Big Lang Theory: In praise of David Moyes



Generally, when something is described as underrated enough times, it indicates that that thing is, in fact, quite adequately rated. Saying something merits more recognition is itself an act of recognition. When, two or three years ago, everyone (every 40-year-old man) suddenly decided that beige indie cluggers Elbow were underrated, the band's popularity soared to the extent that they were grossly, almost laughably overrated. (Of course, to shrug one's shoulders would be to overrate Elbow, but we'll move on before I further alienate a readership that's already hanging by a thread because I haven't mentioned football yet in a football article.)

Against this backdrop of reverse self-fulfilling (self-unfulfilling?) prophecy, David Moyes is a conundrum. On the one hand, the Everton manager probably has the word 'underrated' embossed on his stationery at this point, such is the regularity with which he earns that complement. You can barely watch Match of the Day without one of the Men We Love to Hate naming Moyes as some great, yet bizarrely undiscovered talent. By rights, then, Moyes should have moved stealthily away from being actually underrated. If enough people use the 'u' word, it ceases to be true.

Yet somehow, if you really think about it, David Moyes still is underrated.

His real quality is evidenced not by a growing list of different achievements, but by the consistency with which he achieves the same goals year after year. Everton aren't yo-yoing up and down the Premier League table these days, despite the well-documented financial constraints at Goodison. They are a settled top eight club, capable of (and adept at) giving the big boys a run for their money. Moyes doesn't need to rewrite his CV every year. He marks another line on a lengthening tally at the bottom. The miracles he works are modest, but they arrive with alarming regularity.

This year, things look even more positive. Moyes finally seems to have got to the bottom of the Toffees' perennial early-season hangover (it was something to do with the 'speciality' meat that Tony Hibbert was serving at his pre-season barbecues, if you were wondering), resulting in an impressive start. While the quality of Marouane Fellaini, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar has never been in much doubt, Moyes' ability to coax performances from otherwise workaday players continues to impress.

Leighton Baines, for instance, has developed into a player of exceptional quality under Moyes. With Pienaar naturally inclined to drift infield, Baines is afforded the space to join the attack at every opportunity and has become one of the Premier League's best wide players. While he showed promise during his Wigan days, Moyes must be credited with bringing the pallid 27-year-old out of his shell. Similar wonders have been worked with Hibbert and Leon Osman, while even Darron Gibson has shown signs of developing other skills to complement (read: replace) his unerring ability to threaten the safety of fans in the upper tiers.

As I type this, Everton are eviscerating Swansea City. Tonight, Alan Shearer or Alan Hansen or Mark Lawrenson or Gary Lineker will describe David Moyes as underrated. For once, they will be right.