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COLUMNIST JOHN HOLMES

Purchasing precision silences City

By John Holmes :  17/01/2010 :  Comments (24) :

Rumours in the Sunday papers suggest Angel Di Maria, Benfica’s Argentine winger and Everton’s tormentor in chief, has rejected a £38m move to Manchester City. The usual explanations will no doubt be offered; City are not in the Champions’ League, they aren’t a big enough club and it’s cold up north. However, one wonders whether Di Maria sat down on Saturday evening to watch his suitors humbled by a team he had twice made a mockery of just three short months ago. If that was the case, then Di Maria will have been firstly puzzled as to why a team whose performance was so stratospherically bad would think they were the club for him and, secondly, “¿que diablos ha pasado a Everton?”

Last week I suggested improved form stemmed from increased stability. I still believe that a consistent line-up with personnel to fit the game plan has been the key factor; however, the metamorphosis of Heitinga and Fellaini has been almost as vital. Before that though, pray silence, for let us savour a moment of divine retribution.

Wise men say we should not crow when our tormentors are cut down to size, that humility is a virtue and that we should take victory and defeat with modesty aflame. However, I’m from Yorkshire so I say bugger that.

The term nouveau riche was used to describe the poor men made good who offended the established upper crust with their lack of taste and decorum. It also reeks of snobbery. However, the upstarts at Eastlands showed an arrogance in their pursuit of Lescott that more than justified the contempt. Flashing his new chequebook with the witless “don’t you know who we are?” attitude of the professional z-lister, Mark Hughes looked down his nose at Everton with his intentionally snide comment about City being “a big club trying to sign one of their players”. With their big-time Charlie posturing, like Real Madrid without the glamour, they treated Everton’s manager as a bug to swatted away in their thirst for talent.

There were, of course, two problems. Firstly, they weren’t signing Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo or Beckham. Instead, for his showpiece signing, Hughes had scoured the world and come to the conclusion that Everton’s second best defender was the £27m man for the moment. Lescott subsequently joined a defence staffed by the best rejects money could buy. Alongside deadweight from Arsenal and Chelsea, Lescott showed his quality, and how we laughed.

The second problem in Hughes’ master plan was that he’d picked a fight with the wrong man. Anyone who witnessed Everton’s players scurrying around haranguing City into mistake after mistake, backpass after backpass, would be forgiven for thinking this was just high spirits from a team regaining its confidence. Not a bit of it. A proud man, Moyes was never going to have someone thumb their nose at him and take it lying down. A glimpse at the program notes suggested the righteous fire of the wronged would be put into his players.

With Lieutenant Neville barking out the orders like he’d never been away, the blues simply over-ran their lighter shaded opposition, leaving a trail of battered egos in their wake. Only Shay Given and, ironically, bête-noire Bellamy emerged with any credit; the latter for his warm-hearted congratulation on Fellaini’s show-boating. As a child, I thought schadenfreude was a drink, rarely has it tasted so sweet.

If City are, as professional Everton fan Phil McNulty observes. a lesson in the perils of an unlimited transfer budget; then David Moyes is the antipathy, a lesson in how to do it on an (admittedly gold-plated) shoe-string. His transfer record remains remarkable. With Hibbert and Osman out injured, Saturday’s starting line-up featured eleven players brought in by Moyes. It is hard to argue that any of them have failed to justify, or look like they will fail to justify, their fee.

Big question marks hung over Fellaini and Heitinga just a few months ago. However, Moyes has tamed their wild streaks, and transformed them into players who few Evertonians would exclude from their favoured line-up. The Belgian’s transformation is truly incredible. Hampered partly by ever-changing duties but also by his own inability to show sufficient discipline, energy and awareness to play defensive midfield, he looked lost as Di Maria tormented Everton through a miserable autumn. The disgust was palpable in the stands as a record signing seemed barely able to complete a three-yard pass, let alone execute a tackle without committing a foul. Bean-pole target man seemed his destiny.

Those who heard Goodison roar as the big Fella whirled past Bellamy would be left in no doubt that things have changed; here was a man who could go on to be a legend of the Gwladys Street. At 22, the world is at his feet and, inevitably, covetous eyes are taking note.

Throughout the team though there were players for whose capture Moyes must be praised. The bold gamble on Saha, the incredible bargain buys of Cahill and Pienaar, the savvy loan of Donavan and solid choice of Distin, the wise investment in Baines and the reasoned acceptance of Howard and Neville as presumed down-payments for Rooney.

