If you want to understand why Manchester United selected Everton boss David Moyes as the manager to succeed the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, you might consider the case of an American soccer player, Landon Donovan. The Los Angeles Galaxy and U.S. national team star played for Everton on loan in 2010 and again in 2012 and he typifies the kind of footballer that Moyes prefers: skillful enough, fast enough and tough enough for the English game yet at the same time hardworking and flexible. Oh yes, and affordable. It was a relationship that worked well for both parties. “I’ve never heard anybody say a bad thing about him,” Donovan said of Moyes. “I have nothing but great memories of my time there, and I think he’s going to do really well.”
Moyes did awfully well at Everton, keeping the team in the top half of the Barclays Premier League despite being vastly outspent by the three big London clubs, the two big Manchester clubs and the one big Liverpool club. Everton, a district of Liverpool, is the city’s poor cousin of a soccer team. While the mighty Reds of Liverpool are known in all parts of the world, the Toffees, as Everton are nicknamed, are well known in most parts of Liverpool. Yet, the big spending, American-owned Reds trail Everton by five points in the league standings.
This year’s Everton is typical of Moyes’ ability to assemble relatively low-cost teams that compete at high levels with few out and out stars. The defense is anchored by English defenders Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, who packs wallop in his left foot, and is backed by American goalie Tim Howard. Moyes picked up Howard when Ferguson unloaded him in 2006, not having the patience to let the young keeper mature. Howard has been since rock solid in the net for the Toffees as well as the U.S. national team and recently reupped his contract.
The offense is far less solid. On attack, Moyes has a set of forwards , Belgian Kevin Mirallas, Croat Nikica Jelavic and Nigerian Victor Anichebe, who don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of defenses. And while Jelavic is tricky enough to score 11 goals, none of these guys is pulling down a huge salary.
It’s the midfield that is Everton’s engine room, capable of both grinding down opponents and making goals. It includes extremely durable players such as South Africa’s Steven Pienaar, Ireland’s Darron Gibson (another Man U castoff), and Englishman Leon Osman who have played in almost every game. Everton’s only genuine artist is its Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini, a 6-ft. 3 in. player with 6-ft. 10-in. hair who has a wonderful touch and a nasty temper. He’s the club’s costliest signing ever at $18.4 million—what Man U spent for Shinji Kagawa to be a spare part for much of the season. Fellaini is the type of player coveted by lots of clubs in Europe. But Moyes has him signed until 2016.
The most salient fact about Moyes’ ability to max out his team’s potential is that Everton has won exactly nothing during his tenure. Given Everton’s budgetary restrictions—it brings in about 25% of what Man U does— he can’t buy the kinds of stars that win championships. When Man U wanted Robin van Persie to augment star striker Wayne Rooney, Fergie got $30 million to buy him. Indeed, in 2004 Fergie snatched Rooney from Everton, his boyhood club, because the Toffees couldn’t afford to keep the local lad.
So now it is Moyes who gets hold of the Man U checkbook. He’s already proven to be a manager who can manage with limited resources. It’s unlikely that he’ll find Man U to be too much of a good thing. The stars are lining up for him, and they will play well.