Trophy hunger driving David Moyes as he bids for a tangible sign of success at Everton
For the best perspective of how much hunger a football manager has, best ask the professional who is on the outside, looking in at him. Paul Gerrard, Oldham Athletic's goalkeeping coach, was an Everton player for the first two years of David Moyes' time at Goodison and he goes back from time to time, to see his opposite number, Chris Woods, and catch up with friends. It was when he called in a few months ago that Gerrard got the sense of how desperately Moyes keen is to get his hands on the FA Cup this season.
"It's clear how much he wants the trophy," said Gerrard. "He's achieved so much and there are very few, if any, better managers around, but he wants the silverware to show for it. The FA Cup campaign obviously means everything to him."
On the face of things, Everton ought to have the scent of Wembley in their lungs once more, with tonight's fifth-round replay against Oldham and a possible meeting with Wigan Athletic standing between them and a place in the semi-finals. But Moyes has been achingly close before, at Wembley last April when his side were so desperately poor in the semi-final with Liverpool, and in the final when Guus Hiddink's Chelsea rendered Louis Saha's rapier fast 25-second goal an irrelevance, four years ago.
"It definitely affects a club when you're on a Cup run," Moyes said yesterday. "It's difficult to explain but a Cup run does keep you on the real up. Something we need to keep going…" But it is the prospect of an endgame on 11 May, and a piece of silver to cap these 11 golden Goodison years of his, which will drive him tonight. Some managers have gambled with their fortunes in this season's competition but we can expect nothing of the sort against the physical threat of Matt Smith and Co, under the lights.
"In my time, when you played you used to have one of those type of strikers every week," Moyes said of Smith. "But maybe not so much nowadays. There could be a bit of Duncan [Ferguson] about him, maybe a bit of Andy Carroll, that type."
You always sense that Moyes' own management years in the less dazzling reaches of English football, at Preston, help him on these occasions. He knows Oldham's world inside out, spent 15 minutes speaking to the caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk before the 2-2 draw at Boundary Park 10 days ago, gave him his telephone number and encouraged him to call if he needed advice on what to do next. The two men go back to youth-team games when Philliskirk's son, Danny, and Moyes' son, David, played for the Oldham and Preston sides.
Of course, their two clubs – divided by 57 league places – are worlds apart in so many ways. There are few better illustrations of that than the uncertain future of Gerrard, an excellent and popular player-goalkeeping coach who has been assisting Philliskirk since Paul Dickov stood down as manager – but who received a letter on New Year's Eve informing him that he was being released as part of cost-cutting measures and would serve three-months' notice. "I'll just hopefully be able to find something else," said Gerrard, who played 90 games for Everton between 1996 and 2004. He and Philliskirk have delivered three straight League One wins, since taking over.
Moyes also finds his own club's season at a staging post from which he admits things could go one of two ways. Following an extraordinary 68-point haul in the course of 2012, a tally bettered only by the Manchester clubs, a promising January has given way to a poor February, with the last-minute nature of Saturday's defeat at Carrow Road a desperately disappointing one. Progress tonight, at home to Reading on Saturday and in the Wigan Cup tie, if Everton secure it, could deliver all the momentum back. "It is potentially a season-defining two weeks, Moyes admitted. "I think we are in a period of maybe [learning] what direction our season is going in."
It's alien territory, really. Everton are used to being the dark horses, storming in on the top-six places and threatening, not the established sixth-placed team, proving themselves as a member of the elite.
In the background, Moyes' unresolved contract issue is always there. "What I've said is that I want to see, I just want to wait and see where we are, so yeah, maybe it could be seen as me taking a gamble [with the club's patience]," he said. He's not pushing his luck with Everton, of course. His future is in his own hands. But it may very well lie elsewhere, which makes this quest to hold the FA Cup aloft all the more significant.