Michael Calvin interview: An insider's perspective on David Moyes

Paul Thomas

Michael Calvin, author of The Nowhere Men, talks about David Moyes' methods, and the changing face of scouting and analysis in modern football.

Callum Hamilton: There's been a bit of confusion this summer over exactly what happened with United's transfer targets - do you get the impression that David Moyes' cautiousness, which you allude to in your book, might have hindered since he started late in the window?

Michael Calvin: That's an obvious conclusion to draw. The transition is going to be over a lot of levels - getting his head around the stature of the club, the politics in the dressing room, the commercial demands... it's a multi-faceted role because of the nature of the club. Manchester United are essentially two institutions. There's a football institution on Sir Matt Busby way, and there's the commercial institution with branches everywhere apart from Pluto.

He's got to try and get his head around the different sense of discipline required for United just because of the size of the place - he's got to compartmentalise to a far greater degree than he would've done at Everton. The basic assets that he would bring are probably going to be very important over the next twelve to eighteen months. Obviously the dynamic at Everton was completely different - his reputation was based on rigour, and obsessional pursuit of value. They were looking for the sort of player that United neither want or need.

Everything they did there was really designed to mitigate against the expensive mistake. Time and again, if you speak to people there, the line was that David Moyes spent the money as though it was his own. But the revisionists are out in force very quickly and there's been a massive overreaction. That's partly because of the nature of the club, partly because of the person who anointed him. He will inevitably undergo a difficult transitional process.

"The whole process is on the cusp of change. There's a culture clash between the old-school, intuitive approach and a new, more analytical movement."


CH:
You mentioned United are of course are looking at different players under Everton. There's so many different stories been spun in different ways, and there's no consensus with what happened. Thiago Alcantara for example - initially it seemed he simply turned United down for Bayern Munich, but since then some stories have also stated that Moyes had turned him down. He was obviously not a problem in terms of value, but is Moyes looking at different attributes, prioritising different things at United? His mentality, or suitability for the club, or attitude?

MC: The whole process is on the cusp of change. There's a culture clash between the old school, intuitive approach with a guy in a flat cap who goes out and sees, and senses things, and a new more analytical movement. But out of all the clubs I looked at, I thought Moyes and Everton combined both approaches very well. The thing that struck me most was the rigour of the process - when you're in the recruitment room, you do get a real sense of the man - it's imbued with Moyes' spirit.

The guy who works there is a guy who's worked with Moyes since 2003, James Smith - he probably had reports on about a thousand players. His office, which was off-limits to players, started with their initial target list, about a couple of hundred players, annotated by position. You could look at that and see the strategic weaknesses of the market - for example, while I was there there were very few right-backs in the world.

The other charts were well structured, because each scout when he went to a game had to assess every player under the age of 24 and grade them on specific aspects. Moyes produced what he called his 'MOT test', where each position had about ten or twelve criteria. His optimal aim was to have fifty reports on a primary target, compiled by between ten and twelve scouts, just to get that breadth of opinion. Then Moyes would go out as well - it's interesting that he still goes out. There are very few scouting managers now, but Moyes was always on the circuit.

CH: That's something Ferguson occasionally used to do, but towards the end it seemed more an act of registering his interest - he used to go to be seen rather than to see.

MC: Yes, absolutely. Moyes of course was different - but also, he was one of the first managers to get his head around performance analysis. Even when he was at Preston he was working in that field, which was just beginning to emerge. But in terms of scouting, in that room, the key point was what was kind of a Moyes mind map. There, he had a view of his optimal starting eleven. It had age, performance record, contract details and so on. It was his optimal team for that season, but also the next three seasons.

Now, gaps develop over that time scale. This is probably the reason that players weren't allowed in - it showed that he might have to lose one or two. Managers have the black art of knowing when players are about to go over the hill, but they might still get a few quid for them.

"My sense is that what Moyes is trying to do is almost give some players the opportunity to play themselves out of the club."


To relate that type of mindset to what's going on at United now - my sense is that what Moyes is trying to do is almost give some players the opportunity to play themselves out of the club. That's my instinct - you look back at the cataclysmic performance, or non-performance, that Ashley Young gave in the Derby. It looked that he didn't have a future. I was also, like many, amazed that he played Anderson. He just simply is not a Manchester United player.

There's an acceptance in the club that they made a strategic mistake in not buying out his contract earlier. You have to judge him on that 12-18 month timescale. They're not a sacking club - they have a strategic commitment to him, and there's no doubt he'll get time. The way Moyes works, you can only judge him over that medium-term, when he's had a couple of transfer windows. I'm sure he's looking at the scouting system very rigorously.

CH: Well, there was a story recently that he was about to overhaul that. From what you've said, though, it sounds as though Moyes' whole way of working is geared towards the longer-term.

MC: It is. Another interesting thing is, David Moyes could be categorised as a traditional British, autocratic manager, but with the whole recruitment process he instigated at Everton, and honed over eleven years, he was surprisingly collegiate. He always had the final decision, but, one of the whiteboards on the wall was almost a manifestation of the loyalty of the people he had around him. A list of players that were individual choices by his inner circle of six.. The prerequisite was that they had to be 26 or under, and playing for a club outside the top six in the Premier League. Those were voted for by Moyes and the senior staff - there were about twenty, of which four were unanimous choices to be looked at very closely.

