Celtic great Billy McNeill believes the traits that would one day make David Moyes a top manager were already strongly evident way back in his days as a fresh-faced and flame-haired Parkhead reserve.
McNeill, famous as skipper of the legendary Lisbon Lions, was the man who gave the Everton boss his Hoops debut as a substitute in a 4-1 League Cup win over Hibernian on August 15, 1981.
While Moyes’ role in that victory was merely perfunctory, his first major test in a green and white shirt was anything but.
An injury to first-choice right-back Danny McGrain saw the 18-year-old thrust into the heat of a massive European tie against Juventus in Turin.
And despite a 2-0 defeat, Moyes, playing out of position, emerged from the game with immense credit and McNeill says the characteristics that served him so well that night are the very reason he has flourished into an elite manager.
“David was always dedicated,” explained McNeill. “He didn't mess about. Not long after I gave him his debut he played one of the games in Europe. That is difficult for a youngster, to go straight into a team playing in Europe, but he did that and he did well.
“He always worked hard at his game and he was entitled to the success he had. I have always kept an eye on him since he's gone to England and become a manager. He's done remarkably well. It's not easy but he's done really well.
It’s no surprise to see him succeed because he worked at his game at every level
- Billy McNeill
“It’s no surprise to see him succeed because he worked at his game at every level. I really felt that when I saw him down in England he would get an opportunity.
“It was very interesting to me when he got the job with Everton. Make no mistake, the two teams in the same city, Manchester just across the road a wee bit – there is great competitiveness in that whole area and David has succeeded brilliantly.”
Moyes would go on to make 24 appearances in his first full season with Celtic and collect a league championship medal.
The following season he would remain an established member of the squad and played in both legs as Johan Cruyff’s Ajax were knocked out of the European Cup.
Eventually it was McNeill’s departure as manager that precipitated Moyes’ own Parkhead exit as new boss, David Hay, chose to sell him to Cambridge United.
From there Moyes would remain in the lower divisions of English football but McNeill, now 72 and an ambassador for the Celts, believes he was a far more talented player than his playing CV might suggest.
“David was just one of the youngsters when he came along,” added McNeill. “The scouting system at that time was terrific. When he played in the reserve team, I got to know him.
“I liked his style. I liked his determination and quickness. He was sharp and a dedicated boy, a really smashing big lad.
“And that red hair – not that he was a Jimmy Johnson or anything like that – but the red hair always stands out. You're always waiting for the bad temper, but you never got that out of David. He was a really smashing lad.
“I've fond memories of David. He was a good player. In actual fact, he was a better player than what the history books will look like. When he went into the team here, he certainly worked hard at it.
“As a player, he was good and positive, but I felt that he should have been given more opportunities to prove he was a very good player, because I think he was. As a manager, obviously he is different class.”
Indeed, McNeill is all too aware of the pressures of competing in a city with two rival clubs and is full of praise for Moyes’ work at Everton - particularly his length of tenure in the Goodison Park hotseat.
He added: “With Everton being in the same city as Liverpool you need to get success, need to be positive and need to get a good team. David's achieved that.
You need to get success, need to be positive and need to get a good team. David's achieved that.
- Billy McNeill
“I see his Dad every now and then but have only seen David himself once or twice recently. I remember being down staying with a friend in Manchester and he asked me if I wanted to go and watch Liverpool.
“I said ‘no, but I’ll go and watch Everton’. They had a game that day and I went and saw big David. He's got a smashing reputation. He's a big favourite down there.
“I think he's achieved an awful lot and whatever happens the people there will appreciate how well he has done.”