A few years ago there was scepticism about the manager’s ability in the transfer market. Krøldrup and Van der Meyde had sullied his record and Beattie was growing lead buckets around his feet. Three and a half years on from Beattie’s sale, it’s hard to point to another dud. Players have come and gone, Jacobsen, Johnson, Castillo, Jo, Fernandes, Valente, McFadden; but it’s hard to suggest any of these names didn’t give Everton a reasonable return on their net outlay. Moyes may not be the best at getting his man, for whatever reason, but once they’re in the shirt, they rarely show him up.

One name is missing from my run-down of Saturday’s team. The Russian, Bilyaletdinov, complained recently of the team’s tendency to bypass the midfield. Whether by default or design, the long-ball ravaged City’s backline and Cahill did his reputation proud as a bouncy, aggressive nuisance, forever out-jumping far taller centre-backs. Bilyaletdinov may not like the tactic, but he can’t have minded the number of opportunities that fell his way as the ball was nodded into his path. On another day he’d have scored a hat-trick.

Bily stands alone now as the one player still to prove his worth amongst Moyes’s major signings. Signs of improvement in attitude and understanding were in evidence. He still needs to show more composure in crossing position, not to mention finding ways to get himself half a yard to increase those opportunities; but with the transformations of several of his team mates from Premier League light weights to dominant performers, his future seems in safe hands.

In Moyes We Trust has become something of a stick to beat the manager’s fans with in recent times; however, on present evidence, players could do worse than listen to that mantra when ‘big clubs’ come a-calling.

Reader Comments

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Derek Wadeson
1   Posted 17/01/2010 at 17:39:19

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John, one of the main reasons for our poor start to the season was the stance David Moyes took on the Lescott transfer. On these pages, Moyes was questioned by a fair few people as to why he did not get the whole saga over with quickly.

That wonderful virtue of hindsight is now proving Moyes correct in short term pain for long term gain. Over the next few months the vultures will circle and the names of Pienaar and Fellaini will be centre circle, well at least any head-turning, cheque-book-waving clubs will know top dollar will be demanded.

Personally, like most, I would love to see all our best players wearing a royal blue jersey for a long time to come, but our manager seems to be one step ahead of the pack and will no doubt be seeing far further into the future than he is given credit for.

How many people moaned when Phil Neville got a four-year extension to his contract a while back? Another piece of astute business by Moyes; how we missed an injured Neville this season... he is an inspiration for all those juniors now warming the subs' bench.
Lyndon Lloyd
Editorial Team
2   Posted 17/01/2010 at 18:06:03

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Another excellent piece, John. If Bily is to prove his worth — and I’ve always believed he will — then yesterday he stepped back on the road to doing that.

He tackled, he tracked back, didn’t hide when a pass was in the offing, and he nearly scored with two superb shots. It’ll take time but I think he’ll be another Moyes success in the long run.

My biggest fears right concern money and our ability to keep the players we have. In particular, I worry about Pienaar and whether we can offer him enough to keep him, particularly if he impresses as much in the World Cup as he did in the Confederations Cup last year.

John Holmes
3   Posted 17/01/2010 at 20:16:27

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Lyndon, you perhaps have better sources on Merseyside than me but my impression has always been that Pienaar is, similar to Arteta and Cahill, one of those rare modern footballers who is happy to enjoy his football at Everton rather than seek out riches elsewhere. My bigger worry, given his dad’s comments this week, is Fellaini. I can easily imagine his head being turned, with the help of his father, by the riches and glory on offer elsewhere.
Dave Street
4   Posted 17/01/2010 at 20:25:45

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I think that Pienaar’s head could be turned but lets be honest in the current environment there aren’t that many teams with a lot of money to splash out. Only Chelsea (who have tightened their belts recently) and City (who have been seriously warned by the ginger one)...

If Pienaar is thinking about moving on then I think we could do worse than let him run his contract down next season on the basis that — if next season really is going to be "THE SEASON" that we do make the break through — he would re-sign with Champions League football.
Jean Philibossian
5   Posted 17/01/2010 at 22:59:44

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On a slightly different note to this topic, has anyone noticed that Fernandes was not on (his usual) bench for Valencia (the game vs Villarreal)?

Notably, he normally replaces our other previous attempted signing Ever Banega (whom I regret we never signed as he has proved to be very influential in an excellent side).

Considering some of last week's rumours regarding Fernandes, I wonder if we should read anything into his absence. Has anyone heard any more of this rumour? Of course it could simply be that he is injured again.
Martin Phillips
6   Posted 17/01/2010 at 23:22:56

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I think keeping Pienaar and Fellaini hinges on our future transfer fund. These players will want Champions League football asap and the players we sign in the next couple of years should convince them whether (or not) we can qualify again.