Moyes was the boss, and he was very aware of his power. I think there's a lot that hasn't come out yet in terms of his character. He's probably been a bit too tentative so far, coming in to such a big club. I think he's having to come to terms with the magnitude of both the club and the opportunity, but it takes time to actually start to think that big.

Scouts have a rule of thumb that if they're right 70% of the time they're doing well. Managers all make their mistakes, for example Ferguson with Veron, and Guardiola with Ibrahimovic, who didn't fulfil his potential there. All big managers make big mistakes because they're in big jobs.

CH: It's difficult to know whether that's always a failing of scouting or a failure to use them properly...

"Scott McLaughlin, head of international scouts at Chelsea, says the club can pay £50m for a player, but they won't really know what they've got until he walks in the door."


MC:
Yes, it's a double-edged process - you have the raw material but you have to work with it. One of the fundamental weaknesses of the current recruitment system is the lack of due diligence. God forbid, if you or I went for a job in the civil service, we would be psychometrically tested to within an inch of our lives. If a footballer gets bought for £50m... in the book, Scott McLaughlin, head of international scouts at Chelsea, says if they pay that much for a player, they don't know what they've got until he walks through the door. What's his basic motivation? Money? Glory? Ego?

Some of the academies now are psychometrically testing their kids, but when you're involved at that level, it has to be much more sophisticated to find out what you've got when the person comes through the door. The system doesn't allow you to find out that about the player because he's somebody elses property until he's signed, by which time he's someone elses player. That's where the attention to detail can work for Moyes.

There might have been a voice in Moyes head saying "I've only been here two months" when the window ended, but if you want to look at how a David Moyes team would evolve, you have to reserve your judgement until after next summer's window. If he's still a ditherer, missing out on key players, and going through the pantomime of the last window, that's when criticism will be valid. I don't think it will be at the moment.

CH: You've talked about the more delegated and democratic process - when Moyes came into the club, some people he tried to keep on like Rene Meulensteen, and had to come in with his own men. Since then he's gone further and brought in more scouts. Has it been easier for him to bring in his own men given that he delegated so much?

MC: Well, it's different with the magnitude of United, but that happens at every club. The new manager comes in and new staff come in. I have to say, I was surprised that Meulensteen left, because I respect his stature. His influence was not limited to the first team - he set the coaching structure and philosophies of the football club, right down to the under-9s and up to the first team. He had a great breadth of knowledge. Moyes suggested he run the academy, and he thought he'd gone beyond that. I think he'd have been valuable for a season, to be honest.

I can, however, see the logic of bringing in someone whose qualities and knowledge he relied upon at Everton. I can see the logic of Phil Neville coming in, who has respect and knows the United culture. I can see the logic with Giggs - there's a generational shift there, too. Managers are creatures of habit and they want people around them that they can trust, who have that loyalty to the manager.

CH: Bobby Robson advised managers to always go alone when moving to a big club. It was a surprise to see Rene go. Then there were people like Mike Phelan, who everybody expected to leave...

MC: Yes, that was obvious, but Meulensteen was the key influence. But David Moyes gets out on the training pitch, so that might be where he feels, "I'm out there in the wind and the rain", and sees that as part of his job. You can make players better, no matter how good they think they are.

The inheritance wasn't as good as people thought. Look at Rio Ferdinand and his recent performances - he's 35, Evra's 32. There might have been some clumsiness about, for instance, Leighton Baines. If he really wanted them he should've given them the Godfather offer - it's interesting, if you look at Evra's personality, he probably wouldn't be enamoured with what's going on. Buttner... well...

CH: I think the less said there the better.

MC: Yes. The thing is, there's always going to be teething problems. I don't think Moyes is very good in front of the cameras. If you get him one on one... some of us had dinner with him at the World Cup in South Africa, and he was fantastic. Funny, incisive, intelligent... occasionally the glint came into the eye when he disagreed with you, but you knew he was a proper football man. I think he's got more about him than Mourinho, personally.. although I might be proved horribly wrong with that!

To sum it up, he needss time to grow into the role, and he'd probably accept that he was a little bit overawed, and needs 18 months to be himself. He needs to have faith in himself too. He's gone into the job. A job which he and a million other people coveted. He's got it, and it's absurd to think that he's being judged on six weeks.

United have been the crisis club for a week or two, Man City will get a massive kicking after last night. They'll be the crisis club for a couple of days, and then someone else will be. There's a cheapening of the culture - I was at Chelsea-Spurs, and I couldn't believe the narrative, like two girls squabbling in the playground, even though there were two potential champions playing. I'm sure that sort of superficiality gets right up David Moyes' nose because he's a serious football man. He's not good in front of the cameras, and better with the print hacks.

CH: One of the things Ferguson was best at was that he would know exactly what headline would be used, but Moyes doesn't seem used to that level of scrutiny. He's come out with some bizarre things lately.

MC: It's a learning process. Like saying they wont' win the champions league - you don't say that at United, you just don't. His report card would probably be about a C+ at the moment. He has made some mistakes. But to a degree, if you have that long-term view, you probably accept that, because who hasn't gone into a new job and made a few screw-ups? It takes time to grow into things. If he was infallible from the start, where do you go from there?

'The Nowhere Men' by Michael Calvin (Century, £14.99) is a fascinating book which gives an insight into the world of scouting in modern football. You can buy it here.

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