those who do, like Scott Parker, are in huge demand.
Then there is another category to consider: the player of storming talent and dubious temperament. They rarely last long at one club, but are too good not to tempt others. Does Moyes take a gamble on one of these? The picture here is further clouded by events at Birmingham City, who decided to sign Lee Bowyer from Newcastle, but saw the deal jeopardised by angry reaction from a section of Birmingham supporters, who protested at a player with Bowyer’s history of controversy and conflict coming to their club.
Everton have a strong bond between fans and players. The “Kipling” lines will be in the manager’s mind as he flies across Europe all summer in search of footballers.
This particular midweek evening it will be Copenhagen (which proves to be worthwhile, directly prompting a £5m move for Per Kroldrup). A few days later it will be a weekend in Rome to watch the first leg of the Italian Cup Final between Roma and Internazionale. The target there is Inter’s Turkish international Emre Belozoglu, exactly the kind of clever and stylish midfielder the Everton team need. Again, Newcastle are direct opponents in the chase.
“You know, I’ve never been to Rome,” says Moyes. “I’m going to stay a couple of days if I can and do some sightseeing with my wife. I like to see places when I travel. I think it’s important to enjoy the journey.”
Neither phone on his desk has rung for a while. He’s heading for the shower when the mobile chirrups into life once more.
“OK, good,” he says. “Ring me in 10 minutes. I’ll be in the car then.”
There is silence for a moment. He listens to the caller, and says: “No. Ten minutes. In the car.”
The steel in his voice brooks no argument.