David Moyes expects an "intimidating" atmosphere when he takes his Manchester United team to Everton for the first time since he left for Old Trafford.
Tears filled Moyes’ eyes at Goodison Park when he waved goodbye to Everton fans last May following the final game of his 11-year spell at the club. The Scot was given a guard of honour, and he struggled to contain his emotions as he walked around the pitch at the end of the 2-0 win over West Ham.
But there was little sign of that love last December when Everton came to Old Trafford. Everton, rising up the table, beat United 1-0 and Moyes’ afternoon was soured by a large section of Toffees fans who barracked the Scot and declared their former manager would be sacked in the morning.
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There is a growing feeling that, despite the pleas of his successor Roberto Martinez, Moyes will be subjected to the same sort of treatment from the terraces on Sunday when he returns. The United manager, who has Wayne Rooney available following his recovery from a toe injury, wants the focus to be on the teams on the pitch, rather than himself, but he could not escape being questioned about the matter at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
"It’s always been an intimidating atmosphere at Goodison," said Moyes when asked about the potential reception he might get. "I was a manager there and I know exactly what it can be like. Football will be football. I am a football supporter and that is how it works sometimes."
Moyes saved Everton from relegation when he replaced Walter Smith in March 2002 and from then on it was a tale of constant success for the former Preston boss despite budget constraints. Everton qualified for the Champions League in 2005 – although they were defeated by Villarreal in qualifying – and Moyes also led the Merseyside club to the FA Cup final in 2009.
The likes of Rooney, Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta all flourished under Moyes’ tutelage, but it was United’s transfer bid for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini that turned Everton supporters against their former manager. Just after Everton’s win at Old Trafford, Moyes was forced to deny claims he branded Toffees supporters a "disgrace" for the barracking they gave him.
"You get on with your job," said Moyes when asked how he felt after being verbally abused by Everton fans. "I am Manchester United manager now and that is what I concentrate on. (Sunday’s) game is not about me, it’s about Everton and Manchester United. This was the first game I looked for when the fixture list came out."
Moyes added: "I was always thinking when would I first be going back to Goodison. I will go back with great memories. I had great times there. It will be a strange day, but I’m looking forward to it."
Moyes further angered Everton fans by claiming he was trying to do "the right thing" for Baines and Fellaini by offering them a route out of Goodison. The fact that seventh-placed United are nine points behind Everton suggests Baines was right to stay and commit while Fellaini may have been better off doing so too.
The contrast between United’s woeful season under Moyes, and Everton’s success with Martinez at the helm could hardly be greater. The failed double-bid does not seem to have damaged Moyes’ relationship with Everton, who branded the offer "derisory" and "insulting" at the time.
"I have always had a great relationship with the players, the board and with the chairman," Moyes said. "I regularly get messages from the players wishing me good luck and I saw the chairman last week at Sunderland, but I go back as Manchester United manager and I am going back there to win."
As expected, Rooney will be fit to face his old club after he made a full recovery from the toe injury that hindered him in Munich last week. Moyes also revealed that Robin van Persie is undergoing intensive work in Holland, where he is recovering from a knee injury which has kept him out for four weeks.
"Robin is making improvements," said Moyes, who will be without Rafael on Sunday due to a thigh injury. "We always thought it would be 4-6 weeks with Robin. Our medical team is heading out there to see him this week and get a better feel as to exactly where he is."