At the Camp Nou, Liverpool were playing for their Champions League future. Defeat would spell elimination, and even a draw was not guaranteed to keep the Reds in the competition, depending on the result of the other Group B match taking place in Italy between Galatasaray and Roma.
Before the game, a homemade banner – or rather, hotel made – was unfurled in the opposite corner of the stadium. It read simply: “Walter Smith football genius”.
Even as a Liverpool fan, I remember quite specifically the day in which Everton appointed David Moyes. Or at least, the day before.
A first experience of the Camp Nou is not something to be forgotten quickly. And the date? Well, it was my mum’s birthday!
While Liverpool enjoyed the big occasion in Spain, earning a goalless draw on the way to qualification for the quarter-final stage a week later, back on Merseyside only goal difference was keeping Everton out of the relegation zone.
David Moyes’ first job was to keep Everton in the top-tier of English football, which he duly took care of with three consecutive wins – all achieved against fellow Premier League strugglers.
Only once have Everton flirted with relegation in the ten years since Moyes arrived and the fact that the ‘R’ word is no longer associated with Everton is testimony to an excellent job done at the club by the former Preston manager.
Highlights over the decade will undoubtedly include the club’s fourth place finish in 2004/5, which earned Champions League football for the first time, and the 2009 FA Cup Final at Wembley.
But more importantly has been the consistency shown in the league over the last few seasons, something which didn’t come straight away as evidenced by the rollercoaster-like league placings between 2003 and 2006.
Boosted by the emergence of Wayne Rooney, Everton competed for a Champions League place in Moyes’ first full season but finished 17th the following year, then took 4th place ahead of Liverpool in 2004/5, before ending the next campaign below Wigan, West Ham and Bolton.
Throughout the years since then, Everton have only once placed below 7th in the table, and never lower than 8th.
David Moyes’ achievements may be unspectacular to some but there are few other managers who have seen their side reach virtually the height of their potential as often as Moyes has with Everton.
It is surely therefore a source of frustration that there have never been the kind of funds available in order to take the next step and challenge regularly for a place in the Champions League, especially when watching Everton overtaken by the likes of Tottenham and Man City following big investments in players at those clubs.
With Harry Redknapp strongly linked with the England manager’s position, Moyes has in turn been tipped as Redknapp’s potential successor at Spurs. and there’s no doubt that his work at Everton deserves the kind of recognition that would see him as a candidate for a side with title aspirations, regardless of whether or not such a challenge tempt him away from Goodison.
That’s a question for the future however and the present involves a Merseyside derby, Moyes’ 22nd. Only four of the previous 21 have been won by his team, and none at Anfield.
But on the eve of his tenth anniversary as Everton manager, and a possibility of leapfrogging Liverpool in the league, there might never be a more perfect time in which to change that statistic.