Obviously CL football means CL wages, usually around £80k per week, so that needs to be factored in as well. I'm not sure how much our top earner is on (apart from DM) but Pienaar and Fellaini will be looking for that level of pay I reckon; hopefully we can deliver what they’re after financially and careerwise.
Laurie Hartley
7   Posted 18/01/2010 at 10:31:07

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Good read John. Don’t worry about Bilyaletdinov - he is about to tear a team apart. Haven’t you noticed that that look of bewilderment that was evident after the first few games with us has turned into a mad glint. He could have had a hat trick at the weekend. Its coming (very soon). Call me an optimist - call me an Evertonian.
Damian Kelly
8   Posted 18/01/2010 at 10:52:25

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Totally agree John that over the past few seasons Moyes percentage hits to misses in the transfer market has got better and better - and leaves him way ahead of most other managers.

The way that the likes of Fellaini and Pienaar have improved gives me confidence that Bily will make it - he clearly has the ability. Certainly I can see with everyone of the signings recently why he has signed them - even if they dont all work out. Likewise, regardless of whether Coleman breaks through properly, he still seems an outstanding signing for the cash outlay.

Finally, in just two games, Donovan has shown why most fans have been desperate for us to sign a wide player with pace (which is one thing Bily is not). This for me is still the missing piece of the jigsaw.
Terry McLavey
9   Posted 18/01/2010 at 10:59:11

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We all feel let down when someone in a blue shirt leaves as we think they should have the passion we all share for the club we love, warts an’ all.It’s a shame about Lucas Neil as he did a resonable job, but a slightly longer contract and not such a long plane journey home probably had a bearing on his decision.On the bright side Joleon may do a Jeffers and fade into obscurity ! (shame wayne didn’t !)
John Holmes
10   Posted 18/01/2010 at 11:14:48

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Damian, I totally agree that the lack of pace has been a major hindrance for Everton in recent years. Yes, it helps when attacking, but even more so when defending. The possibility of playing a quick outball to a pacy winger prevents teams pressing you back for fear of an effective counter-attack.

Unfortunately, pace is valued by every manager and good wingers don’t come cheap. If Donavan continues as he’s begun, let’s hope an affordable, and reasonable (given his age) deal can be done in the summer.
Matthew Mackey
11   Posted 18/01/2010 at 16:56:37

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I am still on a high after Saturday’s result against the Trash with Cash. The whole team were absolutely magnificent. In the space of a couple of months we have gone from the lowest of the low - losing 3-2 at Hull, to the highest of the high - beating the Trash with Cash and thus continuing our seven match unbeaten run in the PL.p>If DM continues to get the best out of his team like he is doing at the moment, can you imagine how good it could get when Jags and Mikel are back on the pitch and up to speed?

At last the beast is starting to awake from its summer slumber. Villa, Spurs, the Trash with Cash and of course the RS beware - coz we’re coming for ya!
Andy Crooks
12   Posted 18/01/2010 at 18:15:12

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Excellent article, John. Saturday's win was the sweetest for some time.
Nick Entwistle
13   Posted 18/01/2010 at 19:04:17

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“¿que diablos ha pasado a Everton?”

Erm... what devils they have been at Everton?
John Holmes
14   Posted 18/01/2010 at 21:58:22

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Footballers eh Nick? Can’t string a bloody sentence together.
Lyndon Lloyd
Editorial Team
15   Posted 18/01/2010 at 22:54:16

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John, re: Pienaar, I haven’t heard anything really other than unfounded murmurings on the Interwebs. I just won’t be happy until we got him locked into a new deal!
Eric Myles
16   Posted 19/01/2010 at 01:27:55

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I share Lyndon’s opinion of Bily, he’s had the same start to his Everton career as Pienaar had and I have no doubt from what we’ve seen so far that he will become as essential to the team as Pienaar is.

My big concern is that Bily will be Pienaar’s replacement.

Keith Roberts
17   Posted 19/01/2010 at 01:39:03

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A brilliant peace: This adequately summed up the game, circumstances surrounding it and the consequences coming from it. Articles like this John portray the intellectual credibility of the supporters of this marvellous and iconic football club.

‘In Moyes We trust’ is a mantra that more should overtly adopt. I would be interested to hear your thought on the positive and irreplaceable contribution of Bill Kenwright which not only secured the services of David Moyes but in my opinion (coupled with the supporters) saved this football club.

