He claimed he had not even thought about the wider resonance of the encounter at Old Trafford tonight. He had given not a moment to considering how he would react if his new club scored against the one he managed with such distinction for 11 years. He had not pondered what sort of reaction he might get from the visiting supporters. Emotion, he said, was not a useful tool for the football manager. He was more concerned with the day to day reality of maintaining his club’s prominence.
And in a sense he is right. All that matters for him in his current position is to engineer a win. Though against a team that has only lost once this season in the league and currently sit above his in the Premier League table that is not quite the straightforward proposition that accompanied many an Everton visit in his time as Goodison manager.
But, whatever his insistence, where it was clear Moyes had expended a bit of thought about his old club was when he was asked about the manner in which the new boss Roberto Martinez had freshened things up.
Since he arrived from Wigan to replace Moyes, the Spaniard has made a number of very successful signings. Gareth Barry is running the midfield; Gerard Deulofeu looks a real prospect, a proper No. 10; and up front there is the monster that is Romelu Lukaku, the centre-forward largely responsible for the Evertonian surge up the table.
As a contrast to Moyes’s own foray into the transfer market they could not be more stark. His one purchase since arriving at Old Trafford is the lacklustre Marouane Fellaini, whose performances so far in a red shirt would make his own mum struggle to recognise him as a United player. Suggesting that he has given far more thought to the contrast than he is prepared to admit, he bridled when offered the chance to praise Martinez’s work in the market.
“Lukaku?” he said. “He’s on loan. He’s not a real transfer.” A loan maybe. But if he scores tonight against United the goal will still count in Everton’s favour.
Yet Moyes has a point here. All three of Martinez’s excellent pieces of business are loan arrangements. Barry is still on Manchester City’s pay-roll. The 19-year-old Deulofeu has been sent out from Barcelona as part of his footballing education; they don’t let talent like that out of their hands easily at the Camp Nou. While, as every Chelsea fan watching their team labour without an in-form striker will tell you, Lukaku has been borrowed from the Bridge. And how they wish he was currently theirs.
For Everton, perpetually cash-strapped and held back by their ancient, if wonderfully atmospheric, stadium, the loan deals present marvellous value. Three top signings and not a penny out of the coffers beyond a contribution to their wages: Bill Kenwright must be purring, nightly wondering if a similar arrangement might be instituted in west end theatre and he could borrow a couple of the stars of Les Miserables to beef up his production of Cabaret.
For Barry, Lukaku and Deulofeu it is a great arrangement too, allowing them to play regular first-team football rather than ossify on their employer’s bench.
But still, Moyes has a point. These are not proper signings, they represent a sticking-plaster solution when stitches are required. They are not part of a building process. Indeed, as evidence of the short-termism of Premier League thinking they cannot be beaten. Never mind that they might not be around next month: think of the goals this week. They might be enough to keep a manager in his job.
Indeed, such has been Kenwright and Martinez’s joint success in playing the system, Everton have a real chance of qualifying for Europe this season with the three of them in the team. If not exactly cheating since they have evidently broken no rules, it seems somehow taking a short cut. Clearly that is what Moyes thinks. He believes a manager’s job is to build for the long term, not exploit the loop-hole that allows a club to field three prominent ringers.
Or maybe, in his prickly response to his successor’s success, he is simply ruing the fact that when he was boss at Goodison he did not exploit his opportunity as shrewdly. Maybe what Martinez is doing is merely showing the way to the future. As the rich clubs hoover up more and more of the talent, managers operating just below the top level of big spenders will increasingly be obliged to beg and borrow if they want good players.
Maybe the day is not far off when instead of attempting to buy Cesc Fabregas, even David Moyes and Manchester United will simply ask if they can use him for a couple of months. Nobody at Old Trafford tonight, obliged to watch Fellaini labour, would have been too unhappy with that arrangement.