No change for cash-strapped Moyes
This has been the summer of change in dugouts up and down the country. When the Premier League kicks off on August 18, there will be ten new managers of sorts: three returning to the division, or entering it for the first time, following promotion; one interim coach now confirmed in charge, receiving a promotion of his own; and six summer appointments.
In one corner of the division, change is not as much anathema as unknown. David Moyes' 11th full season at Goodison Park is likely to follow the same pattern as many of its predecessors: eventual overachievement, often despite a slow start, on a comparatively meagre budget. It is no longer news. Moyes does not win Manager of the Year anymore. No one is surprised when Everton excel. The novelty factor is gone, which makes his continuing prowess all the more admirable. He ranks alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Roberto Mancini as the finest managers in the country.
He is also a prisoner of his success. With the permanence of Ferguson and Wenger, with Chelsea's predilection for Champions League and World Cup winners, with Manchester City also preferring, in Mancini, a man who possesses his personal trophy cabinet, with the impossibility of managing Liverpool, with the chance that many a historic club would look a sideways or downwards move, it only left one option.
And Tottenham Hotspur remain immune to his charms. They seem to be jumping a generation - Moyes' generation - from the pensionable Harry Redknapp to the precocious Andre Villas-Boas. Brendan Rodgers, another bright young thing, had attracted their interest. Experience used to reign supreme. Now the quest is on to identify the manager of the future. Moyes is perennially out of fashion.
After a decade, he is damned by what he has not done as much as what he has. He has not won silverware although - apart from Middlesbrough, a Birmingham side who were promptly relegated and Portsmouth, when spending money they did not possess - only the five usual suspects have. He has not produced a team to have the purists purring even if, when Everton had Steven Pienaar, Mikel Arteta and Leighton Baines together, they had a passing philosophy to go with their trademark toughness. If anyone has personified Moyes' Everton, however, it is Tim Cahill, the spirited scrapper with unheralded quality and an uncanny habit of upsetting more favoured rivals.
So what now? Moyes has a year left on his current contract. Chairman Bill Kenwright is predictably keen to keep him and, while there are regular rumours of Moyes resigning, that is part of the Merseyside football gossip industry. There is the sense Tottenham would have interested him whereas, when positions were vacant at Aston Villa and Newcastle in the past, they did not. There is also the concern that after seeing Joleon Lescott, Arteta and Pienaar depart, they are powerless to prevent their prized assets following. Everton's 21st-century golden age may have ended with Lescott's 2009 move to Manchester City and the unwanted confirmation that money talks.
Leighton Baines has now been the Premier League's outstanding left-back in the past two seasons while, in his power and versatility, Marouane Fellaini has developed into the closest thing to Yaya Toure outside the Etihad Stadium. If both are coveted, it is no surprise.
If both stay, however, it is a boost. After the depression that engulfed Goodison Park in the first half of last season, Moyes was re-energised by his January dealings. Nikica Jelavic added the incision that had been lacking; draws became victories, pessimists optimistic, Everton Merseyside's top team. Should Pienaar's return become permanent, the creative contingent will be replenished. Steven Naismith's availability following Rangers' collapse could represent the sort of canny, cut-price deal in which a bargain-hunter has specialised.
Everton are taking shape, Moyes gradually moving them forward. Outside the first 11, a younger group of players are gathering, many found on the cheap. Throughout everything - all the gloom when Arteta and two senior strikers were sold to placate the bank - a workaholic never slacked. It is probable no manager made the long trek to Swansea on scouting trips quite as often.
It is Moyes' professionalism that prevented Everton regressing last season. Now, after further confirmation that he features on the shortlists of the elite but does not top them, it is required again. There is the feeling that a driven manager wants more. Seventh place no longer feels an achievement to such a demanding man. He seemed to derive little pleasure from finishing ahead of Liverpool last season but, with ambition evident at Anfield and with others spending with renewed vigour, Everton's uphill task of displacing the moneyed clubs is becoming steeper.
It is a footballing maxim that those who stand still are actually going backwards. At Everton, however, Moyes is still achieving - enough to earn him the respect of many but not the chance for the great loyalist to shed the financial straitjacket imposed upon him at Goodison Park and pursue his ultimate aim of challenging his peers for the title.