James Lauwervine
18   Posted 19/01/2010 at 09:41:18

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Nick, sort your Spanish out. It means "What the devil has happened at Everton?". I lived in Spain for two years.
My ideal scenario is to meet Benfica in the Europa Cup final and get some sweet revenge.

Great as the win on Sat was, February will be the month that will define the rest of our season. Chelsea, Spurs, ManU and RS in the league, plus 5th round of the cup (hopefully) and the tie with Sporting. Hoping that Atrteta and Jags are back to contribute. If we get through Feb without defeat then amazingly this could turn into Moyes’s best season so far.
John Holmes
19   Posted 19/01/2010 at 09:57:10

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Cheers James for the confirmation — I got the translation from my girlfriend who claims to speak Spanish. Given I can’t do much more than count to ten, I have to trust she isn’t just making it all up.

Lyndon, glad to hear you’ve not heard anything definite. Sadly we just have to put up with the reality some player will always want to move on if you can’t or don’t meet their expectations. The best we can say is we’ve substantially increased his value.

Keith, generally I stay out of the discussions around Kenwright. As important as it is, I struggle to motivate myself to analyse the clubs finances and the backroom politics. Suffice to say, my natural instinct is to feel our backroom politics are no worse than many others and better than most.

It’s nice to have a fan as a chairman and I think his reputation is tarnished by the decisions he has to make and the way he makes them as a result of his lack of funds. I find it sad that he can’t survive as a chairman in the modern era. Beyond that, I’ll leave more sophisticated analysis to those who know the details.

One more thing to say though is that we could have a lot worse people as chairman. If nothing else he is one of those increasingly rare men who will give a manager time — he gave it to Smith and he’s given it to Moyes. Plenty of other chairman would have sacked Moyes during the odd slumps he’s had. But, I feel he’s proved it to be the wrong decision.

John Holmes
20   Posted 19/01/2010 at 10:02:56

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To clarify, I mean that it would have been the wrong decision to sack Moyes... mischief-makers be silent!
Nick Entwistle
21   Posted 19/01/2010 at 10:30:11

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Lo siento James, me Castellano es no bueno al momento, pero aprendaria mas y mas por que me espero a vivir en Madrid este anos... Comprende?

First flight home.
James Lauwervine
22   Posted 20/01/2010 at 09:11:19

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Err... Si :)
Anthony Eastwood
23   Posted 21/01/2010 at 03:30:37

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Nick, John... as a non-speaker of Spanish, I had to resort to a "Babelfish" translation. Nick... I have to assume that you speak "better than schoolbook Spanish" as the Babelfish translation came out as "I feel James, Castilian me is nongood at the moment, but aprendaria but and but so that I hope myself to live in east Madrid anuses… It includes/understands?"

I think we need a proper translation.

If I really try to eke a meaning out of this... "My Castillian Spanish is not that good. ..... but I’m moving to Madrid next year" rather than inhabiting the anus of someone there...

Sorry. Drivel on my part. Just curious as to what you actually meant to say, even if it was correct in a regional dialect.

ps: I’m an ex-pat Blue (with a capital B...) have been such since 1960 (a Blue, not and ex-pat) living in New England (S New Hampshire to be exact). The only football Brit I have met in recent years is a Stoke supporting fish ’n chip shop owner in Bennington, Vermont (excellent fare, by the way, and lots of typically Brit extras). I would be very pleased to make contact with any Blues in Southern Vermont/S New Hampshire to share a pint (albeit a measly 16 ounces out here), and a televised game with.

http://www.lilbritain.com/

Felt I should promote a British "buddy’ out here, so if anyone is in Bennington, VT ever, stop by the Fish n’ Chip shop at the above link and say hello to Kevin (eat there too. It really is as close to UK fare as you can get). He even has a TV in his ’Caff’ with EPL playing constantly (via SKY I think). And he’s a very nice chap too. Kevin’s wife, however, was not too impressed when I asked for coleslaw a a side dish (er’ indoors was sharing and she is a Yank after all — I don’t think she was ready for mushy peas and the like). Sorry. Sidetracked and slightly bladdered/ under the influence of Guinness 250th anniversary stout.
Keith Roberts
24   Posted 25/01/2010 at 13:16:27

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Thank you for your response John. I agree entirely with your perspective regarding “Blue Bill”. Just to clarify, I meant 'piece' — not 'peace'. Given my reference to intellectual credibility, I am somewhat embarrassed. I look forward to reading your next column.

Best wishes.

Keith

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