It is not often that you can isolate a point where two football clubs began to move in the wrong direction. It’s even less common to be able to personify that moment. For Everton and Manchester United, David Moyes will always be the symbol of where things began to go wrong.
The clubs meet at Goodison Park tomorrow with each team desperate for points. If Everton lose they could be in the bottom three by Monday morning. Burnley, who beat Frank Lampard’s side 3-2 on Wednesday night, play Norwich City on Sunday afternoon and a victory would mean Sean Dyche’s team leapfrog Everton.
United are in a less dire situation but ‘The World’s Biggest Club™’ will end the campaign without a trophy for the fifth consecutive season. The height of their ambition is to finish in the top four.
Moyes is not to blame for any of Everton’s issues and has little culpability at United. He has rehabilitated his reputation since he left Goodison nine years ago for a calamitous spell at Old Trafford. His nadir of him is long behind him. You cannot say the same about the two clubs he left behind.
Everton have gone through seven managers since Moyes. Given the growing pressure on Lampard, no one would be shocked if there was an eighth brought in before the end of the season. United’s managerial revolving door has been slightly less busy. Ralf Rangnick is the fourth since Sir Alex Ferguson handed down his empire to Moyes. Erik ten Hag is likely to become the fifth in the summer. Both clubs are groping for stability and show no signs of achieving it.
To add to their pain, the eyes of the world are focused on the Manchester-Merseyside rivalry this weekend. The table-topping clash between Manchester City and Liverpool is one of the most-anticipated matches of the season. There will be high drama at the Etihad. By contrast, the game at Goodison offers pure comedy. It is a showdown of shame.
The problems are so egregious at Everton that it’s difficult to know where to start. Lampard was the wrong appointment to replace Rafa Benitez, who was another remarkably bad selection. Managers are always the focus of recriminations but the people who employ them are the real villains. Farhad Moshiri, the owner, and Bill Kenwright, the chairman, have made a series of mindbogglingly stupid decisions. One insider said Everton is “one seriously f***ed up football club.” The individual concerned is no stranger to the dysfunctional nature of the game but he believes that Goodison is a particularly maladjusted place.
The loss of Russian-based sponsorship that resulted from the sanctions applied against Alisher Usmanov, the oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin and Moshiri’s mentor and business partner, exacerbates matters. Everton have spent more than half a billion pounds on players in the past five years. The bank accounts are empty. Relegation and the loss of Premier League income would be disastrous. The squad looks like it cost 500 quid rather than £500 million. Dyche said he told his Burnley team at half time that he was not sure Everton “know how to win a game.” That is a stunning indication. They need to learn how to do it fast.
United cannot afford to look down on Everton. The boardroom decisions at Old Trafford have been almost as bad. They brought in Rangnick, who has a reputation for building clubs, and used him as a firefighter. The German’s short tenure will end in the summer and Ten Hag will take the reins. Rip it up and start again. Again.
The lack of coherence is reflected on the pitch. The team is unbalanced, the squad lopsided. Highly-priced and paid individuals are underperforming and fingerpointing. A criticism leveled at United in the 1980s was that players wanted to enjoy all the benefits of being top-class footballers but were reluctant to put in the work to justify their positions. Ferguson ended that mindset but Old Trafford has come full circle. Yet again United are less than the sum of their parts.
They could still sneak into the top four. That would hardly be vindication. This is the one club that should be able to face down City on an annual basis. United have the global reach, the income and, importantly, the historical prestige to counter the state-backed riches of their cross-town rivals. Manchester should be the capital of football. The reason it is not down to United.
Neither of the clubs involved in the faded glory derby at Goodison tomorrow show any sign of getting their act together. It is hard to envision a time when either Everton or United will step out of the shadow of their neighbours.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.