It’s ‘what if?’ week at SBNation, with blogs across the network looking back at crucial crossroads in their team’s history, for good or ill. Here at RBM, we go back 11 years to the only time we’ve come within touching distance of breaking the current silverware drought...
Surely you must have heard the snickering behind your back. It is, after all, now twenty five whole years since Everton last won a trophy. Significant parts of the Toffees fanbase were not even born when the FA Cup was hoisted by Dave Watson at Wembley in 1995. Since then the Blues have been wandering in the desert, mismanaged and underachieving season after season.
However, at the very zenith of his tenure at Everton, David Moyes brought the Toffees closest to slaking their trophy thirst when he led the club to the 2009 FA Cup Final. But as so often happened during his time at the club and since, the Blues came up short at the time of asking, losing to Chelsea 2-1 in the Final.
Matthew has argued elsewhere that the penalty shootout semi-final win over Manchester United preceding this Final is likely the greatest Everton moment for many of his generation, and it would be hard to disagree with him. Some slightly older supporters like myself were wee toddlers when the Blues conquered all during the early ‘80s and the ‘95 FA Cup win was an aberration to how the club were doing in the league.
So in this episode of “What If..” we take a prospective look at what would have happened had the Blues not lost the 2009 FA Cup Final.
The Game & The Cast
As the ‘home’ team for the fixture, the Blues got to keep their classic kit while the ‘other’ Blues switched to their away yellow kit for the Wembley fixture.
Not necessarily known for their attacking displays under Moyes, and with both Mikel Arteta (currently in charge at Arsenal) and Aiyegbeni Yakubu sidelined due to injury in a season the Blues limped to 5th place in the Premier League, it was always going to be an uphill battle against 3rd placed Chelsea who finished 20 points ahead. Just for perspective, this was before Manchester City found their riches and Tottenham were mid-tablers just like the Toffees, the current Top Six were just called the Top Four minus those two sides.
Yet they started the game with their pants on fire and went ahead thanks to Louis Saha, who scored the quickest goal in FA Cup Final history, the record still standing at an astounding 25 seconds. Steven Pienaar’s cross from the left was poorly cleared by Jon Mikel Obi, with Marouane Fellaini heading down for the former United striker to beat Petr Cech.
However, Chelsea regained their footing in the game and were level at the quarter mark, with one key duel settling the game in their favour. Florent Malouda was rampant against the hapless Tony Hibbert, who was enduring an injury-riddled campaign of his own. The Frenchman left Hibbo for dead time and again, and affected the balance of play to such an extent that Moyes was forced to yank the 27-year-old right back at halftime to stem the bleeding, but it was too late.
Malouda had already found Didier Drogba for the equalizer as Chelsea were dominant with the Blues facing a rearguard action for most of the first half, even more so after the equalizer. The defence held stout though right until the 72nd minute when Frank Lampard (back at Chelsea now as manager) settled the game with a rocket from distance. Minutes later Malouda got the goal he deserved but it was chalked off even though replays clearly showed the ball coming off the underside of the bar and going over the goalline.. ahh those pre-VAR days. It didn’t make a difference though as the Toffees were defeated, unable to muster up much in the attacking half.
If Moyes had had his full complement of players from the season available to him for that Final, could things have gone differently? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, Everton had held Chelsea to two 0-0 draws during the regular season with a pair of battling displays that were hallmarks of the Moyes era.
The Fallout & The Alternative
In four subsequent seasons, the Blues finished eighth, seventh, seventh again and sixth, not making it back to Europe again but with one more FA Cup semi-final appearance, losing to Liverpool in 2012 in a game that will be forever remembered for Sylvain Distin’s calamitous backpass to Tim Howard in the Everton goal.
Struggling to break even financially, the Blues continued to fail to back Moyes in the transfer market and eventually the Scotsman left the club, starting a merry-go-round of managers that has now seen seven different faces in the dugout in the last five years despite Farhad Moshiri taking over as majority shareowner and pumping millions into the club.
Yet, you have to believe, if any of these things had gone differently (standing alone or through some combination), then the Blues would have been in a very different place now. If Arteta had been fit to play and pull the strings in the middle, had Lars Jacobsen started instead of Hibbert against Malouda, if Saha’s second-half header had gone in instead of skimming over the bar, had Howard been able to palm away Lampard’s winner.. you could easily be looking at the game ending in a draw at the very least. And in the penalty shootout their chances might have been even better considering Everton had just prevailed over United in the semis holding their nerve from spotkicks while Chelsea had lost to Burnley at home on penalties in the Fourth Round of the League Cup.
Had they won the game though, things would have been quite different. The trophy drought would have ended for one. The impact of getting that giant monkey off the collective backs of the entire Club and fanbase cannot be underestimated. It would have ensured the Blues went into Europe the next season in a better position, both where they entered the Europa League (instead of going through the playoff round) and financially as well.
Could it have meant that Moyes was given a bigger transfer kitty, and that he would have been able to bring in better players than Magaye Gueye and Apostolos Vellios? Could the club have also kept a hold of key players like Joleon Lescott, Pienaar and Arteta? Fans have often wondered what things would have been like if we had Moshiri’s millions during Moyes’ meagre years, we might have actually had a chance to find out.
Where Are They Now?
It has often been said that for most footballers leaving Everton that they rarely ever go on to bigger and better things. Whether that’s because the Blues were shopping in the bargain bin to begin with or a matter of unfulfilled potential, nevertheless it has held true for the most part and in no case has it been more stark than that of Moyes himself.
Goodison Park was the last major stop before retirement for most of the squad that lined up that day - Howard, Lescott, Joseph Yobo, Pienaar, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha all played at a handful more clubs without enjoying much of the same level of success they did for the Blues. Hibbert, Phil Neville and Leon Osman went on retire as Evertonians while Leighton Baines is still here. Only Maroune Fellaini, who went to Manchester United under Moyes can claim to have won much since then - a Europa League title as well as one FA Cup and one League Cup win - as he plies his trade in the Chinese Premier League now.
Who would be manager at Everton now? What players would still be around? Had we won that 2009 FA Cup Final, today would likely have looked very different for the club.